Life @ 60: A Time to be Thankful


Today, August 29th, 2023; I graduate to the ranks of Mzei, now @ 60! It’s some crazy experience to realize your are also here, after all! You see at age 3, almost accidentally, it was discovered I had been born with a “hole in the heart!” I was fortunate to have not only a mother who had medical education as an enrolled nurse but also with guts to stand up to my father and his well connected family who were apprehensive of the proposed surgery to correct this birth defect. Taata, together with Owek Bulasio Kavuma, a leading official in Buganda government and Hon Godfrey Binaisa, QC, Attorney General of Uganda, raised their hands in objection. Nonetheless she, with her elder sister, Maama Christine Musoke, a British trained Social Worker, stood ground and the open heart surgery at Mulago hospital went on successfully.

Now I know when I attained 50, and did share this story elsewhere, some fast medical person doubted that in 1966 a hospital in Uganda could carry out open heart surgery. Well, I dont know what that means for someone who since coming of age realised those scars where the needles closed up after they opened me up and stitched  that gaping hole. Truth told I have never been to India! What I know is early at school teachers would desperately hold me back from fully participating in games shocked at my scars, screaming wildly – “muleke omwana owo’mutima!” spare the child with a frail heart. Yet, for me I never felt different, and have since lived a full life. I intend to go on and on, like there was no event.

It was education which gave my mother the courage to ignore the old men in my life, since she knew what was right. If there is anything I have felt so clear about is how we need to extend education opportunities to every African child. Had my mother not been to school, courtesy of my grandparents, Adolph and Bibian Musoke, who on Buganda government salaried income took all their dozen children to school, in the 1930s and 40s, she would not have grasped at a chance that was in her hands to save a life.

The other part is the person who discovered my heart condition. He was an Indian medical student, at Mulago Medical School, who connected my laboured breathing with what used to be an incurable condition. And then there was also an expatriate white doctor I would only get to know as Dr James. Not only did he carry out this surgery expertly but knowing the opposition from the rest of the family, dilligently followed up on me, till back to full health.

So, maybe if I had been born after a fumbling autocrat, Idi Amin, summarily expelled non citizen Asians and pushed out most White expatriates labeling them as economic saboteurs, my survival would have been a figment of imagination. In life you meet hate – filled frustrated characters and you just pray they never land on the means to will the lives of those who become toys to nurse their insecurities.

I must say that life has not been rosy though. I am of the generation that popped up when most of these colonized African nations had just became independent. To be honest mine should have been the luckiest of all, since our Black African people were now in power. But wait a minute.

The boarding schools which my parents felt would give me a good start in life turned out to be nothing but mean camps that weaned us on skimpy coarse meals. We saw a war in 1979 aimed to remove a deranged dictator leave mangled bodies scattered out on blood soaked streets. Then as our hope were being lifted we were plunged into a civil war that left hundreds of thousands dead. And just as it was cooling down came the unforgiving HIV/ AIDs virus that gobbled up as many as it could, before ART drugs eased the burden. Lately, like we had not seen it all, stormed the Covid -19 pandemic, as if to maul up remnants. Guys, why shouldn’t I pinch myself that this “fluke” has scraped through all and more.

Ours has been a torpsy turvey life. Having welcomed the ragged liberators of mid 1980s, skinny disheveled gun slinging chaps, we imagined our tortured upbringing was a thing of the past. But here we are closing life, amazed and sobered up how things remain pretty much the same. Our generation of those born in the sixties has been cheated to give my country also a President. By now you know life is not a bet!

In a life of tragedies after another I once fled from my war torn country quite determined never to return to this patch of long misery. But something happened. Before, around 1985, while at university, I gave my life to Jesus Christ, as a personal Lord and Savior, and that has made all the difference. For just as with the Apostle Paul who met Christ on the road to Damascus, no one who has surrendered his life to Christ can find himself on the same path as before, or, as the world understands.

At 60, you realise you have done two third of your life, assuming you are lucky and have still steam for another third. Life takes on a sense of urgency for however much you fight, nature will eventually take its course. Suddenly it dawns on you its now time to focus on the things that count the most. Relationships are some of those, especially the people who will remain true to you to the end. You know and have seen each other through thick and thin and truly with these it’s not empty words for you’ll “never walk alone!”

And, by this time, you kind of know a bit about your gifts and abilities, together with limitations, giving you a dose of humility. Why stress yourself in things you have no aptitude? Just do and stick to what comes naturally to you. If there was anybody who needed to be impressed they should have got it by now.

Certain interpersonal conflicts with their toxicity no longer posses you. Purposeful living, creating beautiful memories, laughing a lot and chilling is the thing. You start looking at life as a gift with a divine call, for you are not here because you were the best in class but God was just gracious to you, where others did not pass. Come now, you know you have to be more thankful than spend time bitching.

Early this year I grabbed a fantastic book, titled “Half time”! The writer divided life into a first half of pursuit of one’s goals and entering the second half where some ask themselves what is life all about. You have got your dream big house but soon it will be empty, all kids gone, and  suddenly you feel the echoes scream through silent corridors. You scooped a big car, hoping to be recognized but who has not enough load of his own to just wake up and gaze at your flashing carriage. The big job titles and that chair of yours will one day be passed on to a stranger who will without waste erase your name to insert his own. You might have a fat bank account but of what use if you have no good health! Maybe you have simply stored it for some opportunist to gently show up one day with claims to have weapons to add a few more years to your mortal life. Once, growing up on an empty belly, you longed for an overflowing buffet plate of delicious foods but well- intentioned doctors have now started their predictable retort of – “watch what you eat!” And you have seen those who hopelessly worked themselves to death building empires only immediately once gone for such to crumble and fizzle away like an impatient shadow.

Perhaps you have realized all life pursuits and feel there is nothing left to accomplish. You suddenly feel empty and at the short end of the stick. In my case I have a quiet feeling I have got many of my life goals pretty under wraps, but, yet, something still burns within me. Here it is: I should know more of my Creator and serve Him faithfully, till He decides it’s time to cross the shores!

WALKING WITH GORILLAS: The journey of an African Wildlife Vet by Dr Gladys Kalema – Zikusoka

Book Review

Somewhere after 1996, newly returned to Uganda after a decade absence in USA for study and work, I bumped into someone, also just back. After graduating from the Royal Veterinary College, UK, Gladys Kalema, had almost immediately packed up to return “home”. Her mission was to help rebuild Uganda using her rich vet education. Now employed with Uganda National Parks she was all over rebuilding the country’s wildlife, long shattered through decades of war and anarchy.

Walking with the GorillaI must say I found this life of hers curious. Yes I had grown up with a guard dog at home- we called him Snap; but a life dedicated to taking care of wildlife was just out of my depth. If anything all I knew based on my university days was students who got to study vet medicine it was because they had missed out on their first choice- human medicine. But here was someone for whom practicing vet medicine by scouring national parks, habitat for wildlife, trekking to treat mountain gorillas, among others, was a life passion.

At a certain point we worked together to start a newsletter where she enthusiastically shared her adventurous work to those who might capture her vision. As our work took us in different directions, I remotely followed this wildlife vet career with a certain bemusement and growing respect, as I kept taking note of the awards she was scooping through her conservation promotion work for wildlife.

In “Walking with Gorrilas” Gladys has now put together a well candidly written story of her life, which gives a vivid account of her path breaking career as a scientist and conservationist.

Born to a political family, at age 2, Gladys suffered a family blow of many to come, when her father, William Kalema, a former Minister in the deposed Milton Obote government, was abducted by soldiers linked to the new Idi Amin regime. He was never seen again. Growing up without a Dad, though fortunately in a family with a wide rich extensive network, she would often find her solace in a brood of pets kept at home for play. At an early age she decided a vet career was for her as it would fullfil her ambition to take care of animals.

Upon return from her studies Gladys joined Uganda National Parks as the first veterinary officer, courtesy of Director Professor Eric Edroma, who gave her the job. He retinue thereafter was a most thrilling one – from following up and treating sick mountain gorillas to translocations giraffes and elephants to more accommodating environments.

The book has multiple engrossing scenes- like a time where after leading an elephant translocation exercise one white official decided to take credit claiming that Ugandans lack initiative. Gladys stood up to this burly official who had to apologize. On another occasion Gladys found herself being chased by elephants that almost crushed her to death. Then there was a narrow survival from a road accident and her mother, Mama Rhoda Kalema, ever supportive of her unconventional career, being informed she had passed on. Fortunately it was not true!

Africans have lived with our wildlife cousins in a balanced eco system for millenniums. Unfortunately economic disruption and increased land scarcity has affected co existence. After taking a break for further studies in the US, Gladys decided to found the non profit organisation – Conservation Through Public Health. It aims to promote our meaningful coexistence.

A married mother of two boys, Gladys now devotes her time promoting her conservation work, together with her husband, Lawrence Zikusooka. They met while undertaking her post graduate studies in the US and together they have formed a powerful team couple dedicated to wildlife conservation. As an IT specialist Lawrence has enhanced the conservation cause by also adding another dimension of using tele centers to share information in the community.

Observing all her work once I happened to ask Gladys what drives her. Her answer was prescient, “My fathers legacy ..!” It’s not only him but I am sure her deceased siblings would all be just as proud.

After reading this book which I sensed could impact the lives of many girls I asked Gladys how it was doing on Uganda market. I gathered it was making progress but could do better. So, I want to encourage all those interested in a good inspirational read, to grab it as fast. It left me filled with pride to see a home girl who has turned an idea into a phenomenal global cause.


Think out of the box

Dawo grew up deep in Kaduna, an arid village, where life was not just slow but there was hardly any new thing that ever went up. Your eyes could stretch far on end and all you saw were isolated homesteads. People lived in simple grass-thatched huts and life carried on normally as their ancestors had done through the ages. In fact, the whole landscape was littered with ancient stone structures, and actually, some folks hibernated in trees and caves. Throughout the day they covered themselves with simple leaves, just to hide the most essential parts.

It came as not surprising that Kaduna was one of the poorest districts in the country. But Duwa, was born with an imaginative and inventive mind. Ever restless he had the early impression that he could create new things out of the ordinary.

One day while at the village well, he noticed a long queue that was stampeding into the water, making it all muddy. Close to the well rose a giant mango tree. Suddenly, an idea gripped Duwa.  Why not get a rope and loop it around the tree and make a pulley! He figured that one person on the ground would then use the pulley to lower a pail down into the water, fill it up and, pull the pail back. Then the waiting pots would be filled, without each person getting into the streams with muddy feet.

Excited, Duwa shared this idea with those who were near him. “But it can’t work!” said one person.

“We have always fetched water one way,” insisted another quite opposed to change.

“You try it and we see,” said another skeptic, eager to see this new upstart fail.

Duwa was not the one to be easily discouraged; he took this as a test. He decided to try out his experiment. After he had assembled the pulley, with the whole village holding their breath as they watched, he let a rope loop around the tree, and then he eased the pail down to scoop up a pail of water. Once he had the pail back up he lowered it and went on to fill one pot after another. The villagers quickly realized they had got a deal. A faster and cleaner way of drawing water from the well had been born. They nodded with satisfaction. But Duwa’s father, Shehu, upon learning what his son had done was not amused. “Who told you to change things?” he confronted him later. “Didn’t I tell you not to touch things unless if you are told?”

Apparently, Shehu had never taken his son to school. Now when a newly posted chief to the village heard about this development at the well, he advised Shehu to send Duwa to school. Duwa was eager for school but Shehu saw no use.  He expected Duwa to grow up and herd cattle just as his ancestors had done. Shehu only let Duwa attend school after the chief came to his home and delivered an ultimatum.

The first thing at school the teachers discovered was that Duwa was left-handed, yet school policy had it that every child must be right-handed.  So, the first lesson the newcomer got was beating him hard to discard the use of his left hand.  No one asked him if he could write faster as a leftie.

Duwa liked to ask questions. However, school lessons involved parroting letters and numbers in a chorus. If one failed to sing back in unison as expected, a long-foot ruler would hit him. Because Duwa liked to ask questions he found himself a constant target with a foot ruler landing on every part of his body. He started hating school. Everywhere were rules, he had to obey absolutely. But Duwa’s brain did not work like that. He liked tinkering and trying new things. At school, he was told never to think out of the box, if he was to avoid trouble.

Duwa hardly scrapped through primary school and in the final exams got minimal grades. He was pushed to join a technical school close to the capital city unlike his mates who scored higher grades and were posted to prestigious secondary schools. These were expected to have a brighter future.

Duwa found the technical school different. One thing was that here he could tamper and create new things as part of his course work. “Come up with new things,” the teachers encouraged him.

Energized, Duwa got back to his old creative ways. Once after attending a function where he saw a long queue waiting for guests to wash their hands with soap before being served, he thought of something else.  He came up with a stand with a container that had a capillary linked to liquid soap. One had only to gently step on a stand below and spread his hands for the soapy water to flow.

This mobile tap water was well received not just at the technical school but in the big city. Duwa started receiving orders. In between attending to school work, he launched a small business that supplied customers with “Duwa mobile tap water washing machine.”

One thing Duwa noticed is that in the big city many people tried new things;  most failed but no one seemed to bother. Everyone was trying something novel. And if one idea caught off, copycats descended on the ground from everywhere.  They embraced the successful idea and started selling everywhere.

Encouraged, Duwa came up with another machine to thrash millet into fine flour. Years back he had seen his grandmother back home end up with a hunched back. Duwa attributed it to the fact that she grinded millet with a stone, her back bent. There must be a better way, Duwa teased.  After a while, he came up with a machine driven by a motor where you could pour grains down a gulley that thrashed them into fine flour. This new system was faster and also didn’t require one to bend down and grind grains with a stone.

Growing up Duwa had noticed how rampant tree cutting had left his village almost reduced to a desert. In the big city, he realized there was a huge demand for charcoal because the alternative was far more costly.  After a bit of research, he found d the amount of waste gathered by garbage companies was enough to gather and fire into energy-saving briquettes. These he offered on the market as an alternative to the devastating charcoal.

Duwa contracted agents around the country to sell his many products and made the lives of many people more comfortable. But he was concerned that while other regions were profiting from his trade, not his village. So, one day, he decided to go visit back home.

The first thing he noticed was that Kaduna was much as he had left. People were still strolling about barefoot, hibernating up in trees,  their bodies bare  except for the most essential parts.

Duwa recalled the pulley he had put up years back. He decided to walk down to the village well.  From far he noticed the mango tree was gone along with the pulley. Closer, he found a troupe of villagers down into the well, all scooping water with their muddy feet.

“What happened to the pulley?” he pulled aside a lad who had recognized him.

“Someone cut down the mango tree for charcoal,” he said. “After it was cut people returned to the old way of fetching water.”

Once he got back to the city, Duwa, who rarely wrote decided to share his thoughts in a newspaper article. The heading was “Why certain regions remain poor!”

“If people do not welcome new ideas,” he wrote, “then it is almost impossible to introduce anything  new. Also, if people look at failure negatively instead of seeing it as a positive step forward, few would try for fear of being put down. And if an area has no market where people can place and sell their new ideas, then few would venture, for they can’t recover their costs.  These are some of the reasons why some places are stuck in the past!”

The Manager and Staff Layoff

Staff Layoff

The coronavirus pandemic had a huge negative impact on X-Logistics, which with suspension of travel during the lockdown and subsequent decline in importation of goods was struggling to make ends meet. To survive, and give room for business recovery, the Board tasked management to cut payroll by a third. Immediately Kuma, the CEO, saught Mpetu, Head of Finance, how to go about by suggesting, “We need to start with the most senior positions to lay off taking a huge chunk of our money.

“I agree,” Mpentu nodded. “Otherwise they will be no effect.”

“Then proceed by finding the most expensive staff,” Kuma, already stressed with having to scout for finances, directed.

Once clear the decision was taken to senior management meeting for approval. But the moment Mpetu had presented his case with glossy slides showing the savings to accrue from slashing off so many heads, Ngozi, who was Head of Human resource, raised an objection.

“I agree with the need to lay off some staff in order to save funds,” she said, “but we need to be careful how. I do not think we should merely look at how expensive a particular staff is but also what we lose by letting the staff go.”

“I know where you are going,” Mpentu turned to Ngozi. “But if we approach this task with some staff being untouchable then we can’t reduce the bloated payroll.”

“The issue is if we lay off some of these skilled staff,” Ngozi pressed her point, “not only shall we lose all the investment we have made in them and which, by the way, we are most likely to surrender to our competitors, but also the skill set we need to forge ahead.”

“So, what are you suggesting?” Mpetu asked with some impatience.

“I suggest we start by identifying the skills we need for our business recovery,” Ngozi said. “We have a business plan and unless we are abandoning all our plans ahead we need to see what skills are important to save us for the future.”

There is a paradox today for many companies that are caught in similar situations of scarce funds like X Logistics. Normally, in lean times companies tend to slash staff as one cost saving measure, for business recovery. The question often is whether the company should merely look at what it saves in the immediate short run, without considering what it has lost in the long run! There are yes certain staff ( or skills) that can easily be absorbed back once the operations return to normal. The market is not short of such. But there are those who are so specialized that to lose them, the business may never completely be in position to lure them back. Besides, as we see Ngozi arguing, it may be important to consider what has been spent in getting them to their level and if it is worth to just let go.

Then there are those highly specialized or emerging industries. The training of certain individual skills in such industries may have taken years and laying them off may mean losing them to the market, which leaves the business at the mercy of its competitors who may then take advantage and gain leverage. This may make it more difficult for the business to fully recover.

One of the truisms in laying off staff is first deciding what you can’t afford to lose. Or put positively, what is the most important thing you must save for business sustainability. Without bearing that in mind slashing staff may while causing a temporary relief completely seal the chances of full business recovery.

The writer is a Management Consultant, Associate Professor and Dean of UCU Business School. E- mail: