ROOTIO A GRASSROOTS COMMUNITY RADIO STATIONS IN UGANDA


 

By Paul Ndiho

Innovation is happening across Africa, in many different sectors, from agriculture to banking, education to energy — and in broadcasting. In Uganda, Rootio, a community radio station is broadcasting without a studio or transmitting tower.

Humility is what describes Jude Mukundane, a Ugandan software developer and technology enthusiast. He’s the inventor of a grassroots community radio station dubbed the “Rootio Project” Or “the radio in a bucket.”

Among his peers, he’s just regular guy, in fact, very few people know about his innovation that is creating buzz on the international scene. Mukundane is part of a new breed of young African innovators trying to change Africa’s image.  His love and passion for technology has inspired him to build from scratch a grassroots community radio station.

“I’m into technology for the grassroots. The kinds of projects that I am working on are projects that try to reduce technology to a level where people, and their grassroots can take it, and apply it to their lives, and use it in ways that do not require them to learn a lot to use computers and things like that.”

The Rootio Project is a loosely-integrated, content-agnostic “solution stack” for peer-oriented radio networks.

“We build a very small community-based radio stations. These radio stations are small enough to fit in a bucket. We have taken out all of the expensive equipment and put in more bio foam and anything transmitted in a bucket, and so that plays audio content that’s broadcast out into the communities.”

Mukundane is part of a talented group of Ugandans that has been tasked to find homegrown solutions for Ugandans living in rural villages.

“I do understand the things that you can do with technology. But also, part of me is about looking at technology and wondering what can you use this technology for…”

Rootio grew out of the recognition that despite the wonders of mobile telephones and the Internet, radio is still a vibrant medium — and in many places across Africa it is still where most people get the bulk of their information.  It doesn’t require literacy, a personal device, or much power, it is transmitted free of charge, and it comes built into many of the phones used around the world.

“People receive them using their regular radio receivers. They don’t need any specialized applications or smartphones, just their standard radios that they are using at the moment.”

Technology analysts say Rootio stations are designed to best serve rural citizens and bridge the gap between the communities and the currently available commercial radio stations, which are located within the business centers hindering access.  The Rootio project has had some success as well as many challenges.

For example, we’re proposing radio at a scale that the Uganda Communications Commission was not used to giving these kinds of licenses. Our station runs at a maximum of 25 watts, so that is nothing compared to a typical radio station, but regarding the issue of credibility, these stations are owned by the committee, it’s not an individual.”

Uganda Communications Commission recently licensed Rootio community radio stations to run pilots in Northern Uganda, up to a radius of about 35 kilometers on flat terrain areas.

LGBT PEOPLE IN ARICA NEED PROTECTION


 

By Paul Ndiho

Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries. It’s a situation that has drawn increasing criticism from many western nations. Human rights activists, along with church leaders say that the rights of homosexuals and other marginalized groups should be protected.

Across much of Africa Homosexuality is taboo. It is illegal in 37 nations on the continent. Africans who are openly gay fear incarceration, violence and to some extent, losing their jobs.  Last year, on his first presidential trip to his father’s homeland Kenya, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the issue at a joint press conference with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“If you look at the history of countries around the world when you start treating people differently–not because of any harm they’re doing anybody, but because they’re different–that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode and bad things happen. And when a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those practices can spread.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed the issue of gay rights as a non-issue.

“It is very difficult for us to impose on people that which they do not accept. This is why I repeatedly said that for Kenyans today, the issue of Gay rights is a non-issue.”

In Uganda, an anti-homosexuality bill received mixed reactions in parliament. The draft law with death penalty clauses proposed in the original version was passed by the Parliament of Uganda in December 2013 — with life in prison substituted for the capital punishment.

The bill was signed into law by the President of Uganda in February 2014. However, in August 2014, the Constitutional Court of Uganda ruled the law invalid on procedural grounds. Ugandan Transgender activist Nikolas Mawanda, was repeatedly targeted back home because he is gay, he says more needs to be done.

“You may play right now but tomorrow you are playing with your life because tomorrow it will be your son, it will be your daughter. It will be your relative, it may be your mom, and it will be your dad. Today you’re busy passing a law to send someone to jail for life. But what if your son came out as a gay person? Would you send them to jail for life?

LGBT activists in Zambia are beginning to speak out about the treatment of homosexuals, and other marginalized groups. Zambia’s robust anti-homosexuality laws date back to the British colonial era — and public opinion remains firmly against gays and lesbians. I recently caught up with Jane Kulaba a renowned human rights activist for her thoughts on the subject.

“”Since we’re Christians, let’s us tolerate one another and let us allow for dialogue and call for precise dialogue to discuss these things and just create that relationship with the public.”

Zambian gay rights activist, David Musonda, says the government needs to create an atmosphere where the LGBT community, government, can meet and engage with each other.

“When you see a person who is gay, or who is a lesbian, who is intersex, let us not rush to killing them. They are a child to somebody; they are a father to somebody. Let us just look for remedies. What is the best remedy? If we have an understanding with them, let us strike that balance because then we will have gone and bow our head. The world is after all one world that all of us have to live in.”

In South Africa, Reverend Patson Kabala of Presbyterian Church of South Africa says that people who feel oriented towards people of the same sex should be embraced.

“They are human beings, and they also need to be protected. In my view, they need to be embraced. They need to be given space in society.”

Across the continent, the subject of gay rights remains a very sensitive issue. But despite opposition, there’s hope and victories for the LGBT community. Mozambique recently joined a small minority of African nations to decriminalize homosexuality.

TWINKLE INDUSTRIES FOUNDER TURNING PASSION INTO A PROFITABLE BUSINESS


By Paul Ndiho

This an interesting story about a Ugandan Mandela Washington Fellow and budding entrepreneur whose dream is to become the largest manufacturer of beauty and home care products.  Martin Mugabi has taken his startup Twinkle Industries to new heights.

Turning Passion into a Business PKG

Being passionate about your work is a major key to success and Martin Mugabi fits in that category. It was his passion that triggered him to start Twinkle Industries, a beauty and home care products company. Since returning to his native land in 2014, Martin Mugabi has turned his passion into a profitable business. And literary turned this house into a mini factory.

“When you visited us last year, you saw us operating in a shack; we are no longer work in a cabin. We have managed to rent some premises that can be visible.”

Mugabi says that manufacturing beauty and home care products in various products is a business that he has thought about for the last three years. His products are sold in shops across Kampala and its surrounding areas.

“We’ve changed the way we do business. While at the beginning of the year, we’re struggling to get customers, by asking individuals to buy and try out our products. Things have changed, our major primary customers now wholesalers. And we are focusing on the biggest wholesalers in this country.”

When I first met Martin nearly two years ago, he told me that he didn’t have any technical knowledge on the process of making beauty and home products – but he certainly does now, and his ambition is to take on the giant beauty and home cleaning goods companies.

“We now manufacture on demand, and previously we made so many things, and begged people to take whatever they could. Now we’ve tested out the market, it has pushed out our products out, and we’re no longer manufacture to look for what we can find, we get orders and we make those orders. People have appreciated our orders they have understood our brands. It is now recognizable.”

For a rising start-up like Twinkle manufacturing, beauty, and home care products can be a perfect business opportunity, if you have the right formula and people to do the job.  Mildred Awili is the company’s chemist.

Although there are many products on the market, making beauty and home care products can be a perfect business opportunity, if you have the right people to market the product like Sandra who says that her customers are curious about some of Twinkle’s merchandise.

Like any start-up company, Twinkle Industries is not without its challenges. For example, getting her product line certified citified and approved by the Uganda Bureau of Standards took a long time. Other constant problems include power blackouts. But despite these hurdles Magubi says that the sky is the limit.

SETTING THE BAR FOR UGANDAN COMEDY


 

By Paul Ndiho

Standup comedy is gaining popularity in Africa.  Comedians are becoming household names, earning fame, and recognition.  Ugandan comedian Kenneth Kimuli — also known as Pablo, is no exception.

Ugandan Comedy Pablo PKG

Comedians are as funny as ever, and can turn your bad day into a better day with their hilarious jokes.

“When I was born my dad walked into the maternity ward took a look at the baby and asked my mother one question: is this a joke? Here I am a living joke….”

Inspired mainly by American comedians, Kenneth Kimuli, is known as Uganda’s king of comedy.  He started doing stand-up in 2003, but it wasn’t until 2009 when won a comedy competition called “Stand up Uganda”, that he rose to fame.

“When I decide to start my comedy called “Pablo live.” It was meant to mentor people that were interested in stand-up comedy, create a platform for them, and let the world know that there is stand-up comedy in Uganda.”

“Pablo”, a professional journalist, turned comedian has a quick wit and unpredictability that makes him a natural entertainer.

“My mom thought I was a miracle worker because every time I would do something she would hold her head and say the son of God. And because my dad thought I was strange, he would read me “The rise and fall of Idi Amin…” as a bedtime story. Imagine all those nightmares.”

Pablo has wooed everyone with his unique African infused brand of comedy and humor, selling out venues across Africa.  He’s also a burgeoning actor and musician.

“I tell my comedian friends the future for comedy in Uganda everybody should buy sunglasses because the future is bright.

“Hah aha…  I once helped our neighbor who wanted to commit suicide, when he was about to hang himself. I was only 10 I said go ahead I am only waiting for your shoes and the man changed his mind.”

Arthur Rutaro, an independent industry analyst, says the government needs to pay attention to this growing industry.

“I think the government needs to come up and support them. Being a young and emerging industry it’s composed of young people, people below the age of 30 and most of them are doing it on their own. They are pushing themselves, despite the talent that we see in them.

Mr. Rutaro says 15 years ago “comedian” was not a known profession, and in Uganda it is still a bit informal. The hippest comedy nights take place in the backrooms of bars, restaurants, theaters, and makeshift performance spaces.

“To me looking at them standing out and inspiring young people, they are inspiring us. They raise a lot of hope. They bring back hope for the majority of the youth and the young people.

In Uganda, there are few full-time comedy clubs and no real circuit for stand-up comics to perform.  But the burgeoning comedy scene in Uganda is exciting and it’s impressive to see how polished Pablo is for someone who has only been doing stand-up for few years. Pablo now believes that comedy is being taken seriously as a career path.

Ugandan Entrepreneur Soybeans into Tofu


 

By Paul Ndiho

Have you ever thought about how different foods are made? I’m always asking myself this question and wondering how different foods are made too.Turning Soybeans into Tofu PKG

This fascinating story is about Martin Ssali a Ugandan born, food scientist at Makerere University in Uganda — Upon completion of the Mandela Washington Fellowship; he moved back to Uganda to start the National Soybean Network and Smart Foods Limited. Mr. Ssali has turned his passion into a profitable business with the introduction of new soy foods, soy value chain, which involves stimulation of soya production, chain market improvement, and industrial soybean utilization.

“The idea of doing tofu and different soy innovations came during my final year as a student of food science and technology at Makerere University, where we are encouraged to come up with new ideas that would move Uganda’s food industry to the next level. I looked at the industry, and I looked at different industries and what was not going on well and what gaps we had in the industry.”

Tofu, or bean curd, is a favorite food derived from soybeans. It is made by curdling fresh soya milk, pressing it into a solid block and then cooling it – in much the same way that traditional dairy cheese is made. It starts with getting dried soybeans from the farmers, washing the beans to separate the good ones from the bad ones, soaking the beans for a couple of hours, and then transferring the beans to a food processor or high-powered blender to get soymilk.

Tofu is a delicacy widely enjoyed around the world, and it is an excellent example of how a simple food like soybeans can be woven into human food traditions in a way that is natural, inexpensive, and nourishing.

“There was the idea of doing innovations in soybean, where we can make tofu and be able to spice it up for the market, the soy milk, and spice up the soy milk to taste

Tofu is a surprisingly versatile form of soybeans that is made by curdling soymilk so that its proteins become coagulated and then pressed into a sliceable cake.

Even though little tofu sold in the Uganda – Ssali says through his start-up, he able to change peoples mindset as they get to know that Tofu is an excellent source of protein.

“As a scientist what’s my contribution to this country. I chose soybean because it’s great in protein. However we, have so little attention to the crop in the country. That’s why I decided to focus on the soybeans.”

Furthermore, Nutritionists say that Tofu has an excellent source of iron, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals.

Besides being the ideal food source for many vegetarians and vegans, it also packs an enormous amount of health benefits into those thin white blocks including its ability to increase the blood circulation in the body, thanks to its iron and copper content.

“Imagine you eating meat, but you’re not eating meat because it’s coming from soy bean…. we’ve been able to innovate very well to be able to deliver to them something they can be able to enjoy. So what we are trying to do here is an equivalent to meat, because tofu has, all the same, properties regarding nutrition just like meat.”

Nutritionist say if adults replaced meat and dairy intake with soy, tofu and other soy products, they would also lower cholesterol, in turn, would reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases.

Martin Ssali was part of the 2015 Mandela Washington Fellowship — U.S. President Barack Obama’s initiative that brings five hundred of Africa’s brightest minds to America, to learn new skills and new experiences.

FIGHTING HIV/AIDS IN UGANDA


By Paul Ndiho

HIV/Aids continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed millions of lives so far. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected region according to W.H.O. The East African Nation of Uganda has made remarkable progress in respect to addressing the epidemic, but experts worry that numbers of those living with HIV are surging again.

HIV:Aids PKG

The United Nations says an estimated 34 million people worldwide are living with HIV, and some 30 million people around the globe have died from AIDS-related causes in the 30 years since the first cases reported. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost 70% of the global total of new HIV infections. Sheila Birungi Gandi, acting executive director, Uganda AIDS Information Centre a Non-Governmental Organization established in the 1990s as a result of growing demand from people who wanted to know their HIV status says the organization continues to play a critical role.

“We started with basically with laboratory services testing for HIV and providing services, but given the strength of HIV in the country we progressed into HIV comprehensive healthcare center, and we are established in eight regions of this country in places of the central region with the state of excellent compliance in the city.

Since the 1990s, Uganda was hailed by many as a success story in respect to addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic; compared to most Sub-Saharan countries. However, critics say the recent AIDS indicator survey (2014 – 2015) showed the country sliding back into double digits. But Ms. Gandi dismisses those claims saying that they have interventions that are geared towards capacity building and able to fight the HIV.

“We have interventions that help us to prevent HIV from testing for HIV and aids, screening of the cervix, taking males through male circumcision, and lots of treatment and care services with the medical background, the medical interventions and behavior interventions.”

Analysts say the fight to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic, has a small window of opportunity opening. Efforts have almost reached the half-way point of stopping the disease but the number of those in treatment, 1.7 million people, is on track to surpass the number of new annual infections, about 2 million.

For Uganda, the stakes could not be higher if the country stays ahead of surging numbers according to Marion Natukunda, advocacy and research manager, Uganda Aids information Center.

“Without testing your HIV status, there’s no way you’re going to know if you’re okay or not. So know HIV situation and let’s take it on from there. We’ve launched campaigns, charity walks in the city center, and even at bars. Yeah, we had what they called moonlight testing. We would go extremes just to make sure at least a Ugandan knows their HIV status.”

On the heels of a landmark visit to Kenya and Ethiopia, where President Barack Obama declared “Africa is on the move,” he honed the message, this time to 500 young leaders visiting from sub-Saharan Africa.

“The continent has archived historical gains in health from fighting HIV/AIDS to making childbirth safer for women and babies. Millions have been lifted from extreme poverty. So this is extraordinary progress,”

In July this year, the 21st International AIDS Conference will be held in Durban, South Africa. A campaign dubbed “AIDS 2016” is an opportunity to show the progress Africa has made in implementing and funding evidence-based prevention and treatment interventions. Scientists, policymakers, world leaders and people living with HIV will discuss together successes and challenges to that country and the current global epidemic trends.

UGANDAN TECH HUB HELPS EMERGING ENTREPRENEURS TO THINK OUTSIDE OF THE BOX


By Paul Ndiho

The success of internet connectivity in Uganda is exciting the nation’s young people to create tech hubs like Outbox – a business incubator focused on providing rising entrepreneurs, students, developers, researchers and organizations the opportunity to build inclusive communities that they can tap into for talent and collaboration.

Outbox pkg

As of January 2016, the population of    Uganda’s population is estimated to be more than 41 million people – According to Uganda’s population and census bureau.  Youth unemployment in the country is at all-time high, and the nation has one of the world’s largest percentages of young people under 35, according to the State of Uganda Population report by   the United Nations Population Fund.

More than 40,000 young people graduate from Ugandan universities each year, but the Ugandan job market can provide only 8,000 jobs annually.  But initiatives like Outbox, a highly creative tech hub for ideas   are changing that narrative by challenging young entrepreneurs interested in using technology to think outside the box. Richard Zulu is the lead developer for Outbox.

“Outbox started as a combination of many efforts, and so what we do now is we work with upcoming African entrepreneurs, and give them a work space,  get them into shape and we offer them training. We also have partnerships to raise funding for them, and expose them to new markets.”

Outbox launched in 2012, with an ambitious goal of changing Uganda’s entrepreneur community through a program that spans three to six months and so far, Outbox has an outstanding success story.

“The amount of success stories that we’ve had are quite a number. Currently, we are working with up to seven startups that we are supporting in different verticals and then we have up to five more affiliated with us or that are very interested in collaborating within our networks.”

Zulu says helping emerging entrepreneurs is something he does because he believes it will spur development.

“We don’t take equity or anything like that from the companies that are here. We just ask them to subscribe as members to benefit from our services, and so for us currently we run activities that give us the income, but with regards to the startup it’s what we love doing, and that’s our way of giving back to the community.”

Other start-ups taking advantage of the office space include Kola Studios, creators of the popular two-player card game dubbed “Matatu”. The goal of the game is to play all your cards before your opponent. Sharon Rwakatungu explains.

Apps are all the rage for a growing number of mobile devices. And young people are taking advantage of this revolution. Bryan Lamtoo is behind the NTV mobile app called “NTV GO” and explains how the app works. NTV Go enables citizen journalists to engage and contribute breaking news content to the station.

Tech analysts say Uganda’s apps industry has been on a major upswing in the past few years, driven primarily by advances in mobile phone technology. And Ugandan government officials are keen to capitalize on that technology too.