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 send off 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


The Airtel – Warid Buyout: The Grim Agency Future Ahead

Two weeks ago when the news broke that Warid Telecom, Uganda’s 3rd largest telecom company had been acquired by India’s Bharti Airtel in a move that has effectively polarized the market there was a lot of acrimony over “another change” just as people had grown to love and enjoy where they were getting comfortable. The truth is that Airtel has changed its name 5 times since it first launched and still bears residual angst towards it from the public because of their very early transgressions when they launched as Celtel. Let me point out here that despite all appearances the seemingly apparent reason for the merger is to take on South African telecom behemoth MTN.
After reading Ruthaine’s thoughts on the matter I started asking what would happen to the employees of Warid. Poor suckers. The usual toll of a merger is that about 75% of the acquired firm is shed and replaced with more technologically efficient systems. And with over 500 employees, there would be no less than 350 jobless people soon. Then it hit me even harder what about the advertising agency? Those who know what I am saying a company’s advertising and marketing agency is critical to its success and in most cases has its fortunes interred with those of its clients(it must be said though, those retainers always create comfortable cushions for agencies to sit on).
A new Airtel promo where they are promoting the Nokia Lumia 620 

Airtel’s advertising is done by the experienced Moringa Ogilvy team seated in Bugolobi. They have done quite nicely for themselves. The Moringa Ogilvy team gets its Ogilvy name from its Ogilvy Africa affiliation by paying a nice handsome fee every year to ensure they keep using the name. In return, they get first pick of any Ogilvy businesses coming into the market territory. Ogilvy East Africa was bought out by Scangroup back in 2010 where they acquired the larger share of Ogilvy Africa’s holdings outside South Africa. What did this mean? That Ogilvy East Africa would go under Scangroup. When Ogilvy &Mather pitched for and won the Airtel Africa business, they rested it there because Scangroup, the parent company was already handling too many telecom accounts what with Safaricom, Vodacom, Warid and Tigo across the region. Anyway this explains how the affiliate agency in Uganda ended up with the Telecom account. Anyone who has had to pitch for a telecom account will tell you how serendipitous it must be to just have one handed to you.
Attaining Superbrands status in 5 years, the Warid brand is a force unto itself.

On the other side of the pond Scanad Uganda, largest and by far the most efficient ad machine has been handling the Warid advertising and marketing account. It must be said that they did not give Warid the Pakalast name and fame, that award goes to a smaller but equally ingenious agency – Maad. What they did do was bring Warid to a point where it has had all of its competitors shitting bricks with ad campaigns that have literally remained top of the public’s mind year in year out and have created such a high bar for the industry and anyone trying to get people to remember anything. If you think I am lying ask anyone next to you to tell you the Samona or Omo or Standard Chartered tagline or ask them who Onesmus, or Milton or the Kungfu Master is? Simply marveling. Scanad is part of Scangroup. Their revenues are reported as part of the Scangroup success story. Now that they have lost their beloved Warid Telecom what will they do?

If I were Bharat Thakrar what would I do?
Airtel Nigeria proved that you don’t need to work with an Ogilvy affiliate after they appointed STB McCann to run things for them (with all the ensuing drama). This simplifies the task of Bharat explaining to Sunil Bharti Mittal that the Airtel Uganda should sit with Scanad Uganda. I presume the conversation would go as follows:
  1. Scanad Uganda has a larger; more experienced team directly connected to the Scangroup resource superstructure and therefore would present as a better agency to work with.
  2.  Because Scanad is directly linked to the group and is not an affiliate its revenues would be going directly to Scangroup hence revenues and profits would be kept within the group.
  3.  If market prevalence/awareness is anything to go by Scanad have produced more memorable work in the last 2 years which gives them the best advantage in their david-goliath match up against MTN – the market leader if they were to lead the Airtel onslaught.
  4. After this article and recent news in Tanzania and if the move of buying Warid was for Airtel to solidify their numbers, grow their revenues, increase the brand’s market share in order to eventually offload the telecom to Vodacom/Vodafone while they focus on West Africa where its bloody, then they would need an agency that had the capacity to deliver on that promise – Scanad.
  5.  In the worst case scenario, this account goes to a pitch in order to give the existing account holder (Moringa) a chance to compete. I personally think this would be the cruelest thing anyone could do; put your worst enemy in a pitch against Scanad because even hell won’t forgive you. Resources, tools, manpower and experience all seem like mundane things which are merely business jargon but nowhere else, and I mean NOWHERE, do they coalesce with such fervent ferocity to petrify and debilitate as when pitch fever is at fever pitch.

So that is how I see it and while I’m very very happy to be wrong you have to consider the possibility that I might not be. Any chess player will tell you “you don’t look at the now, you look at five moves ahead” So the market just got a bit tighter for the smaller agencies out there and since markets, like businesses are grown and shaped by the players in them it safe to assume that also much like in the jungle, we shall all eat when the lion is satisfied.

Hive Colab Announced in Uganda!: Re-Posted

Earlier in the day we announced Apps Africa, a competition for app developers across Africa. Also, today in Uganda, Appfrica Labs in partnership with Project Diaspora, UConnect, and Node Six are also announcing the Hive collaborative workspace in Uganda! 
“Hive Colab is a collaborative, community owned, open work environment for young tech entrepreneurs looking to focus on projects, to access the computing resources and bandwidth, have a quiet professional environment to develop their ideas in, and to generally collaborate with each other. Something very similar to what our friends are doing with the outstanding iHub in Nairobi.

It will be a space for nascent application developers to register as freelancers, if they are looking for paying projects…” 

Read the rest of it here at

How Much Smarter? IBM’s Strategy for a Smarter Planet?

“What is the sound of the planet talking? A century ago, the answer was simple: people conversing in person or over wired networks. Today, it’s not just everyone, but also everything talking to every other thing, in constant motion.”

Last year, at the Digital Africa Summit, I sat down with the Chief Technical Officer at IBM Sub-Sahara, Clifford Forster and in what would be an eye-opening conversation; he explained what IBM was thinking.

A smarter planet; something he called “the internet of things.” The idea behind what was thought to be the next stage in innovation and technological advancement. The idea that all the main areas of our lives were connected and that at no time in history than today were we able to allow all these things to “talk”. Energy, infrastructure, traffic, food, banking, telecommunications, intelligence, cities, etc; all these functions and elements today are connected and monitored and IBM is looking at ways of making a smart planet: enabling sustainable businesses and systems for a sustainable planet.

This year in his presentation, Walter Mhlongo, took this conversation to the next level with “Smarter Telecommunications”. Africa has only about 1% of its information online and so has to download about 99% of its information from the rest of the world. Challenged by language barriers despite inter-connectivity and facing similar problems, he explained that IBM’s commitment to a smarter planet had led it to develop “spokenweb” (IBM’s leading automated translation technologies) in areas like health care, trade and travel bringing to life real-time automated translation solutions all available on the internet.

It is estimated 2 billion people will be on the Web by 2011 – and they’ll be doing more than talking. Video on demand, IP television and internet TV will account for nearly 90% of consumer IP traffic by 2012. When people talk, it will be to many more people – via social networking sites, whose memberships will top 500 million in the next three years. Figures that are not only indicative of the future, but also of the countless opportunities that will arise for companies to innovate, collaborate and to feed into and re-define their world in order to continue delivering top notch services to their clients.

As I wandered across the conference corridors, I ran into Walter’s colleague, Dr. Shiyghan Narti, IBM’s Strategy and Marketing Executive. He reaffirmed IBM’s commitment to the continent, indicating that the company was investing over $100 million in expanding its presence in Sub-Saharan Africa. With this investment, IBM is better placed to enable its’ clients to take advantage of the opportunities presented by gaining new insights in ways previously not possible.

“Over the next few years, you will see IBM playing a critical role as an innovator, providing inspired solutions to local issues and creating high valued products that matter to the communities and clients it serves”, he confidently states. “We will continue to leverage industry leading forums like the Digital Africa Summit to engage in meaningful conversation with our clients and partners across Africa.”

In just three years, IP traffic is expected to total more than half a Zettabyte (a Zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes or – 1 followed by 21 zeros). The need for this information to reach the last half of Africa, triggering access to massive amounts of information and thus allowing informed decision making, better sustainable practices and an interconnected system of performance to deliver our planet to the next level has never been greater.