Tuesday, February 21, 2012



IN HER latest anthology Ugandan poet, Mildred Kiconco Barya tackles issues such as the relevance of our cultural heritage in modern times, time and space, wars, poverty, love, pain, betrayal, shattered dreams, sex and death.

Titled “Give Me Room to Move My Feet,” and published by Amalion Publishing the collection has 100 poems that fall among seven parts: revolving lives, stormy heart, before the sun sinks, the pain of tenderness, shame has a place, the shape of dreams and until the last breath is drawn.

The theme of domestic violence is captured in the poem “The Perfect Match.” The wife threatens to divorce because he picks up the laundry, empties the bin and attends family planning sessions. The husband brings her the job pages so she may try her luck, but she prefers staying home watching television. He points fingers and picks up an axe, children take cover under the beds and she flees to the cattle shed.

The clash between modern and native diets is played out in the poem “What’s Native Can’t Harm You.” A ‘polished’ woman visits her mother upcountry with packed tinned foods and waffles plus alternative capsules for victims for her children. The grandmother won’t understand why her grandchildren cannot take the ripe mangoes, oranges and the tangerines that are in plenty. “They’ll catch a fever if they eat this and that,” she is told. The grandchildren eventually eat their packed junk food – and they ended up stunted like fishermen’s hooks.

The poem “The Place Where you begin (The Third World),” highlights the challenges of the least developed world. It is a disorganized place plagued with basic lacks and wants, regular electricity, flowing water and hygiene.

In the poem “Skipping” she writes that people believe that their creator blesses other generations and skips theirs. “…Our parents were the blessed lot. They loved whole, married well. We are the skipped. Our loves gone sour, nations betrayed at our hands, justice ripped from her seat…”

Barya observes that we fear to touch pain and are afraid how it exposes us, and if only we knew we own it. “You can always see the look of pain whichever spot you stand, in the empty eyes of children huddled on the streets, in the familiar heartache songs you hear, in the frenzied beats of the drums, in the wound that pound with a rhythmic echo, universal pain,” the poem “The Look of Pain,” goes in part.

The dreadful Monday mornings are depicted in the poem “Monday Mornings.” They come with a lot of indigestion, constipation, exhaustion, hang-ups and hangovers. We do not hesitate to rejoice when it turns out to be a public holiday – then we extend the weekend.

Love, pain, jealousy and anger are medical conditions to be assuaged with homeotherapy and grandma remedies, the poem “Medical Conditions” suggests.

In the poem “Miracle Inside,” she sits in the chapel trying to make sense of the white-washed walls, why the heart cannot be that clean, and why the spirit must keep seeking.

She compares the natural beauty of the Sipi Falls in Kapchorwa in Eastern Uganda to the Mississippi in the USA in the poem “Sipi.” “What have you in common with the ancient Mississippi/That your name should be hewn out of that river? /Perhaps it’s the beauty you share, immense/Long with endurance, swollen with stories/Formidable. Imposing.

To drink from your wellness/A traveler can never forget/Cool, refreshing you are/ You’re here forever…”

“I wish depression had a cure,” goes the shortest poem “A Wish.”

In “Dream Carriers,” she asks how it feels to watch your dreams slip from your reach. Is it like losing ground in a job interview breaking you in cold sweat?

Barya decries the senseless wars in Africa in the poem “Revolutionaries.” The bosses got fat on the gold and slept under mosquito nets in the best hotels, while the foot soldiers shared the bush with snakes and spiders. One by one of their colleagues died – and all the government did was to deny the deaths. The soldiers eventually saw how cheap they were.

According to Peter Nazareth, professor of English and advisor, International Writing Programme, University of Iowa, USA, “In 100 thought-provoking textually original poems, Mildred Kiconco Barya explores elements of time and space on the landscapes of memory, observation and experience at individual points and collective levels…”

“In dialectical ‘opposing’ lines and dialogue, Barya delves into the contradictions about love, loss, and betrayal – by the selfish who took advantage of idealists and by the lover who after goading us on preferred to be somewhere else. In deeply personal explorations, the poet breaks down and mends herself through spirituality, religion, and poetry, bringing back to life what seemed to be dead,” Nazareth adds.

Barya’s first book of poetry, “Men Love Chocolates But They Don’t Say (2002) won the National Poetry Award in Uganda. Her second collection, “The Price of Memory After the Tsunami” was published in 2006. Her short stories include “Scars of Earth,” “Effigy Child,” “Those Days of Ebola,” and “Land of My Bones.”

Barya was born in Uganda and studied at Makerere University, Uganda; Moi University, Kenya and the International Women’s University, Germany.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012


HAS your flight ever been delayed at one of the airports in Africa and no explanation or apology was offered - or have you ever walked into a shop and the attendant continued with her manicure that you found her attending to.

Well these and other forms of real-life experiences contributing to poor service delivery and customer care make up a new book by Ugandan author, Dorothy M. Tuma titled, “Keeping Customers - And Getting Their Friends Too!” published by DMT Consultants Limited.

The book is based on a compilation of Tuma’s weekly articles on customer services, published by the Daily Monitor newspaper as “Dora’s Diary” every Tuesday. The articles, which allowed Tuma to reconnect with her marketing roots and the principle that customers reign supreme; were born out of her frustration with Uganda not having a place for consumers to compliment excellent service or complain about the opposite.

Most of the times Tuma has used Entebbe Airport’s frequent flyer lounge, she has noticed that beyond the initial warm greeting everyone receives from the gentleman at the door, there emerge two distinct categories of service: service reserved for people who are either known to be or look like VIPs and service (or lack of it) for the rest.

“From my observations, as soon as a celebrity, highly visible public figure or distinguished looking foreigner sits down, a smiling waiter or waitress bearing a heated, damp wash cloth for the VIP materializes, takes the VIP’s order and delivers refreshments to the seated VIP. The other level of service reserved for non-VIPs like me, includes the individual something down for several minutes and finally realizing that if they are to have refreshments, they will need to walk to the counter, place their order, wait while it is assembled and then walk back to their seat with the ordered items,” she writes.

“I find it odd that there are clearly two levels of distinctly different service in a lounge that should treat all guests equally. The attentive service enjoyed by one group of customers should be available to every customer eligible to use that lounge. Unfortunately for travelers, there is only one frequent flyer lounge at this particular East African airport so a frequent flyer can either choose to do without lounge services or settle for the discriminately services offered,” she adds.

Tuma asks: “Does your business offer two levels of service – one for those who appear not to have much money and another for those who appear to be financially endowed? Potential customers who receive cold treatment have absolutely no incentive to spend their money with you. If they have a choice, they will simply go elsewhere in search of a place where they feel welcome and appreciated.”

In addition to the articles, which are all real-life case studies, the book provides the theory behind key customer service principles and a number of practical tools in a style that everyone from the most junior employee to the CEO will both appreciate and find useful. It is an indispensable handbook and reference tool for anyone who interfaces with customers. The illustrations are by Stanislaus Olonde “Stano.”

Divided into 15 chapters the book, a critic of general business practices and conduct tackles the subjects of courtesy, honesty, communication, valuing customer feedback, compensation of errors by businesses, equipping and rewarding staff and appreciation of customer loyalty, among others.

The articles meticulously retold are born out of the author’s personal experiences and those of the her family and friends with several service providers ranging from utility companies, airlines, hair salons, tailors, car mechanics, supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and taxis, among others. Some names have been changed to protect the individual’s privacy and company names have been omitted in the majority of the case studies.

Are customers driven to extremes just to gain access to your services? Well, Tuma’s friend Susan had to throw a tantrum to get her internet wireless connection activated by a local mobile phone company. “Should that be what it takes? Why should a company drive a customer into making a scene before she can access the services she has already paid for? ...” she asks.

According to Tuma, if you are running a legitimate business, without customers you will soon either have to close your doors for good or sell your business to someone who believes they will be better at attracting and retaining customers. It follows therefore, that every existing business remains operational because it has customers who believe the business in question provides a product or service that fulfils one or more of their wants, needs or both. That puts customers in an incredibly strong position.

Tuma adds that in the countries where businesses face strong competition, customers reign supreme, businesses do everything they can to attract and retain customers. Sophisticated business enterprises spend the equivalent of millions of dollars every year on attempting to establish relationships with customers and getting to understand their preferences in order to tailor products and services to exceed customer expectations.

“In our part of the world however, it would appear that the power in the provident/customer relationship still lies primarily in the hands of the provider. In other words, instead of courting customers and making them feel special at every turn, most providers make their customers feel like they are doing them a favour they do not deserve,” she observes.

Common courtesy is not that common after all, or so the saying goes. This is quite surprising since courtesy and decorum are traditional values across Africa. For some reason however, the values our parents took great pains to impart to us disappeared somewhere along the way, she laments.

According to Tuma, “It is common for service providers to treat paying customers as though they are being given a free and underserved service, at the service provider’s expense. Grumpy faces, rude retorts, corner cutting and incredibly slow service are commonplace and well accepted. Beyond a smiling welcome, discerning customers expect to be treated with courtesy.”

“Why then do customers who have options choose to continue supporting businesses that treat them as though they are doing them a favour? Thankfully, regionalization, globalization and increasing competition will eventually put a stop to this. Is your business ready for the shift of power from service providers to customers?”

Tuma emphasizes that every employee must be trained on how to handle customers courteously. Rude employees will ruin your company’s reputation, costing you both customers and the revenue they bring. Beyond training, employees must subsequently be monitored, rewarded for meeting the required standards and pointed in the right direction when they fall short.

She also notes that false promises, painfully slow service and the absence of any kind of apology thereafter, only lower customer opinions of your establishment. A simple verbal recognition of the inconvenience can transform a negative experience into a positive one.

Tuma argues that customers do not know and in most cases actually do not want to know what you have to do in order to render them the services they pay you for.

“All we want is the finished product or service we are looking for. Service providers are responsible for seeing to it that the delivery process is seamless and without hitch. Create system checks to ensure that your systems are working to deliver the quality your customers expect and always have a back-up plan in case your system fails, for whatever reason. Internal break-downs should be invisible to your customers.”

A director with DMT Consultants Limited, Tuma is a business development and international trade consultant. She is a founder of the Women’s Centre for Job Creation (an organization that turns around rural women’s income generating projects) and vice chairperson of Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Limited (UWEAL). Prior to her development work, she was a brand manager with Avery Dennison Corporation, USA for ten years.