Story of Kayoola bus and Ugandan made Covid-19 treatment

Sunday February 21 2021
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Kaboggoza Kibudde

By Kaboggoza Kibudde

One of the lessons Dr Spencer Johnson’s book, Who Moved my Cheese, teaches is that it is dangerous to focus on just enjoying something whose source you don’t know. 
What happens when you grow dependent on it, convinced it will always be there only for it to be whisked away? 
Isn’t it better to build internal capacity to better take care of one’s most vital needs instead of completely being at the mercy of others?

Without a doubt, Uganda has come a long way from the days of completely being at the mercy of others. However, a part of us is yet to recover from the trauma inflicted by British rule.
That era saw Britain restructuring Uganda into a mere source of raw materials and a recipient of imports and handouts. It eroded our belief in solving our problems to such an extent that we instinctively have contempt for our reality and local knowledge. 

And when we look down on ourselves, we do it with so much pride, scoffing and ridiculing anyone who dares to dream of creating viable home-grown solutions. 
We dwell on their false-starts, errors, or the low quality of their (read our) products as we compare them to more established and advanced industries. 
But is it fair to expect a Ugandan sector in its infancy to match more established/advanced sectors in Europe, America, or Asia? 

It is clear that our nascent industries still have to acquire and develop new skills, perfect systems, close the gap between theory and practice, and endure many failures before producing internationally competitive products. 
What is crucial at this point is starting and engaging in perpetual self-improvement, not perfection! 
Fully formed advanced and competitive industries are not going to fall from the skies onto our laps. 

We have to begin from where we are and fight with what we have to thrive in an imperfect world. 
If we take the example of our herbal Covid-19 treatment, which is currently in clinical trials, what is important is we started and that it is safe for human consumption! 
It is not important whether the product is as sophisticated as American products. It certainly isn’t. It is also not important whether it will succeed in treating Covid-19. Most likely, it won’t, simply because most drugs (86 per cent) fail in clinical trials. 

Remember, dead ends are the majority in any innovation process, and drug discovery is no exception. Lucky for us, we can take advantage of pre-existing knowledge and technology to fast track our progress.
Otherwise, even if the trial fails, the capacity to get a pharmaceutical product (herbal or not) to clinical testing has been built. The lessons learned from the trial will inform future endeavours. 


Second, the project’s recently acquired infrastructure means prospective pharmacology students will not be restricted to theoretical learning like many before them. 
They will have more opportunities to close the gap between theory and practice, which improves the human resource capacity for Uganda’s drug discovery industry.
The same can be said of Kiira Motors Corporation and any other endeavour geared towards generating home-grown solutions. 

Those who embark on this journey to bring back our self-belief should focus on competence and market fit, not adoration by Uganda’s cynical public. 
After all, this is not an exercise in popular democracy. It is best to ignore (or forgive) those who find pride in merely identifying gaps but never thinking about solutions, for they know not what they say or do.

Mr Kibudde is a socio-political thinker  Twitter: @kkaboggoza