Of Naivasha’s charm and our inspiring start to The African Story Challenge.

Intensive is the word. Its the word that, in my “rebellious” days after high school got me rethinking my plans to join the army. Then, when the recruitment officer said “this is no typical career, it’s tough and intensive,” I abandoned the queue and ran into my late mother’s arms, confessing my failed mission….along with the cowardice.

So as I jubilated on making the finals of the Agricultural theme in The African Story Challenge this July, the guidelines were issued in the next email. We would all participate in “Intensive Sessions” to sharpen our project ideas. And there it was again, the word “Intensive.”

It didn’t necessarily connote military proportions of training but I am a man who appreciates my phobias. I still imagined a routine where “weaklings” would be dismissed. Where I would have to literally wear body armour and get ready to ramble. For a moment, I pitied people like Habeeb Pandiga, Dayo Aiyetan, Mabvuto Banda, Comfort Moussa, Billy Muiruri and other fellow finalists who would have to cross me in such a state. Its not that I fall short in self-esteem, I just didn’t know what to expect but the worst. I was intimidated.

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What a surprise. As soon as we settled in from our journeys and got to introducing ourselves and our ideas, it was a moment of strength as opposed to intimidation, for; we were a group of budding Journalists united in an imperative cause to tell stories of a continent we all cherish, Africa.

The camp even got better at its most intensive. By day two, I had long shrugged off my fears and settled for the thrill, the skills, the intensity, the passion, the intellect, the engagement, the networking and above all, the inspiration and strength the camp had to offer.

If I can speak for all, we were at ease (you would have to be an alien not to ease-up at Enashipai (Masai for State of Happiness) Resort and Spa), and soon nicknames started popping. South Sudan’s Anthony Kamba grew popular as Janjaweed aka Salva Kiir, Nigeria’s Dayo Aiyetan and Habeeb Pandiga were soon to be known as Babalawo and Igwe respectively; Ivory Coast’s Kouassi Selay Marius had to be Laurent Gbagbo and Senegal’s Wade Adama as Abdoulaye Wade.

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With the familiarity of the infamous Malian Captain, Burkina Faso’s Bruno Sanogo took came to be Captain Sanogo, while Ethiopia’s Elias Gebreselassie obviously became Emperor Selassie. I got to be my notorious namesake and rebel countryman, Joseph Kony; while whispers were made of Kenya’s Alex Chamwada as Daniel Arap Moi, of South Africa’s Diana Neille as Pistorius and her “countryman” Milly Moabi as Zinzi Mandela.

Nigerian trainer Declan Okpalaeke was whispered as Gen. Babangida. Sometimes I also found myself referring to Nigeria’s Alawode Oluyinka as Wole Soyinka. The nickname of the moment was Uncle Bob, fresh from a landslide election victory. It was carried by no other than Zimbabwe’s Wisdom Mdzungairi.

The nicknames were fun, but in reality they told part of the Africa story, the story of our generation, the story of our lives. At least, according to the news agenda.

But there-in lay TASC’s aspirations. Aspirations to empower African Journalists to tell developmental, insightful and impactful stories with African perspectives on fundamental issues. A feat I think is being successfully implemented and awaiting a climax in just about two weeks when our stories are published and broadcast.

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So as I boarded the bus to leave Enashipai, the breezy expansive and charming resort on the shores of the mighty Lake Naivasha, I was full of ideas along with skills to implement them. I knew the story I would write would help put Joseph Kony off the news agenda. To be replaced with leads that will hopefully see Africa attain a prosperous Agricultural sector, it currently being the largest employer on the continent.

Applause! Applause! To the TASC team led by my namesake whose CV reads like my dream – Joseph Warungu, Maimouna Jallow, Irene Wangui ; the trainers – Joachim Buwembo, Declan Okpalaeke, Rob Finighan, Dominic Nahr, Eva Constantaras, Dorothy Ochieno. Also, to our comrade Kenya’s Irene Choge for sharing that inspiring African story about the correlation between latrines and girl child education.

I commend the African Media Initiative, along with its funding partners for lighting this fire. It’s a great job and a great service to Africa. Thank you.

I BEGAN TO SING

There goes….

Ekky, The African Love Story

Ekky 1I had no idea that one random, fun fueled night in October 2011 would change my life, perhaps forever. It was the usual sunday gathering at my friend Viviens house. A couple of clowns, a little alcohol and wandering conversation had us all in fits of laughter. Passionate banter about music wasnt unsual. A couple of lady gaga haters  n lovers going off at each other, there was a heated drake and rick ross argument among the guys till my good friend “a one vivien” shouted out  ” why are we even talking about these chaps when ekky here could be the one we chatting about ?” she started her usual tease about how well i could sing, and everyone went “well Ekky, go on then”.

Ofcourse there was no way I was going to. I could barely manage a squeak .You see for as long as I can remember the only audience I ever had were shower gels, cleansers and toners. They suited me quite fine.

Hannah (aka…

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False hope as Makerere touts Research on Electric Cars.

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By Burite Joseph

Makerere University’s College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology has announced that it is procuring components for the “Kayoola Bus,” its highly taunted solution for Uganda’s public transport challenges to be launched in later this year, according to a report in the Daily Monitor.

This would be the University’s second project after they launched the Kiira EV 2 years ago, an Electric Car that has achieved little or no success in attracting commercial investment since.

Dons at the College of Engineering, Design, Arts and Technology believe their drive towards Electric cars will help avail alternatives for Gasoline engines.

But as the Dons touted their efforts, Coda Holdings Inc, parent of the electric-car maker, Coda which is backed by billionaire, Philip Falcone today filed for bankruptcy protection and sought to sell its assets in the US.

Coda’s bankruptcy is at least the third by an electric vehicle-related company in just over a year. A123 Systems Inc, a battery supplier to Fisker Automotive Inc., another California-based maker of electric cars, filed for bankruptcy in October. Ener1 Inc., also a maker of batteries for electric cars, entered bankruptcy in January 2012. The latter two received the US government cash-stimulus in 2010 but still failed in under two years.

Since beginning production in 2011, Coda reported sales of a miserable 78 units of its Coda Sedan in the US, a market of over 15mn units a year and estimated growth of 5.5%.

According to Bloomberg, the company’s Chief Restructuring Officer John P. Madden has said Coda was forced to seek bankruptcy protection because of production delays, insufficient capital to market and sell its sedan, and slow growth for the electric-vehicle market, which it blames on the scarcity of charging stations.

The latter element of Coda’s challenge should draw the attention of planners at Makerere, who are investing millions of Shillings into the research. Coda was not only among leading Hybrid Car makers, it also enjoyed access to a lucrative and developed markets like US and Europe.

Another industry leader, Fisker Automotive, maker of the Karma, a hundred-thousand-dollar electric-gas hybrid sports car, is itself reported in deep trouble. It’s laid off seventy-five per cent of its workforce, hasn’t produced a single car in nine months, and may well declare bankruptcy in the next couple of weeks.

Even though the College’s Principal Investigator, Prof Sandy Stevens Tickodri-Togboa is keen on addressing the charging station challenge by adding an internal combustion engine to extend the range of drive, Uganda’s persistent power cuts and expensive alternatives make Electric Cars faintly suitable to the local market. The costs involved in production also make consumer prices of Electric cars prohibitive.

The world’s top-selling highway-capable all-electric cars is the Nissan Leaf, with global sales of more than 49,000 units through December 2012 since its launch in 2010.

But Nissan’s high-profile Chief Executive, Carlos Ghosn, perhaps the industry’s most outspoken proponent of battery cars recently announced a major strategic shift toward more mainstream gasoline-electric hybrids, which overcome many of the shortcomings of pure EVs.

Instead, Nissan plans to follow rival Toyota Motor Co, the world’s largest purveyor of hybrids, which now is poised to leapfrog pure EVs altogether to pursue what might be the next big green-tech breakthrough: pollution- and petroleum-free fuel-cell cars that convert hydrogen to electricity.

Overall, Worldwide sales of Electric cars stood at 120,000 unit sales, though analysts forecast sales could raise to 3.8 million to the year 2020. Compared to Gasoline Engine car sales of over 65 million cars a year.

Hence, the Electric Car, after more than 100 years of development and several brief revivals, still is not ready for prime time – and may never be. Makerere University would do this nation good if they diverted the millions of Shillings from Electric Cars, to perhaps researching on alternative fuels.

@BuriteJoseph

Tabloids are the future of print media; myth or fact?

Some insight on Uganda’s media, here.

RUMBLINGS

tabloidsWriting in the Masscom@20 journal, published by Makerere University’s Department of Journalism and Communication to mark its 20th anniversary in 2009, Mr Arinaitwe Rugyendo, a founder of The Red Pepper, makes an impassioned case for tabloids and tabloidization.

Titled “The future lies in tabloidization”, Mr Rugyendo’s paper argues that because tabloids appeal to younger readers, promote citizen journalism and “critically address the needs of ordinary people”, they outrightly represent the future of journalism.

But in the same journal, respected journalist and media scholar Dr Peter Mwesige, writing under the title “Tabloids: The plague of journalism or its savior”, pokes holes into some of Mr Rugyendo’s assertions and also poses questions for his readers to ponder on.

Primarily, Dr Mwesige acknowledges that at times tabloids have acted as the trailblazers on big stories, which are only picked up by mainstream media thereafter. The Brig. Noble Mayombo death cause comes…

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Uganda, Tullow Oil face charges over tax collusion.

Tullow Oil colluded with Uganda to extract tax from its former exploration partner Heritage Oil in pursuit of its own commercial gain, Heritage plans to prove in London’s High Court this week.

The case centres on over $400 million of capital gains tax demands made by the east African country’s government for a 2010 deal where Heritage sold its oil licences there to Tullow for $1.45 billion.

Tullow says it had no choice but to pay the tax on Heritage’s behalf, and brought the case against the smaller company to recover its money. Heritage says Tullow helped Uganda formulate the tax claim, which it disputes, in order to keep the government sweet, and claims it is owed payment instead.

The legal battle shines a light on the highly politicised and risky nature of doing business at new resource frontiers. It also tests the tightrope governments walk between securing a fair share of the bounty and scaring off investment.

The money involved is enough to buy almost half of loss-making Heritage, and would fund several months of exploration drilling for Tullow. It is equivalent to over three years of economic growth for Uganda at the current rate of 0.7 percent on annual gross domestic product of about $17 billion.

“From early in 2010, Tullow was engaged in discussions of a questionable nature with Ugandan government officials,” Heritage’s lawyer Khawar Qureshi told the court of Mr Justice Burton in his opening statement on Tuesday.

“The collusion took several forms. It was continuous and extensive”, he said, “…and all behind the back of Heritage”.

Tullow’s lawyer David Wolfson on Tuesday called the Heritage position alleging collusion “creative, but incorrect” and said his case would hinge on showing that advice on Ugandan law that Tullow should pay up was “honestly held”.

Heritage, whose chief executive Tony Buckingham once provided mercenary fighters in Africa when he was a partner in the military contracting firm Executive Outcomes, is pursuing a separate legal dispute with the Ugandan government.

Heritage argues that no tax is due on the transaction, which brought an end to its operations there.

Tullow, which has grown rapidly in recent years and carved a niche as an African oil exploration specialist, has big ambitions in Uganda and has opened it up to some of the top players of the international oil industry.

When the original $1.45 billion asset sale was concluded, and with Heritage’s agreement in the aftermath of the $405 million tax demand, Tullow paid the Ugandan Revenue Authority (URA) $121.5 million, in compliance with Ugandan tax rules which require a one-third payment before any challenge can be mounted. It put the outstanding $283.5 million of the tax demand into an escrow account pending the outcome of Heritage’s challenge, and paid what was left, $1.045 billion, to Heritage.

Then, in 2011, Tullow complied with another URA demand for a further $313.5 million payment, an amount which included the balance of the original tax demand, plus an extra $30 million which the URA had added to the bill.

The second payment was made a fortnight before the signing of a deal that brought top international oil company Total and Chinese national oil group CNOOC into partnership with Tullow in Uganda.

The Total-CNOOC transaction netted Tullow $2.9 billion in a farm-down arrangement sanctioned by the government. Heritage claims Tullow was motivated to pay the $313 million by its ambitions in the country, and by the desire to help this deal go through.

Tullow says it had no choice but to pay the second tax demand sum, and having now paid out a total of $1.718 billion for an asset that was initially priced at $1.45 billion, it is suing Heritage for breach of contract for not paying back the difference.

Wolfson noted that the second tax demand, made on March 15 2011, was due by early April, and attached to a monthly interest rate of 2 percent until it was paid.

Wolfson plans to bring a number of witnesses including Graham Martin, Tullow’s general counsel and an executive director of the company, Richard Inch, Tullow’s head of tax, and Peter Kabatsi, managing partner of Tullow’s Ugandan lawyers, Kampala Associated Advocates.

Kabatsi is also the former solicitor general of Uganda and serves as a panel member of the International Criminal Court.

Heritage’s main witness in the trial, which the judge said could run for the next two weeks, will be Paul Atherton, Heritage’s finance director.

Source: Reuters.

The Secret Diary of a Call Centre

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One day, not long after my exit from the call centre, I heard that people arriving for their shift in the morning were greeted by a memo sellotaped to each computer monitor by their manager Peggy, instructing them not to take toilet breaks whilst on-shift.

It was just the latest act in what had been a long running battle in my call centre – A fierce fight over the very right to answer the call of nature. Previous to the sticky-taped missive a number of memos prohibiting the use of the toilet in work time ‘unless an emergency’ had been issued, and subsequently ignored, amid much canteen and car-park whispering of  ‘how dare they.’  Even those among us who would usually be the most docile and compliant members of pro-management staff were up-in-arms. We were unanimously agreed; the right to go when we needed to go was an inalienable one which we…

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