Posted on 04 July 2011.
By Irene Simiyu
The drive took a few minutes — 30 minutes, to be precise. The huge compound with clean pathways had beautiful flower gardens. The spectacular site of lush green, well-manicured lawns led us in. This gave way to a breathtaking view of Lake Victoria. A guard showed us to the reception.
Speke Resort Munyonyo was abuzz with activity. Black and white men and women in tight-fitting black suits seemed to hurry in a certain direction and talked in hushed tones as if they were conspiring against nature. I had never seen so many people of such a calibre at the same place at the same time. It was the venue for the conference dubbed “Zipping Finance and Farming in Africa”.
This was my first visit to Munyonyo, a place off limits for me during my study at Makerere University. The resort was the place to be if you were trendy, fashionable and belonged to the crème de la crème. The well-to-do students organized beach bashes here every weekend. I could not attend, because first of all the prices were obscene and then every beginning of semester my mother reminded me about keeping good morals. She always gave me a lecture about how I should study very hard to achieve what she had longed to achieve, but failed to do so. I should keep off boys and learn how to dress appropriately as in covering every part of my body. So a beach bash was a no go zone as I would expose myself if I put on a bikini.
Freezing in Greece
Now, wearing a black coat and black trousers, I was not prepared for the cold in the conference center, where the air conditioning was turned on full blast. I pinched myself several times to ascertain if I was still alive or had frozen to death.
Being a journalist and one who is always in action, I had to make myself busy — and voila: an idea struck! My colleague was to interview a few people at the conference. Why not designate myself to be the middle person? It would be easy: target the interviewee, net him or her, leave her in the hands of the camera crew then disappear and appear with another. This proved to be more interesting — but not for long. My little game was disorganized by this camera-shy guy from the World Bank. He kept playing cat and mouse games with me. He would look me straight in the eye and lie, saying he would be back in a few minutes and instead disappear for the rest of the day. He did a very good job of laying low.
Making the most of it
I believe life is what you make it and when it hands you lemons you simply squeeze lemonade out of it. Nothing was going to dampen my spirit and spoil my day at Munyonyo, neither the bitter coffee that I only managed to sip twice, nor the loss of my purse. I had to devise ways to have a good time. This was a God-sent opportunity and I didn’t have plans to let anything get in my way.
It wouldn’t be an easy task, but I had to make sure all the five senses kept in touch and were well coordinated. I laid down the rules: rule number one was that my eyes had to perform a good surveillance job of all the food that I had to eat. They would be assisted by the nose to determine what was good for me and my mouth was the last to determine what was good for my stomach. I would never repeat the mistake, the bitter coffee taught me a lesson. Rule number two: the eyes were to also look around for any thieves lurking in the shadows and the ears were to eavesdrop on all conversations just to be sure of my security and that of my property and things worked out perfectly well.
Hoping for the best
The conference handed me an opportunity to have a great time and sumptuous meals for three days, a great view of Lake Victoria, mingling with various people in big positions like ministers, ambassadors, managing directors, politicians, businessmen, riding a horse for the first time in my life and being enlightened about the challenges facing agricultural financing in Africa.
This was my first time to attend such a conference. Such conferences are organised time after time, the participants come up with very good ideas and policies that would create a great positive impact — if implemented. However these reports often end up gathering dust on the shelves. I would not want to sound like a prophet of doom, but the 11 principles agreed on during the conference will be meaningless and a slap on the face for those who worked tirelessly to come up with them if they are not implemented.