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All smiles because of good news from Uganda and South Africa ​

All smiles because of good news from Uganda and South Africa  ​

Last week was a great one for Africa. The good news from South Africa and Japan put a bounce in one’s step and a smile on one’s face. On July 26, South Africa’s Aspen Holdings, a global pharmaceutical company, announced the release of the first supplies of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines produced at its flagship manufacturing site in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape Province.  The Aspen-produced vaccines will be supplied to the South African market as well as the rest of Africa and Europe.  


Stephen Saad, Aspen Group Chief Executive said, “Aspen is proud of the role we are playing in producing vaccines for distribution in South Africa, across Africa and the world. Our ability to produce these vaccines on behalf of Johnson & Johnson builds on our strategic vision of delivering high quality, affordable medicines that improve health outcomes for patients in our own country, continent and around the world.  Supply for Africa and South Africa is particularly rewarding, given the current global inequality in accessing vaccines. This represents a big step forward in ensuring that Africa can address its healthcare priorities.”


Aspen, which recently invested over R3 billion ($205 million) to modernise its manufacturing plant with state-of-the-art equipment and systems, is a Johannesburg Stock Exchange listed company that employs 9,800 people. Its pharmaceutical products are sold in 150 countries. Its Board of Directors are a healthy mix of highly educated men and women that represent South Africa’s races.  Four of the ten directors are Africans. 


This last observation may sound irrelevant until one recalls the South Africa that I frequented during the Apartheid era when we lived in Lesotho. Notwithstanding the persisting socio-economic disparities, one celebrates this new South Africa where the colour of the brain is what counts in the boardrooms of its important companies.


The other good news from South Africa was that mass riots following former President Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment did not deter the judicial and executive branches of the government from enforcing the rule of law. Zuma remains incarcerated, albeit in hospital for observation as I write. It is a precedent that bodes well for that country’s future, for it serves notice that no South African is above the law.


Meanwhile, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has me smiling after accepting the resignation of Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize who is at the center of allegations of corruption involving award of contracts to his friends and associates.  Mkhize’s story, well documented in online newspapers, is worth checking it out. It is the dramatic fall of a man who, until a few months ago, was among potential future presidents of South Africa.


 Whereas firing a minister that has been named in a corruption scandal should be an obvious action, in certain countries the corrupt frequently get away with it. Some get promoted or praised by their president for being good cadres and great patriots. So, the news from South Africa gives us reason to celebrate. 


Then there was the news from Tokyo, Japan, of course. Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai and Joshua Cheptegei thrilled us with their sprint to a gold finish in their respective races at the 2021 Olympics. They, together with their teammates, put on a show that reasserted Uganda’s rightful presence on the international sporting stage. We join our countrymen in congratulating Chemutai, Cheptegei and their teammates for making us very proud. 


These athletes’ triumph reflected purpose-driven hard work, not just talent. They prepared through daily practice, healthy lifestyles, and single-minded focus on their well-defined goal. They did not wait for the government to fund their preparation for the ultimate prize. They demonstrated the path to success that ought to inspire young Ugandans in their academic and vocational endeavours. There are no short-cuts to success.


These athletes’ triumph brought memories of some great athletes of my youth, most of whom would have had streets, buildings and sports facilities named after them had our country honoured sportsmen and women the way we worship politicians. 

John Akii Bua is the first name that came to mind as I watched his successors in Tokyo. Our excitement following his gold-medal win at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, West Germany remains vivid in the mind. He was one of the few who received national adoration and material rewards because of his achievement.


I recall, with mixed emotions, the names of some of the great earlier athletes, several of whom I saw at close range as a little boy, whose post-Olympics or Commonwealth Games lives were characterised by national neglect, personal struggle and even penury. A partial listing of superb athletes of my youth from my home area of Kigyezi in Southwest Uganda includes Nzamukworeka, Rwakoojo, Rwabugwene, Zebikiire, Zaribwegirire, Kachetero, Shaka Ssali, Ndanguza, Mbonigaba, Birusya, Kaaribwije,  Kabashekye, Mirembe and Rukikaire.  


Elsewhere in Uganda, we had Judith Ayaa, Christine Anyakun, Christine Kabanda, Abraham Munabi, Erasmus Amukun, Amos Omolo and William Dralu. Their stories have yet to be told. For the most part, their names have been deleted by time and a culture that has little respect for its past contributors. 


One great athlete that enjoys a special place of honour in my world is Caroline Nyankori of Lango. She was my classmate at King’s College, Budo, who represented Uganda at the East and Central African Championships in 1967 and 1969. Her specialty was the high jump that she performed in the style of a Uganda Crane floating over a bamboo tree. Happily, Caroline is living in Lango, though one suspects that few people know that they have one of our best in their midst. 


The excitement over our heroes’ achievements in Tokyo will soon fade. Recent high achievers like Dorothy Inzikuru and Stephen Kiprotich may soon join the list of our forgotten ones. The Tokyo champions will not be far behind. Yet, this need not be the case. Our champion athletes deserve great honour and material rewards and incentives. Their names should be immortalized along those of people like Gen. Siad Barre, Colville, Ternan, Prince Charles, Dewinton, Lugard, Tufnell and Baskerville after whom Kampala’s streets are named. 


Above all, extensive and sustained investment in sports at community and primary school levels should be a national priority. Chemutai and Cheptegei have just made the case for the social, economic, health and international public relations benefits of such an investment. We congratulate them.



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