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Uganda’s Success Story, the remarkable journey of Gordon Wavamunno

By Paul Ndiho

June 8, 2012

Sir Gordon Wavamunno is one of Uganda’s most prominent entrepreneurs. Born in Rugaaga, a rural village in South Western Uganda, he now has a personal fortune estimated at over fifty million dollars with companies in a wide variety of pursuits, including media, transportation, tourism, farming, trade; manufacturing, real estate – property development, and motor vehicle distribution.  His ability to succeed, despite repeated hardships is remarkable.

Gordon Wavamunno is probably one of Uganda’s best-known and most successful businessman, – and a key player in the country’s economy.

This year, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed a knighthood, the United Kingdom’s highest honor on Sir Gordon, recognizing him for his contributions to society and international relations.

From an early age, Wavamunno knew he wanted to be a businessman. After joining his father’s trade business, he worked as a cashier and traded agricultural produce.

He quickly saved enough money from that enterprise to establish a dry cleaning business, bought a car and started a car rental and driving school business in Mbarara, Western Uganda.

A couple years later, he expanded the business to Kampala. From there, with two partners he opened Uganda Peoples Transport and Taxi Service Limited, and eventually left it to form his own company “Spear Group” and obtained a Daimler Mercedes dealership to sell its products.

Gordon Wavamunno’s story closely mirrors the fortunes of post-independence Uganda – During the turbulent years of General Idi Amin’s regime, and the early 1980s under President Milton Obote, his efforts were almost completely destroyed. He was thrown in jail twice; his business was vandalized and looted beyond repair.  He survived, started over and reclaimed his fortunes.

He persuaded Daimler Mercedes to retain him as Uganda’s sole dealer. And founded and built the now multi-million dollar, Spear Group of enterprises; consisting of Spear Motors Limited, which sells Mercedes Benz, and other brands.

Over the years, he has moved into other businesses including, WAVA textiles and clothing, state of the art WAVA Fancy furniture, WAVA Ostrich and Horse farming, WAVA bottled water, and more.

Wavamunno continues building his rapidly expanding portfolio, Wavamunno Broadcasting services or WBS Television is an affiliate of Voice of America’s to TV- Africa. The station is one of the leading privately owned media operations in the Country.

The self-made businessman has won the Ugandan Businessman of the Year award seven times. And despite leaving school at a young age, he has honorary degrees from Makerere University, the nation’s oldest premier institute of higher learning and Nkumba University, where he serves as the chancellor.

Beside his business skills, Wavamunno has never turned his back on the less fortunate. His company Spear Motors Limited has donated beds to Katalemwa, a home for the disabled children. He has also donated other materials to schools. And worked with St. John’s Ambulance in Uganda and regularly contributes to the building of schools, hospitals and places of worship in Uganda.

As if this were enough, He is also a diplomat in his own right. For example, he represents the interests of the republic of Hungary in Uganda.

As the saying goes, behind every great man is an even greater woman. Wavamunno married Morine in 1974.  The Wavamunno’ s live comfortably in the Munyooyo suburbs of Kampala; in the multi-million dollar home they call Cape Villa, on the shores of Lake Victoria.  They are often photographed attending public outings. Wavamunno attributes his business success largely to his wife.  He says, “Morine is not just my wife, the mother of my children but someone who has become my chief business advisor and confidante. He credits her with challenging him to venture into many now successful businesses including textiles.

Wavamunno Broadcasting Services, the leading indigenous television station in the country has curried live VOA’S Flagship Television Talk show Straight Talk Africa since 2000.

Mr.  Wavamunno does have his critics in Uganda; some say that he has attained his success at the expenses of the smaller businesses that have no access to his kind of capital or political connections.

Nollywood Films Stream Live Online

By Paul Ndiho

June 4, 2012

Nollywood films are growing in popularity in Africa, because they often touch on issues that many people across the continent can identify with.  Now, an online distribution company is sending the movies into the homes of Africans, cutting out a notorious layer of pirates. 

UK based iRoko TV, dubbed the “Netflix of Africa”, and is the continent’s leading online subscription and distribution service for TV and Nigerian movies.  The platform streams content directly to avid consumers in amazing high-definition quality.

31-year old Nigerian-born Jason Njoku, the founder and CEO of i-Roko TV, says the idea came to him when he realized his family and friends in London had an insatiable appetite for Nollywood films, but were always struggling to get the latest releases.

“Being that I lived with mom again, I was going to aunties and uncle’s houses and friends and families in the Nigerian community in London. And they were all watching this similar type of movies. I was just — how have I missed this huge movement, huge phenomenon in Nigerian cinema and i am a media guy? So i task myself which is to find out more about the industry.”

Since January, iRoko TV has recorded about three-thousand titles and signed-up over 100-thousand subscribers.  The films are currently distributed for free because revenue is made from advertising, but, starting in June, subscribers will have to pay for the service.

Nollywood films are often tales of cannibalism, witchcraft and weeping girlfriends who put curses on their errant boyfriends – but Nigeria’s nearly one-billion dollar film industry is Africa’s biggest after India’s Bollywood and America’s Hollywood.

Njoku says iRoko’s wide-ranging viewership spans from Africa– to the diaspora, with the largest markets being in the united states, the U.K., Canada, Germany and Italy, mostly because of the high-broadband penetration.

“Production values are probably not as high as what people would expect in the west, but it’s not really about the production value it’s about the stories. Why people who have access to everything in the west are going on to a computer and watch Nollywood movies? It’s because they connect to it somehow and that’s where the story comes in, that’s where the cost comes in, that’s where the actors and actresses come in.”

Njoku says Nollywood churns out about 50 low-budget films a week.  To find the movies for distribution, he had to move back home and physically find the production houses, many of which did not have offices and were often a setup of one man and his cellphone.

Producers eventually got acquainted with the idea– and now they call him.  But, piracy is rampant, and producers lose out on huge amounts of revenue from the illegal sale of their copyrighted films and music.

Njoku says with better internet penetration in Africa, where millions of fans still rely on DVD’s that are often illegal copies, the market is set to grow tremendously in the next five years.

“In London, we have more viewers in London than we do have in the whole of Nigeria. But when you think, how many Nigerians Africans are even in London compared to the 150 million or so in Nigeria? So once the broadband penetration improves then we expect to see a massive surge in sort of interest in Africa. So my prediction is by five years’ time we’re talking about an African business as opposed to being a western one.

Award-winning filmmaker, Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, often referred to as the “father of Nollywood”, says iRoko TV is creating a new avenue for films to be seen, and in turn, eliminating piracy and making sure film revenues go to the right people.

“What iRoko is doing is going to help our industry but, the only challenge i foresee which i am not praying for it to happen, typical of Nigerian industries, there is always this ingenuity in us Africans, especially Nigerian to circumvent whatever someone has created and he thinks is full proof,” he said.

While some of Africa’s expertly trained filmmakers disdain Nigeria’s commercial approach, others believe it is filling a gap which will bring dividends in the long run.

IRoko TV employs 100 people on three continents and recently 8 million dollars of funding through the U.S.-based investment manager, tiger global.

“… A great thing is that as long as our viewers love what we’re doing, and then we’re going to be okay as a company,”

About one-thousand movies are produced in Nollywood each year – most are in local languages – Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo, while English accounts for more than 40 percent of the films produced.

Tanzania – soil conservation

By Paul Ndiho

June 4, 2012

The slopes of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro play an important role in the nation’s socio-economics and ecology.  The mountain is a contributor to agriculture, forestry and eco-tourism.  Now, the government is teaming up with the United Nations food and agriculture organization, to access the forest’s carbon pools.

Field workers from Tanzania’s national forestry assessment project or naforma– have arrived to take tree measurements and soil samples near Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania.  The team is collecting information on the number, size and quality of the trees as well as assessing the forests so-called carbon pools– one of which is soil.  Forest soils are a massive carbon stock.  The deforestation process releases carbon from the soil, significantly increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Soil stores two to three times as much as living plants, so it it’s really important.  And the problem is that we don’t know yet how this carbon stored in the soil can be released to the atmosphere if the land use for example changes from forestry to agriculture.   And this is one of the questions that the naforma soil survey tries to address.”

Soil samples are brought to this laboratory where they are analyzed to establish the carbon content.

“Now we know we have some areas which are highly fertile, and those need to have some ways of conserving it so that we can maintain the carbon stocks in those areas.”

Farmers on the slopes of Kilimanjaro have been developing their own form of climate smart agro-forestry for centuries.

The principal crops are coffee and bananas grown under a canopy of trees. While farming is intensive, the farmers conserve water and recycle all organic matter to ensure their methods are sustainable.

Scientists say, if Tanzania can successfully sustain and even increase its carbon stocks it stands to gain from the United Nations initiative to reduce carbon emissions through deforestation and degradation – also known as red – which aims to reward developing countries who can demonstrate a reduction in their carbon emissions.

“The main aim of the red initiative is to try capturing the excessive carbon within the atmosphere to the forest. We will come out with the change of how much carbon has been added from the atmosphere to our forest stores and how much we should then be paid for that storage.  You see red will pay for the additional carbon.”

The soil survey being carried out here is one of the most extensive efforts undertaken in tropical forests to gather more information on the role of soils in climate change.

If that can be understood, it will provide not only Tanzania but also other tropical nations with the information they need to sustainably manage their forest resources, allowing them to better provide for their growing populations and reduce their carbon emissions.

Kenya Food Prices

By Paul Ndiho
May 22, 2012
Kenya has shifted from a drought that threatened millions people without food in 2011, to floods that are sweeping through fields and compromising harvests.  Food prices remain high and consumers in east Africa’s biggest economy are hurting.
At one of Nairobi’s biggest open air food markets, the colors of ripe fruit and vegetables displayed in heaps around muddy stalls, brighten up a dull rainy day.
The kangemi market, which lies strategically along the highway that links the fertile right valley region to the Kenyan capital to the west, has always been cheaper than what you would find deeper within the city.  But in the last five years buyers say the cost of food, like in every other part of the county has continued to rise.
“We have not seen the food prices drop anywhere because even when we go to the wholesale market we find that the prices are high and when we try and sell it to our buyers it is impossible.”
Record high food prices last year helped to fuel the demonstrations in east Africa. Domestic food prices remain high due to a combination of large quantities of food imports and factors such as regional trade restrictions, hoarding, civil unrest, poor governance and climate change.
A United Nations report released in April showed that world food prices eased after rising during the first quarter of this year.
Economic analyst James Shikwati says supermarkets were keeping prices high for consumers willing to pay more for convenience, forcing wholesale markets like Kangemi to follow in order to stay relevant.
“the causes of food prices going up in Kenya is the disruption of transportation system caused by the heavy rains that’s one of them the of course the other cause is the competition between what i will call the super market surge visa – visa the open air markets where now everybody is trying to position to be able to be meaningful to the market.”
In another part of Kenya, the Maasai people of Namelok in Amboseli region are trying to adapt to changing weather patterns by coming up with new farming methods aimed at improving their food security. They are traditionally livestock keepers, but successive droughts have decimated many of their animals, so they broke with tradition and now cultivate tomatoes, maize and beans.
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark recently visited the area ahead of the launch of the Africa human development report. Helen noted that across Africa a big answer to fighting hunger and food shortages is empowering women farmers.
“this cooperative of women working with a local non-governmental organization has found a way to move forward, so this story needs to be told many times to inspire other communities to think that it is possible to be able to have a livelihood as things around you are changing, as the climate is changing, and things can’t be done the way they used to be.”
Some women in this region earned a living by trading goats at the local market after their husbands left them with children to feed– but the income is unreliable.  Now, the women’s group has leased two acres of land with the help of a small local charity, and they’ve already had one successful harvest.
“We would like to farm more arable land and do this on a bigger scale, and we want to learn better agricultural practices, so that we can become a society that can sustain itself.”
Analysts say tourism is a major earner of foreign exchange for Kenya– and the community has recognized that conservation can also bring economic benefits.
Some critics say the government has failed to harness the water available for storage and farming in areas that require irrigation– and to serve populations without access to drinking water and electricity.
Shikwati says Kenya needs to prioritize food security as much as it does other sectors of the economy.
“If Kenya continues to rely on other countries to govern its food security policies, they can never be food secure because it’s the same comparison with national security they try as much as possible to have an internal mechanism to ensure the country is secure so i think the same needs to be applied to food,”
After decades of neglect, critics are urging African governments to pay more attention to the importance of investing in agriculture — if not for food security– then for political stability, as a way to avoid the riots over high food prices that affected several countries in 2008.

Congo Aviation Safety

 By Paul Ndiho
May 15, 2012
The Democratic Republic of Congo has few passable roads traversing the country, forcing much of the population to rely on ill-maintained planes. But the central African country has one of the worst air safety records in the world, with notoriously lax safety regulations. In order to restore the confidence of its passengers and investors, the airline Fly Congo has introduced a new fleet of airliners and promised to tighten safety procedures.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) says that the Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the world’s worst records for aviation accidents. The country rates poorly in overall aviation safety.
But earlier this month, an airline whose license had been revoked in the wake of a July 2011 crash that killed 74 people, resumed operations. Fly Congo, known previously as Hewa Bora, opened a new Kinshasa-Kisangani-Goma route as part of its effort to revamp and rebrand the airline.
Passengers on board one of the relaunched airline’s first flights are hopeful safety problems are a thing of the past.
“Sometimes it’s a purely technical problem. I cannot confirm , but I am pretty certain that following past incidents of plane crashes, I think that company bosses will now try to improve the airlines quality, because having planes crashes all the time does not help anyone.”
DRC is Africa’s second-largest country, and one of the most inaccessible countries on the continent. Its dense forests, rivers and mountainous terrain make ground transport problematic, leaving aviation as the only option for fast and efficient travel. Experts say aviation oversight, in spite of the periodic government statements following such disasters, has remained patchy at best. They say none of the promised fundamental overhauls has taken place, leaving in operation “flying coffins,” as the Soviet-era planes are often dubbed in Congo and other countries in Africa. Both airline and ground infrastructure leave much to be desired in terms of international safety standards.
“I think that the current infrastructures at many of the country’s airport’s control towers are inadequate, but they are working on it. We are closely following that in the news. They (the authorities) are working towards improving the infrastructure, so that we can have more reliable communication in
United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) classifies Congo as non-compliant with standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
As a result, Congolese airlines are banned from flying within the European Union airspace. Since records began in 1950s, there have been 65 fatal accidents in DRC, with 878 fatalities. Seven of the incidents took place in the last two years.
Goma, where another Hewa Bora crash killed 40 in 2008, was chosen as a site for the launch event, which gathered local politicians and airline officials.
Gedeon Mangolopa, Goma’s airport director, says he hopes customer confidence will return once the international standards of the airline and the airport are confirmed.
“We estimate that the plan that we are going to put forward will lead to the airport of Goma being able to once again operate to international standards. We ask the people to respect the rules, and to not believe that we are trying to push or manhandle them, but rather that we are trying to implement international regulations, so that we can attract other airline companies,”
To restore confidence and increase the safety of the airline, Fly Congo undertook to destroy six of Hewa Bora’s airplanes and replace them with newer fleet. The aircrafts are being scrapped for parts.
“At the moment, these are planes that can no longer be used for public transport, so we have to turn to planes that are more economical and which are newer.”
The airline is planning to open a new international route between Kinshasa and Johannesburg, South Africa later in the year.

Press Freedom Attacks in Africa

By Paul Ndiho
May 3, 2012
The 2012 freedom of the press report released today says that out 197 countries assessed during 2011, a total of 66 countries were rated free, 72 were rated partly free and 59 countries were rated not free at all.
The state of press freedoms in Africa continued to be a hot topic in 2011.  More than 13 African countries introduced new legislation last year that restricted press freedoms and allowed regimes to control domestic media. The report released by freedom house, a media watch dog based in Washington, DC says 10 percent of counties in sub-Saharan Africa were rated free, 47 percent partly free– and 43% not free.   The horn of Africa was cited for the worst in attacks against the press on the continent, with Eritrea jailing 28 journalists – the most in Africa.  Ethiopia ranked among the top 10 oppressors of internet journalists and some are currently on trial on terrorism charges.   Somalia is Horn of Africa’s deadliest nation for the media; at least five journalists have been assassinated. 
 Angolan government introduced a bill that would criminalize the use of social media, electronic dissemination of “recordings, pictures, and video” of any individual without the subject’s consent.
In Cameroon, the government detains journalists for investigating official misconduct, demonizes social media users and criminalizes certain online speech.
The democratic republic of the Congo – DRC made the list too and attacks on the press hit a five-year, all-time high in November 2011.  Attacks on the press were concentrated in the capital, Kinshasa, and surrounding areas.
Equatorial Guinea, did not pretend either the authorities imposed a news blackout on coverage of Arab uprisings and the use of Social Media 
In Gambia, a radio station is forced to eliminate news, leaving no independent broadcasters and the whereabouts of reporter detained by the government remain a mystery
Ivory Coast, did not fare well either because of partisan media outlets, journalists were attacked in presidential power struggle.  Ouattara pledged reconciliation, but his government retaliated against Pro-Gbagbo media.
Rwanda was cited as one of the worst place for independent journalists. Two independent journalists received lengthy prison sentences and journalists working for independence continue to flee the country.
In South Africa the anti-press rhetoric by the African National Congress – ANC, several assaults on journalists were reported and, ruling party pushed through a secrecy bill
Nationwide Uganda protests over “walk to work” demonstrations led to anti-press attacks and censorship, two journalists shot, dozens assaulted. The government security forces continue to assault opposition leaders and innocent civilians.
In Zimbabwe official media harassment is down slightly, but restrictive laws and regulations against journalists remain. Government raised accreditation fees, but moves slowly on issuing private broadcast licenses

Burundi’s Street Children Struggling to Survive

In Burundi, Hundreds of children leave their rural homes to the capital Bujumbura in search of a better life.  But end up living in Squalor on the streets. Now human rights groups are urging authorities to find new solutions to the growing problem.
On any given day, the streets of Bujumbura are teeming with thousands of children and adults who try to squeeze out a living begging from strangers. As nightfall’s, homeless children seek refuge in the city’s sewage tunnels, one of the only places kids feel safe to fall asleep.

At 14, Felix Ndayengurukiye is already a veteran of the streets of Bujumbura. He left his village in Ngozi, in north-central of Burundi several years ago, fleeing an abusive family and poverty in search of a better life. But disappointment swiftly followed, as Ndayengurukiye ended up living on the streets and sleeping in sewage tunnels.

“What led me to sleep in this tunnel is because when you sleep on other people’s verandas, you are often caught by police, who then take you to jail because they accuse us of stealing from people, even when we are innocent. That’s why I prefer sleeping here in the tunnel,” he said as he struggled to settle into position to sleep in the cramped tunnel.
Thousands of street children in Burundi’s urban centers are compelled to fend for themselves and struggling to survive. Some lack proper shelter and often face abuse from adults and police alike, who routinely round them up and put them in prison without any charges.
Humanitarian agencies say poverty is one of the key factors leading children into the streets. And that Rural to urban migration is another major cause of children ending up homeless.
Deo Ndikumana, member of the national commission of human rights in Burundi, says the attitude is symptomatic of a wider lack of political will to tackle the street children issue.
“There may have been overlaps and a lack of clear politics, but otherwise, I know that we have the capabilities to reintegrate these children into society. Foreign donors as well as local authorities should organize themselves in order to include it in the national budget. This situation is unacceptable and inhumane,” Ndikumana said.
Former Street child Jerome Irankunda counts himself among the lucky few who have been given a second chance. Irankunda grew up on the streets but a local organization that helps street children took him and provided him with vocational training. Irankunda now makes small wooden toys that he sells to expatriates. He says he dreams of having a normal life and a family of his own.
“I want to have a wife who can help me with paying the bills, so that in ca se I am not around, the family can survive. As for children, I don’t want to have too many children that I cannot take care of. I want to have few children, who can also say our father tries his best to look after his family.”
For years, several organizations have been working to reduce the number of children living on the streets, with little success.  Local children activists many organizations are struggling to make significant changes because of a lack legal knowledge or jurisdiction to force the authorities to act.

US Lawmakers Hear From Joseph Kony – LRA Victims

April 26, 2012
Former victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army are demanding an end to bloodshed and human rights violations in Central Africa, and that outlaw L.R.A. leader Joseph Kony be brought to justice. VOA Senate correspondent Michael Bowman reports, U.S. lawmakers heard from a Ugandan man made famous by the KONY 2012 viral video seen by tens of millions of people worldwide on YouTube.]]
Abducted by the L.R.A. at age 12, Jacob Acaye put a human face on the misery and suffering perpetrated by Joseph Kony.
 “We worry. The rebels, when they arrest us again, they will kill us. My brother tried to escape. Then they killed him using a panga [machete]. They cut his neck. Featured in the YouTube video, Acaye’s story touched millions and focused global attention on atrocities committed by the L.R.A.  At age 21, Acaye’s work continues. Tuesday, he testified before the U.S. Senate.
 “I am calling upon the world to come and join the youth who are advocating for the end of this war.”
Now a law student, Acaye remains haunted by the pain of his past.
 “When you wake up in the morning and you hear that people are still being abducted in Congo, it takes my mind back to the situation where I was abducted. And if someone’s brother is being killed in Congo, it takes my mind back when I saw my brother being slaughtered.”
Over the last 25 years, the L.R.A. is believed to have recruited tens of thousands of child soldiers and displaced as many as two million people across Central Africa. No longer based in Uganda, the L.R.A. remains active in neighboring countries, says Senator Chris Coons.
 “In the past four months alone, the L.R.A. has committed 132 attacks in three countries: the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan — despite an increased U.S. presence and regional efforts to counter them.”
The United States maintains 100 military advisors in the region to aid international efforts to capture Joseph Kony and disband the L.R.A. This is no easy task, says Donald Yamamoto, deputy assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
 “Ending the L.R.A. threat is not an easy mission. The L.R.A. operates in very small groups across vast territories roughly the size of California, and very heavily-forested.”
Joseph Kony has been a fugitive from the International Criminal Court since 2005. His capture and conviction for crimes against humanity would be a blessing for Africa and the world, says former L.R.A victim and children’s advocate Jolly Okot.
 “Bringing Kony to justice will show the world that impunity is not a way forward — to let human souls suffer. And I think bringing him to justice will, in the long run, stop people around the world who are so brutal, and who think that playing around with the lives of human beings is the way forward.”
Jacob Acaye can envision a better future.
 “I do not want children to think that they will have to pick up a gun to get money, or pick up a gun to get food.”

Connecting Africa’s Rural Farmers Through The Internet

Africa Rural Connect (ARC), it is a program of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), That aims to improve food security and agribusiness in Africa. The ARC’s  web based program is enabling those who have lived or worked in Africa to share their farming knowledge. VOA’s Paul Ndiho recently spoke with Molly Mattessich, the coordinator Africa Rural Connect.
The Diaspora Angel Investor Network (DAIN) facilitates the engagement of African Diaspora to invest both time and resources in their native countries. DAIN focuses on tapping into the Diaspora to provide a wide variety of advice and assistance. Paul Ndiho recently spoke to Nii Simmonds – Program Director and Co-Founder of DAIN.
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