Sunday, November 9, 2014

THE NILE BREWERIES PITCH: 10 Things I Think It Means To The Industry

Quick summary of the issues at hand

We all know it is coming. It was rumoured and whispered in hushed tones all of last and this year. Yeah, I’m talking about the break-up of the Nile Breweries stable of beer brands. Apparently word in the grapevine was that the stable has been on its way to breaking up for a long time but was held together for various reasons but the leadership at the breweries was steadfast in keeping all the 10 brands under 1 house. Since some recent shakeups at the Jinja-based brewery though that plan has been fast tracked.

So what would it mean for the industry? Here are 10 things that I think it means for the advertising industry:

1.       Moringa Ogilvy will NO LONGER be host to all the 12 NBL brands.

2.    The brands as broken up above have the high impact brands and the premium brands. The high impact brands (Club Pilsener and Nile Special) are the more preferred to stay at Moringa because they have more recognition and will most likely have higher budget allocations.

3.       The mass brands like Eagle and Chibuku won’t be in a hurry looking to move since almost no agency will want to take them by themselves. They only make economic sense once paired with other higher revenue brands.

4.       The Premium brands might be split individually between agencies i.e. Castle Milk Stout, Redds Vodka Lemon, Nile Gold and Castle Lager, Castle Lite, and each be handed to a different agency. Or all be distributed to one house to handle that portfolio.

5.       The pitch is made harder by the fact that no Uganda Breweries beer brand is handled creatively by any Ugandan agency.(Bell is in SA , Tusker lager is at BBDO Kenya, Senator is in Kenya, Guinness sits in the UK & SA, the Diageo Reserve category is with Owen Kessel in SA)  So EVERYBODY is coming to take a piece of the pie.

6.       Uganda Waragi (EABL’s premium Ugandan spirit) is handled at Metropolitan Republic Uganda. Whether this will preclude them from the pitch is definitely a question answers are wanted to.

7.       In terms of media investment, desire to achieve economies of scale and the continued bullishness of the Uganda Media Owners’ Association are going to continue driving consolidation and the search for savings. The same way EABL will be looking to consolidate all their buys and investment under the Dentsu Aegis Network affiliate Carat Media in Uganda. So this makes me think media buying and investment might go to one house as well.

8.       There are concerns about PR and digital for these brands since across the region margins are shrinking and costs are being cut, it will be important to find more effectiveness and target audience penetration; the things that PR and Digital deliver well on. Obviously there will be infinitely more PR & digital agencies than listed above so expect that to be a hot category.

For the level of investment, you'd think they could have done more.
9.       The experiential and events division will remain mostly the same – undifferentiated and not breathtaking. The thing is the experiential element does carry a lot of potential because it creates the take-outs that brands actually want consumers to have. Smell, taste, sight, eventually leading to recall. But innovation in the category has been little and uninspiring - largely because of a large cost of reach per individual and the nasty practice of brand managers taking half the budgets as kickbacks. Eventually leading to things like the “Club MegaFest” or rather "MegaFlop" and“in-bar activations” or rather  "in-bar ways to pay campus girls". Maybe a renewed focus will allow the brands to focus better on the goal in mind, and the agencies too.

10.   There is the thorny question of the talent that will get sacked because frankly the brands they were working are no longer there to be worked on. That’s all fine except the recent set up of J.Walter Thompson Uganda has already pilfered and pillaged the industry of any excess talent thereby making me think there will be space to absorb these people in the industry. Or maybe the newly acquiring agency will be generous enpugh to pick them up. There is of course the possibility that they won’t be let go, we don’t’ know!! But all things come to those who wait – or some Club copy writer once wrote.

There are obviously a lot of questions that need to be answered around the pitching etiquette in this town. Clients have to stop inviting everyone in town t pitches because its a waste of time and money. Someone with authority is even mooting the idea that clients should pay for agency to attend pitches - but they'll get round to it when they do.

In the end, we can only be prepared. May the best man win.


Monday, November 3, 2014

@QATAHARRAYMOND: TO ANSWER YOUR CHALLENGE: A treatise on my view towards power and religion in Africa.

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number that are not good.” – Niccollo Machiavelli.

Following up on that offer to explain my understanding of power and its place in modern society as a means to bringing clarity on the role of religion in the political landscapes I want to first go back to the textbook definition of power.

  1. 1.
    the ability to do something or act in a particular way, especially as a faculty or quality.
    "the power of speech"
    "the power of speech"
  2. 2.
    the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.
    "the idea that men should have power over women"

Its clear that power in its simplest from, and for the purposes of this treatise has to do with ability. But to be specific, I’d like to stay with the second definition as it is of the most import in the argument I’m going to lay out.

For millennia, mankind has grappled and jostled with the idea of a deity. As far back as 10,000 years ago Chinese historians record the presence of deity figures to whom was attributed the control and dominion of the universe around them. The younger religions (speaking purely of the nascent Abrahamic religions here) have claimed this to be false and stand by their 6,000 year old theory of creation.  The origin of and creation of deities is of little concern here. What matters is that they exist and people believe in them. The world as it is today is divided into denominations who believe in one form of deity or other. If you believe that mankind created God to explain the unexplainable world around him, you are probably right. But also if you believe that God or a deity created man and let them evolve over 65 million years and then at some point gave them understanding you are also probably right. Why? Because it is all a subject of belief. What you believe shapes your outlook on the universe, the world, the continent, your country and eventually your neighbor.

Which brings me to the task at hand; you argue that religion is in fact inextricably tied to the political culture of countries; effectively making the argument that religion and its associated vagaries will affect the political upheavals in countries if indeed politics is the study of how people live together.

I argue that it doesn’t. I argue that elements like greed, corruption, social inequality, graft, cronyism and political disruption/instability are more in effect when and where social upheaval occurs than are the forces at war are of different religions. In a report from the Instituteof Economics and Peace a question was polled “How much conflict has religion caused in the world?” The report came back with 14% of conflicts in the world in 2013 were motivated by religion alone (although religion mixed with other factors brought the figure up to 60%). Why is this so? Because the very nature of upheaval and conflict in itself reflects a sense of anarchy, an element that no religion condones. How could it? How would it then control its faithful? Anarchy portends, disobedience, disorder, betrayal, defection, lawlessness and deviance. All undesirable outcomes.

I also believe that the elements above central to social disillusionment. How? Any role that religion might play is mostly as a spark in igniting an existing dissatisfaction and fueling an already underlying current of rage. For example, the Rwanda genocide has been said to have been aided and fueled by religious elements, but closer analysis reveals that the root causes were more socio-political. Therefore, if a society is disgruntled and disillusioned therein already exists the recipe for a fire. It’s simply which causal agent will provide the spark.

Secondly, you argue that the politics of a country will often revolve around its religious inclinations. You are even willing to say that it is difficult to define the political culture of a country minus its religion.
I submit that the political cultures of most countries (African in this case) present largely variegated religious demographics. While these groups disagree occasionally, the political culture of most African countries exists outside these religious faculties. This is not to denigrate the role leaders and influencers play in these societies. However there are more examples of social cohesion for the purposes of uprisings, upheavals and rebellion around non-religious grounds like corruption, election reform or the lack of it, injustice, tyranny, etc.
Alternatively, consider the “peace time” activities of most African countries like appointments to office, election to office, patronage, resource allocation, development prioritization and other aspects of political culture most of them will be done with considerations that are not principally or primarily religious in nature.

If on the other hand you were to consider the “culture of honour” posited by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” you will find that in societies with the honour culture; a culture signified by revenge killings, reprisals, honour killings, and family honour being protected, created a code. A code that makes society shun the likely peacemaker; the element of reason. In such a society you will find that religion could find a place in shaping and even enforcing a society’s own self view where people will steer clear of idle threats (if they make a threat, they will see it through), feeling bound to their word and a blunt and brutal approach to the realities of their environment.  In these cases, the factors that shape these kinds of society are more societal and environmental than religious. For an example, I’d like to use the Dinka tribe of South Sudan and northern Uganda whom people have said are, in their natural habitat, very trusting, generous and welcoming but also lethal, decisively swift and unrelenting about slights against their honour. They could Christian, Muslim or even Jehovah’s Witnesses. It doesn’t change who they are.

If you approach this from the “Spiderweb economic theory” first broached by Malcolm X and later honed and refined by Chika Onyeani in his “Capitalist Nigger” where the idea of ‘trading like the Jews” is discussed and broken down, you realize that while the Jews did in fact trade within their communities, the complex interwoven nature of their societal setup makes it impossible to separate from their economy and religion. A rather unique social glue. The theory basically states that the closely knit Jewish community buy from Jews, will try as much as possible to keep their money circulating within their community and that way they help each other develop and build their community as a whole. This approach for you would of course raise the questions of the impact of a shared history and a communal sense of persecution they all share which further strengthened that historical bond. And going down that route would lead you down the inevitably precarious path of separation of church and state – which in that world is a slippery slope.

Having explained this I feel I must tie this all together with how it all begun; with power. Religion carries the ability to influence, to mollify, to invigorate and even instigate people. That is its power. This power however is given to it by people’s choice to believe for without the choice to believe religion holds no power over anybody and therefore would have no ability influence the political culture of a society in any way.

In a faithless state the power to influence political culture would reside in and with people who had resources, means, money, access to resources, information, state machinery, influence, an ear of the leader, leverage over politicians, blackmail, intellectual superiority, physical excellence and a host of other attributes that you could name. People with these or access to any of these attributes would wield power because they could lean upon them to influence events in their societal sphere of influence; to protect themselves from the machinations of others, to advance individual interests, to gain advantage over rivals and; sometimes, to just even the playing field.

This theory seems to operate in the highly amoral and evolutionary arena of “kill or be killed” and is safeguarded by the old political adage “have no permanent friends or enemies” and would appear idealistic upon first sounding. But upon closer scrutiny, you will agree with me that this scenario is more real than ideal. It is one in which we live every day; sworn enemies coming together to fend off common threats; an estranged couple uniting to defeat an erstwhile ally now turned deadly foe, a national Christian prayer overnight presided over by a confessed animist president, a bishop who has sworn an affidavit changing his name so he can remain in power past his retirement age, a national army caught in 3 wars across the region juxtaposed against the housing condition of the Police Force, and other examples. That is the reality we live in. Those with the ability to move the pieces WILL move them. Irrespective of what they believe.

Over to you

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Righteous Indignation; Things That F***ing Piss me Off and Give Me Hope

Last week, the Ugandan social media was awash with the #UGBlooggers7days [collated by the dutiful and obsessive Joel] hashtag. A conversation that started with a one Raymond’s insatiable greed for Ugandan reading material thereby plummeting the whole blogosphere into a blogging frenzy. Suffice to say I’m glad I was there to suggest the 250 word limit because certain people were talking 600 and 400 words as a minimum. And that had its own deliciousness. Savour it

More interestingly, in the course of last week, I read a post by SamiraSalwani where she explained a phenomenon called white privilege and colonial mentality. From thought provoking to downright alarming at the state of affairs in my country. I couldn't believe my eyes as I read it. More, I couldnt believe the directness of it all. It was as if she was being fueled by that calculated methodical anger you get from serving a revenge ice cold. Under the surface but seething. Cold. Calculating. Then I realized that the ghosts I was imagining as racial anger was her razor sharp intellect.

Throw yourself upon it and die.


Die cut up in pieces from it.

Die with your ignorance bleeding from every crevice in your body.

It was not only sharp, it was steady and abiding. Diamond hard. Never goes blunt. So I looked up several of her other articles. Yeah, diamond hard intellect. But I digress.

“White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit white people beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people in the same social, political, or economic circumstances.” - That is how Google describes it.

This is what Samira had been talking about. How Ugandans or Kenyans were more likely to treat people of Caucasian extraction in more privileged ways; quicker service at restaurants, more attention in service queues, etc because of the colour of their skin. Because of a perceived superiority.

No sooner had that storm subsided than Simon released the mother of all hailstorms. The blog post can be read here. At 11:00PM he was livid and frothing at the mouth. Imagine a bull mastiff with rabies and an itch. Tearing into the New Vision and its editors. Asking pointed questions and causing uneasiness all around. He was taking names and no prisoners. 

But what he did do was raise once again the question of how a colonial sport for which every single element (riders’ kits, horses, saddles, jumping bars, etc) had been imported was able to get a page and a half of coverage in a country where our national netball team, which is going to the world cup by the way, couldn't even afford to buy water last week. I swear I think I saw a swear word in Luganda.  

And as if the night would not end just like that. At one 1:00AM someone posted this scan from a newspaper advert yesterday. An advert for several jobs and an administrative assistant. The admin assistant had to be a foreigner!! What the f*** were they thinking? Can you be more disrespectful than that? How dare you?!! Is this your father's house?!!

Now I was frothing at the mouth. I wanted to say something. To write to these people. To say to them they couldn’t be so stupid. You can’t feel that untouchable and hope to get far ahead. Then I realized that it wasn't just me. Its like all the media I had been exposed to had riled me up, had made me think of all the opportunities that people had missed and all the mistreatment people suffered because of this stupid white privilege.

But also I felt a sense of relief as I dozed off.


Because my anger was a sign. A sign that there is a new wind sweeping across Africa. People were questioning these “practices”. And they won’t stop because the awakening was happening. Yes, the good jobs might continue going to the less educated less experienced white people and their lackeys. The projects will end and they will have to go back home, or not. But us here, we are building our country. One brick at a time. One step at a time. And hopefully through blogs like this, one story at a time.

I'm off to lunch

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Uganda Bloggers 7 Day Challenge: NO, YOU ARE NOT GOD - Day 3 Post

When you work in any communications and advertising business especially an ad agency you learn quickly and swiftly how the work flows.

Account manager or client services
Creative studio.
Account manager

That is how it works in almost every industry. There is an interface between the specialist and the client. Someone who interprets the jargon for both ends. In certain agencies, studios and indeed workplaces they pay it a little differently

Account manager or client services
Account manager

The creative people have such a refined sense of what their communication should be doing that they consider themselves gods. They are the final word on photoshop, layouts and headlines and punctuation. All this is fine until it isn't. Ruling with no mercy or empathy and a fist of iron they have no place for bickering or talking back. No matter what the client says or wants. That’s not what THEY want. But mostly it isn’t about the client and what they want. Its more that someone in the universe doens't want what they want. 
Someone differs with their approach to things. 
Someone differs. 

The argument can be made that creative people have been over indulged and therefore have over sized egos. That they are paid higher than most people in their age range or that they tend to have specialized skills which make them as good as they are. Which is all well and good. But the truth is they are human. They shit. They breathe. They err. And that should be enough. However, their inflated sense of self doesn’t allow them to see their own humanity. Their fallibility.

The last point is most likely as a result of how long they think they have worked to get where they are. The truth is the trenches in advertising are grueling and cruel. Starting out it is impossible that one can even ever hope to make it anywhere worth mentioning. The hours are atrocious, there is no credit given for work and no work you do is ever good enough. Ever. There is always a guy with a better script. A better ad. A better layout. A faster computer. And so the thick skin develops from early on. Merging and morphing with complexes (some from as early as childhood) to form creatures no one recognizes in the end. The long work hours make these people impervious to the level of exhaustion that will normally tire out ordinary people. They will push and push hard. Warping their reality of what the people around them can and can’t do. And eventually warping their own minds about their own abilities. They think they inexhaustible, indefatigable. Untouchables.

At this point you must put the dog down. Because they cannot be saved. Why am I tirading like this? Because a person of meagre standing in my office said to me recently “Just because you know the answers doesn’t mean you will get asked the questions. The truth is people hate a know-it-all.”

As I sat back and ruminated on that it hit me for all the reasons creatives were revered and feared; they still were people. More seasoned, yes. More exposed, yes. But still people. Their years of working like slaves did not entitle them to treat the rest of the world like lesser people; especially because they are lesser people. They willingly applied for these jobs. They signed up for the pain and suffering. Thhy chose this path for the glory it promised. That was the price.  Their genius isn't a validation for their behaviour. In fact it is their greatest undoing.

By being as great as they were, they were inadvertently not as great as they were. Because they missed out on the simple stupid moments of being human. Of being fallible. This made them Outliers. Observers of the human experience and not partakers. Like the orphan child looking into the home of a family unable to comprehend how people can have so much emotion. They are in fact relegated to the observer status. Watching other human beings to do their work better. And thus the sadness of it all; foiled by their own genius they come to terms with their humanity. And accept they are not god. They could be. If they could walk away from it all. They could be. But alas. Without it all to look at and do great ads. They are nothing.

This is a message to all creatives: you are not god. But you could be.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Uganda Bloggers 7 Day Challenge:The 4 Stages of Mentorship: A Quick Exploration Of The Inevitable Conflict Between Mentors & Their Charges

Back when I was but young and naïve I was mentored by a young man who was only but slightly older than I was and who my friends derisively called “The Shark”. He was in the 95th percentile of intelligence of anyone I had known at the time. Even to this day, The Shark is in the top 5 most intelligent people in the world I have met. He was astute. He worked like a demon. He was driven. He was many things to many people but above all he was torrentially unrelenting. He would not quit and could not be out performed. He wore you down with the sheer amount of energy and work output he brought to a single project or even a conversation. These things made him unbeatable but also unforgiving. Of any insurrection or disloyalty. Or any perceived slight done to him.

He was what I wanted to be. I attended law school so I could learn how he thought. I dated law school girls so I could see women through his eyes. I even went as far as mimicking his gestures to achieve the demagogue like – power he held over rooms when he spoke. Oh, how had I been patient.

One day as we walked from his hostel to Wandegeya to get some rolex for supper he said something to me “There are 4 stages to any mentorship Identification, Bonding, Conflict, Resolution. We are heading into the conflict zone. Be prepared.” I was confused so I asked him and what follows is the transcript of that relationship.

Identification: There is a stage where the mentor and the mentee evaluate each other. Each one assessing their prey. Each one thinking they have the advantage on the other. The mentor driven by some egoistic need to impress upon someone young their skills and their wisdom. The desire to get unquestioned loyalty and attention. The mentee thinks he has found a gold mine. Where he can learn without question, slack without rebuke and be treated with favour without end. At some point in this stage the decision is made to enter this dance to the death.

Bonding: The bonding process was essential as after discovery the mentor and mentee got to know each other, spent inordinate amounts of time with each other. The mentor sees all their own promise and achievements in the mentee while the mentee hopes that they can be up to and maybe even more than the mentor. They will adopt their mentor’s speech patterns, diction, choice of reading material and even dress elements or overall approach to fashion (grungy, rugged, formal, sharp, clean cut, etc) It was in this space that the critical mistake of crossing boundaries was always bound to occur. For the mentee, it was out of naiveté but for the mentor the decision was almost always borne out of some misguided sense that they could trust the mentee and after all, if they were “showing them the ropes” why couldn’t they “let them in”. The result was a mismatch between expectations and reality. This is of course naturally aided by the process that it’s only the people who you care about who can hurt you.

Conflict: And then it finally came. It’s confusing that people who can be so obsessed with each other can so quickly devolve into near mortal enemies. Why? Because in most cases what draws people into mentor mentee relationships is what revolts them against each other. In the bonding process above the “deep dive’ that happens allows people to look deep and what they often see is a reflection of themselves. And they don’t like that. They quickly notice traits that are way to familiar with, either taking advantage of others, a mean streak, a penchant for exploitation, taking others for granted, a knack for ingratitude, etc. These things trigger a separation of swift and decisive proportions.

Resolution: In the time apart both parties think evaluate and weigh the mentorship and what it could do for them. Whenever the mentee repents (as the mentor has no need to and will never feel the need to and more importantly is bound for the sake of the relationship dynamic never to apologize) and sees the folly of their ways, they re-approach, this time with the hindsight of wisdom and the cautious shield of distance; careful to never be too clingy or appear too eager or too keen. Tempered. Tamed. Mentored.

Today I have mentors but I make the deliberate effort not to work with them. On projects yes, over the long haul definitely not. Because they are human. Because they are fallible. Also, idols like mentors are better seen on a pedestal and never up close. Whether that is because to not show the cracks in the idol or the flaws in the mentor, it’s a practice that serves to protect both of them.

Monday, October 13, 2014

REPOST: Uganda Bloggers 7 Day Blogging Challenge: Calling All Ugandan Bloggers

This is a call to all Ugandan Bloggers, all protocol observed.

There has been a decline in the blogging habits of many erstwhile Ugandan bloggers. We do not know whether it is because you guys got jobs and went abroad but that is not the point. In a bid to renew the blogging culture of many of us RaymondNevAllan with the input of OliveRuthDan Lynn and I, decided to challenge ourselves to write each day for at least 7 days starting today.

You can write about anything and everything as long as it is not less than 250 words.

Please share you blog on Twitter so we can comment and experience your experiences with the hashtag #UgBloggers7Days.

Let others know.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Kissing The Emperor’s Ass; Ugandan Advertising and its Pitfalls

In advertising, it is a common occurrence that you will regularly be asked to kiss someone’s ass. Sometimes with good reason and sometimes for no reason. Now because advertising is what it is, no one ever questions the ass kissing; it’s always been done and will always be done. We just do it. Maybe one day Jesus will come and we’ll stop. Or maybe we wont stop who knows. But I digress.
You now know that advertising people are a subservient, obsequious and disgustingly self-loathing bunch of people. But the truth is that it is not all advertising people who are this way. It the client service people. Those are the real ass kissers. Those who most kiss ass eventually have their oral orifices transform into that oval shaped pout now common with most girls on Instagram; you know the one white girls do because they don’t have thick African lips and the one African girls copy from the white girls because, well they don’t know why the white girls do it and are too stupid to see that their thick Africa lips look like a tilapia in rebellion rather than whatever they imagine they are doing.

 Again I digress.

These client servicing people over the course of a successful (important to note here) lifetime kiss so much ass they get used to and even start to like the smell of it. However there are people who don’t kiss as much ass; the creatives (but this one I’ll leave to another day). But every once in a while you find some ass that smells good. People who know you have to kiss their ass but take the time to make sure it is clean and scented and they wipe it. Clients who like you. Who think you are the shit [no pun there]. Clients who, you too, incidentally, like. They respect you. They listen to you. They let you do your work. They are honest about their budgets. And they appreciate you when you do good work.

“What?! Whaaaaattttt?!! They exist!!” *in maniacal voice*

The real trauma is that this gentleness and humility has come at the end of a lifetime of hard work and interactions. It is lessons from dealing with thousands of people. The kind of wisdom possessed by an “emperor” (for purposes of this post) and not is tempestuous “heir apparent” (also for the purposes of this post). Which brings us to the heart of this post.

Most people who deal with emperors find them civil, full of leadership, great product knowledge and a great amount of insight about their products or services. They know their customers, they know what they (their customers) want, they know when their products are weak. And so they trust their agencies to lead them to the right place. They also know exactly where they don’t want to go but are open to being surprised on what is possible. They are visionaries. These are the ones with the scented bottoms. You could kiss that ass all day long.

However because this breed are so rare one only encounters a handful in a lifetime of work. Quite often you meet one in your whole advertising career.

Just 1.

And you meet them at the end of theirs.  They are either preparing to hand over the empire to the next generation, or to move on to the next great thing. Or if your stars are so badly aligned and you deserve nothing good in this life – they are preparing to hand over to their children.

Why, you ask?

Because anytime a business is successful enough to be handed over, it means there is a lifetime of relationships and lessons to be taught there. A plethora of cautionary tales and an ensemble of adversaries the business has overcome to survive that long. These are things that most emperors try to teach their heirs apparent but most times fail miserably. Why? Because the lessons are time acquired, they are seared in the mind because they are experiences mixed with emotions making them memories. They can’t be forgotten.

In their tutelage, most heirs apparent hear these lessons but brush them off as tales of a time gone by. The prospect of “modernizing” things is so intoxicating that most of them forget why things have remained the same for so long. So they rush into the boardroom and fire everyone. They replace all the casual labour with a capital intensive solution that makes the “casuals” jobless. They are swift to “modernize” the logo and up-end the “brand look and feel”.

“These things are from a long time ago. They all need to change,” they say. “We need to get with the times. Something new and fresh and exciting!”

“Like what were you thinking?” lips firmly placed, you ask.

“ I was checking online and I saw something that I think we should use,” comes the curt retort.

In that process they want their asses kissed so hard and if there is no evidence of sh*t on your face they’ll rub it in for effect. They’ll work you harder. They’ll listen to you less. They’ll disrespect you more. Eventually, when the tally is done they will never let you make as great as they could be. These are the bottoms we all dread. The ones who don’t wipe. They ones who will fart while you are in the middle of your morning ass-kissing ritual and laugh just because they can and there is nothing you can do about it.

But why are they like this? I don’t know so don’t ask me but in my next life I’d like to come back as an heir apparent just to see. But I suspect there are a few reasons why:
As I said above, the emperor is wise and old. He has seen many things and has learnt that he will never really know it all. So he listens. He mulls on things. And appreciates a good idea. He is the emperor. No one can rush him. When he is ready he will act with deftness and blinding speed. The heir apparent doesn’t have that luxury; he has got naysayers, detractors, populists, etc all around him. He must be rushed and decisive. And there is where all the skid marking starts. As they make the wrong decisions and shit their pants in fear, all the ass kisser will find is skid marks when he comes for their ritual ass kissing.

The decided lack of compassion: this lesson is almost as old as itself. Nowhere in the human race is there less compassion than in heirs apparent. They bear an often unmistakable proclivity for mean, spiteful, denigrating behaviour. They’ll end old friendships and relationships, will set fire to the village barn because they haven’t gotten their share of the wheat crop even though the harvest was bad all around. This is perhaps the point where that lesson on absolute power and corruption is derived. I’m reminded that even in the much hailed Holy Bible for all their strength Judges would never become kings. No matter how many Philistine foreskins Samson took, he would never have the grace and empathy of David.

And that leads to my final point; Strength Vs Grace: Ass kissing is all about grace and tact. It’s very difficult for you to kiss ass when you know its ass. The human spirit rebels against that kind of thing. It is revolted by the debasing of the spirit it represents. However if a king passes by and it has been agreed by his subjects that none shall look upon his countenance then it is in unison that they all bow before him and give him respect. That they will let him have the final word. That they will do his bidding even against great personal misgiving. On the other hand, being forced to kiss hard, unscented, unwiped ass on your knees, in chains only makes the ass worse, and the action more vile.

Yet we must and will continue to kiss ass for that is what will light our houses, and warm our loved ones and feed our children. In the end all you can hope for is that you meet an emperor in your lifetime because that experience is truly one worth having had. Just one emperor. Oh such sweet ass.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


At what now seems a long ago time I was invited to the finale of the 2014 UEFA Champion’s League live screening. It was the epic clash between the mercurial Athletico Madrid and the galactic Real Madrid. Going into the clash Athletico had overcome the giants from Milan, the ensemble from Barcelona and had left the Chelsea bus in tatters. They had done well indeed but the Real Madrid team had overcome 3 German teams to get to the final; Schalke 04, B. Dortmund and B. Munich. They too had overcome great odds. Now I’m not a football fan or enthusiast for that matter but I remember these details because in the middle of the match I got into a somewhat animated conversation with the epic Boaz Shani. One that would niggle me to no end till today;

I postulated that there was a data war coming. He said that what I was saying was what the market had said when Seacom had launched back in July 2009 and it was all speculation. He insisted that the telecoms had been too lazy to roll out and sell the requisite amount of fiber and internet connections that would drive economies in order to generate profits. He said that the internet prices as they were, were guarded by a “cartel” of people enjoying super profits and in whose interests it wasn’t for prices to drop. I was perplexed. So I probed.

“How about the many more people they would connect? They could make more money, they could translate the internet into all sorts of languages, answer all sorts of questions that farmers  and small businesses had,” I asked.

The answer came back clipped curt sentences. “That means nothing to them. Just last month I fired my internet service provider. I mean I’d been with these guys from the beginning. I had brought them lots of business. I had referred all my clients to them. And they just disconnected me without even a phone call or a notice or even an invoice. I now know they have grown too big to care about us small businesses. And that’s the problem with the whole industry”

“So where do we go?”

“The answer will come once the Google satellite is up and the country becomes one big hotspot. Well maybe not the whole country but even just Kampala. It will be enough for internet prices to plummet and these Telco’s to learn their lesson”

He made so much sense I almost believed him.  But I wasn’t convinced. If the Google internet was going to level the field why were the telecoms doing nothing about it since they would most likely be the hardest hit? My own observation had been that since the last great price wars that brought so much misery and tears to the category vows had been taken never to go back there again. Never
The price wars left everyone bleeding

But after the Airtel Warid merger the market had moved to stasis. Growth had almost plateaued. However Orange which hadn’t had much success in the voice category had been continually registering considerable success in the data category especially on the small screens which surprisingly didn’t reflect on why the big screens. Someone somewhere asked “What are those guys doing?”

So it crept up on us.
Slowly, deliberately, MTN Uganda’s communication started having social networking icons. It started with Facebook, then twitter, then YouTube and now you’ll find LinkedIn and Instagram. This of course followed by their recent release of the “What do crocodiles eat?” TV commercial shows a focus by the business on internet services as a priority.
The recent launch of Airtel’s “Switch On” – (good product review to be read here) also indicated that this area has growth potential.  What’s interesting with Switch On is the way it was built like a lifestyle product – not inflexible and rigid like most of the category products but responsive and built around how consumers live and use data. Almost intuitive – this was a win.
Even Smart East Africa Telecom, the newest market entrant in the Telco sector entered with a data offer. 30 days free surfing and data. The offer might be attractive and as most things in this market go, it will be tested. Ugandans never fail to test (they use the word “Jaribu” more than the originators of the word which is of Swahili origin)
However corporate war like the military war of days past has morphed like modern day warfare into something of a fight-between- handcuffed men. After the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) put out their moratorium on all telecom promotions the market is likely to see an increase in the how-much-providers-will-offer-customers versus the previous who-has-the-lowest-price model. So there will be no dramatic price cuts and no front page news about this. Not yet. 

It will be who offers more.

But all the above is only an indication of war, nothing more. Well that may be true but when the two biggest players in the market – who ostensibly have the most to lose start shoring up resources and the small players do about or learn nothing from it, there is little wonder why they are small players.
Will the data war wait for Google to launch its satellites over Africa? I don’t think so. I think that with two more ISPs entering the market by end of year both heavily backed to drive data acquisition and marketing to the hilt we are likely to see moves and steps that will drive customers’ uptake and optimal utilization of the data space much much sooner. Here are 6 trends currently in motion that we are likely to see amplified going ahead:
  1. The Age of The Device: We will see increased focus on devices and whether this is from the telecom network operators MTN, AIRTEL, ORANGE, SMART, UTL, etc. ) Or from devices providers (Transtel, Nokia, Huawei, etc.) themselves it will matter little. The biggest challenge in the past was access in the last mile; how would people access this wonderful world of the internet? How would they enjoy it? How would you sell them data if tehy had no smart phones? Given the wildfire growth of WhatsApp, Facebook and other apps I feel confident to say the device saturation will get there soon enough.
  2. Product Recombination and Innovation: We will see more combined and spliced product offerings; those with more will offer less product and more options. Those with less with offer more product with less options. Confusing? If all you have is data, you will offer more ways to enjoy that data, (e.g. is smile@night/weekend  bundles) while if you are a telecom operator you will look to offer minutes, SMS and data packages/combos to customers as a way to entice data consumption. Whichever way you do it, its important that get to know that your data offering is solid.
  3. Speed, Like Size Does Not Matter: Speed isn’t what it used to be. Customers don’t are for it as much as they used to just like women moved on from their obsession with size. Why?Because speed is a function of technology and investment. If a customer gets a faster phone they will enjoy more speeds, they know that but they are happy with what they have. If the ISP or telecom gets more money, they will invest in upgrading their users' experience to the next level of speed and tehy also know that. So speed doesn't differentiate. Stability is the key now. The connection has to be stable. It can be average speed but stable is important. And that is why Smile has picked its niche and is comfortably nestling in it. A stable connection means your download links won’t break but is also predictable and that is a critical thing with the web.
  4. Experience Will Drive New Inroads: From the Orange Expo to the MTN Internet Expo we are seeing more demonstrability of capacity and possibility by providers and operators to bring an experience the public cannot find in great advertising. It doesn’t mean people will not need the great ads but it means before people buy they will want to “see” the Ugandan way – with their hands!
  5. Sharing And Engagement Is The Master Key: When “#StanAirtelUg” hit the market about two years ago no one thought it as possible to do; to have round the clock response to customers online for the second largest telecom provider in the market? Impossible. But they did it. #StanAirtelUg proved that appearing superhuman, being indefatigable and being on point with customer responses was possible. To a point where “Stan” was the answer to everything. Was Airtel going to launch a rocket to the moon? Ask Stan. Would Museveni retire in 2021? Ask Stan (sic) even Stan doesn’t know that one. Anyway, the point being they broke a barrier and challenged the industry. Now at every moment the MTN Instagram page is filled with what they are doing, where they are or who they are rewarding. Is it exhausting, redundant, time consuming? Yes, but if they don’t do that people will never spend their MBs following them and will instead end up on the @Bus250 IG (Don’t ask how I found out). The truth is that other brands are building their engagement platforms as well but they are all following the leaders and that’s who we really talk about on here. We are seeing a lot more traction in the advocacy and NGO sectors too and that will continue to grow as engagement opens up an erstwhile apathetic young audience to issues and activism. If people can share it, they can talk about it – and you can talk to them.
  6. The Rise of The Influencer: call them big wigs, influencers, twitterati whatever you call them. They are looked up to in the social media world and digital world. They can be recognized by followers, influence, responses, like, follows, RTs, Favs name it. People who in online speak “run these streets”. Whenever brands have had run-ins with them, there’s been carnage and bloodletting. Why? Because these customers are articulate, they are sharp, they are educated and mostly fearless. Some classic examples was the epic battle between Caleb and MTN when he started that page MTN SUCKS; they called him to their office and things got heated; then of course the dance of death that happens regularly between Dr. Thome and Umeme whenever there is no power in Bunga; the short lived spat between Collins and Vivo Energy didn't last since the brand capitulated. But its not been all bad because there are good moments too, for example when KFC launched in Kampala it was trending for two weeks on social media that there was food for 99,000/= or that hashtag #AtDuskWeRise; much spoken about but not as much done to raise the requisite amount of FOMO. My last example is the last how all the influencers came together to “"#BuyABrick"” for the 40 days over 40 smiles campaign to build a dormitory in Luweero for an orphanage. Splendid use of influencers and all done on a small budget. As brands move, they are going to need to build their own arsenal of influencers; people who will stand in their corner when the gloves are off. Yes, they can be bought but you don’t have that much money. So build engagement experiences and make them love your brands.

Image taken from @Ayampatra

The war is coming. I only hope we are ready both as customers and brands because surely this only where the fittest come out alive. Just like those real guys crept up on Athletico Madrid in that finale.

Spartan out!

Thursday, August 14, 2014


It’s been a while since I have been here and so much has happened since I last was but there’ll be more on that later. Last week I had the pleasure of attending two seemingly similar events and yet they couldn’t have been more dissimilar. The first one was the British Council Young Creative Entrepreneur where young people from Uganda were pitching their nascent ideas on disrupting the fashion business in the hopes of a chance to attend the London Fashion Week and get their business idea bought by the powers that be. The Young Creative Entrepreneur category will recognize the work of 10 people whose businesses are making the UK creative economy exciting.” Says the official website.

 It was unmemorable not as much for the décor but rather the somberness of the event. The fact that the place was laden with the diplomatic corps was enough to freak anybody out without the restriction on taking pictures. But more on that another time.
The second event was the Local Area Networking event for the ICT Association of Uganda. An inaugural event in its own right but more so because it represented the first step in a journey – definitely in the right direction. Held at Gatto Matto and attended by the who’s who in the tech scene in Uganda, this was the event to be at. From people who adopted technology in their later years to people I knew 5 years ago who more than wrote coded for Facebook startup apps.
Later in the evening as I watched the crowd thin out and the die-hards cluster closer together in smaller groups and huddle round hushed ideas I realized this scene was one like in any minority community. When the well-wishers and the crowd go home is when the purists came to life! The one whose ideas kept them awake at night, the ones whose passion gave them a slightly maniacal glint in their eyes, the ones whose only claim to notability was their sheer ability to never be outworked; the workhorses, the beasts, the ones you call when you want to lift it (anything: from projects, to proposals to mobile apps to grant applications to startups – anything! ) off the ground (I have a theory on these people but that’ll be for another day) and I was reminded of a few things that day:
1.       Meeting New People: You are never as famous as you think with geeks. Milling about I bumped into some serious tech powerhouses, the kinds of guys who you read about winning awards but who were completely oblivious to their surroundings or who was around them; proving the  often over used cliché about geeks’ social awkwardness. So, lesson: be polite, introduce yourself and say what you do. Simply, clearly and deliberately. Geeks hate flakes and they can smell them out quite quickly. Also, whatever you think you have done, it’s not that important because there is a guy in that crowd hoping to cure cancer or to single handedly close the digital divide. So be humble.

2.       Old Ideas Told in New Ways: In the course of the evening I happened to bump into Joseph Kaizzi who I hadn’t seen since my bachelor night sendoff night a few weeks ago but who we really hadn’t sat down and talked with for a while. He told me how his startup was (Tambula is a startup helping boda boda riders track their bikes when they are stolen and a host of other disruptive technologies) For a small fee he will install a tracker and in case your boda ever goes walk about he’ll know here it is. The conversation centered on his first two cases of theft and resultantly tracking; how he’d worked close to 36 hours to track down both bikes – a story only he can narrate with that much verve. As I listened to him tell me how Bing maps actually delivered better ground visibility at 4:00am in Fort Portal and the challenges of trying to orient oneself to seeing the world from above I got the tingling sensation that he had actually stumbled on something new – a problem.  He might learn to see the world from above or he might develop a way to see the world as people on the ground see it while still looking from above. He would just figure out a way to make his startup more efficient and that self-learning was so reminiscent of many years ago sitting in an old coffee booth talking about the Microsoft Imagine Challenge cup team presentations he held court over with tenacity and ferociousness.

3.       Of Gods and Worshippers; At any of these events one is bound to bump into a geek celeb. Someone celebrated for a being a geek. They could be an inventor, a revered mentor, or just simply the poster child for geekdom. In this respect all three categories were represented in the persons of Solomon King, Michael Niyitegeka and the ever iridescent Evelyn Namara.

What one never imagines is how these types interact with each other in the same space; kind of like how handsome guys hate to be in the same space as really hot girls. Both are good – on their own – ALONE. Most people will argue that the interactions are normal and casual until they aren’t. In the course of the evening I talked to a young man who was developing an electro-kinetic charging system; basically a shoe that would generate electricity for charging mobile phones etcetera. As he told me about women in villages who walk long distances and campus kids who walk to everywhere they are going (most likely for lack of money) it somehow slipped into the conversation that Simon Kaheru would need to call him and have a chat with him. I suddenly wished I hadn’t said that. His face paled and he almost choked on some chips. So I probed a little further. It then emerged that phone calls from Simon were as feared and dreaded in his part of the world as in mine – advertising and crisis management. The truth was that Simon had been at the event and had interacted jovially and freely with almost everyone there.

The learning for me was not to take my ability to interact with people for granted because you never know who is scared to death of the person you are talking to so casually. That is not to say I am not scared of Simon, or to even imply that I chat with him casually as that would constitute two large fat falsehoods. As we sipped on our drink and glanced across the courtyard at the table where the ‘powerful’ people were I thought how interesting it would be to appear truly and deeply fearless –the one quality that we both agreed was Simon’s hallmark. But it was a good thought and I really needed to move on to living my life again – with fear. That said, I managed to convince the young man to write Simon an email because only thing worse than him calling you is you calling him