Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pearl of Africa

The expression "Pearl of Africa" to describe Uganda is popularly attributed to Winston Churchill. In his book My African Journey, published in 1908, Churchill described Uganda as, "...from end to end a beautiful garden..... the exuberance of vegetation...scarcely describable" Churchill was especially complimentary about the kingdom of Buganda: "endowed with unique environmental attributes, with a remarkably and unexpectedly vibrant, structured and cordial social and political system nestled out of reach of the outside world." Such a positive view of African society was, both then and even now, unusual: the Zeitgeist of the time was more of the Heart of Darkness school of thought, describing Africans as primitive and savage, and in need of proselytising and civilizing. Elsewhere, Churchill does indeed describe Uganda as "the Pearl" but the description had, in fact, been earlier used by both Speke and Stanley. Given his voracious appetite for reading, it is unlikely that the young Churchill had not been aware of this view.

Regardless of its origin, what is not in dispute is its accuracy. Uganda still has the most wonderful environment. Over the Christmas holidays, my two sons and I visited Queen Elizabeth National Park in SW Uganda and enjoyed chimpanzee tracking in the Kyambura Gorge, a boat trip along the Kazinga Channel and several drives through the northern sector of the park. Our journey took us past crater lakes and the foothills of the Rwenzori (pictured above) between Fort Portal and Kasese, the Ankole tea extates at Bushenyi and through the savannah lands between Mbarara and Masaka. A delight! The following week, we also made a short visit to Jinja, for a day's whitewater rafting on the Nile, a day both thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. For once, the tourism slogan chosen by Uganda - Gifted by Nature - is no exaggeration.
Ugandans are justifiably proud of the name 'Pearl of Africa". As evidence, many Ugandan organizations have chosen “Pearl” in their names. My own favourite, until recently, was the superb Pearl range of sauces, jams and pickles manufactured in Kasese - the chilli and garlic sauce is second to none. But now there is a new Pearl, Pearl Capital Partners, formed last year to be the fund management business for AAC’s successor funds, the African Seed Investment Fund and the AAC Fund (in formation). My colleagues and I are proud of being one of the very few venture capital / private equity fund managers resident in Uganda, and what better name to choose to assert our Ugandan connection?

True, Pearl lacks originality, but then again, imagination and originality are not usually associated with the focus on facts, figures and empirical analysis required by successful venture capital and private equity investment managers.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Twelfth Night

After a full year off from Kampala Amateur Dramatics (during which time I am compelled to admit that KADS standards have risen considerably), I will be doing the March production, William Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night at the National Theatre in Kampala. Early last year I completed an adaptation of Euripides The Bacchae, but, probably wisely, have decided that Twelfth Night will be much more of an audience-pleaser, with its blend of farce, mistaken identity, cross-dressing and wit. Auditions will be at the National Theatre on 17 & 18th January, with the main challenge being the identification of a credible pair of twins.....