Monday, March 19, 2012

The BAT Stakeholders Meeting

A couple of weeks ago, the world celebrated International Women’s Day with a public holiday. I have always been miffed at the thought of Women’s Day. Should we take it that out of the 365 days that a year has, somebody decided as a ‘by-the-way’ to toss the women just one day that they can call their own and leave the rest to us - the men?

I grew up in a female household, and as far as I can recall everyday was Women’s Day for my mother and sisters - Julie, Susan, Linda, Helen and Brenda. And seeing that I started off this cowardly tale on a feminine theme, there is a need to re-emphasize that cry with a belated Women’s Day message to every woman in Uganda especially Mrs. Muze, Aunt Ketts, Diana Mulira, Camille Aliker, Diane Kakaire (congratulations on the new addition to you family), Gaana, Natal, Patricia, my mum and of course, my editor Esther Namungoji that in my eyes, EVERYDAY IS ALWAYS WOMEN’S DAY! Did that not sound like one of those Oscar Award acceptance speeches?

So I once again, I hit Julie’s Joint in Soya and if you had read my cowardly tale a few weeks ago, I was venting my wrath on a bar lady called Sarah. I thought that there might have been some improvement since my last visit but alas and the most appropriate words to use would be: “S**t is tight for Sarah!” With my order placed, she shouted out to her colleague, “omwami ayagala ka-Club-uu (the mister wants a Club beer).” She used to say ‘Club-uu’ rather than simply saying Club, the way it is supposed to be pronounced. But now she has gone and added the word ‘ka’ as a prefix. Why would she go and do that?

Stakeholders meetings, workshops and capacity building meetings – they mean nothing to me. I have never been to any of them nor had l an idea of what goes on in them until I got an invitation from the tobacco industry, to attend a stakeholders meeting. Surely there must have been some mistake. I am not a shareholder nor do I have acres of land where tobacco grows freely. The invitation was followed up with both an e-mail and telephone call from somebody at BAT called Solomon Mutiya. With that, the invitation couldn’t have been a mistake so I duly took myself to Protea Hotel early one morning for the meeting and it was most obvious as soon as I walked into the meeting room that I must have walked into the wrong room.

With a Sporti simmering in my hand and not a single ashtray in sight, I made a hasty retreat back to the notice board which, confirmed that I was in the right place. But, where were the smokers or the ashtrays?

The meeting was something to do with ‘those people’ from parliament and who would rather I refer to them as Hon. Members of Parliament (ha, what a joke!) and who have a notion of trying to introduce an anti-tobacco control bill. “What?!!” That is exactly what I screamed out and the scream was quickly followed by my sparking up another Sporti.

Since the anti-tobacco lobby began to gather steam, we smokers, have become an endangered species. My human rights as a smoker are being trampled on just like a person who is confined to a wheel chair. His human rights are being trampled on if somebody constructs a building that has no wheelchair access and like the organisers of the Vagina Monologues said when the government clamped down on them, their human rights to free speech were violated.

With the agenda set, I sharpened my knives. It was bound to be a stormy meeting and there was a need to be focused, alert and to conjure up some swear words apart from my favoured tumbavu that I could unleash should one of those chaps from parliament get out of line.

Before I go on, there is a need to express my disappointment at many of my smoker colleagues. I expected a mass turn out at Protea but, I was all alone, a solitary coward thrown out there to defend the rights of every smoker in Uganda. I should have cowered at the thought, but I surprised myself. My chest puffed out and my arms suddenly had more muscle than Rambo. I was ready. And when the microphone went round in which we had to introduce ourselves, whilst everybody simply whimpered out their name and sat down, I boldly lashed out my name that it reverberated round the room. Not content, I followed it up with a definitive ‘smoke-on-that’ statement: “And I am a smoker!” With that, I cast my eyes round the room whilst slithering and spitting out my tongue like that of a King Cobra ready for the kill and I saw them – the chaps and the lady from parliament and do you know what they were doing? They were all cowering just like that judge that Jim Muhwezi said was cowering under his bed while he (Jim), was fighting for the liberation of Uganda. Okay so MP’s have balls, but I had the real deal - mayinja’s, down my pants! They were on my turf and they knew it too.

I really didn’t pay much attention in the meeting for I had more pressing thoughts. Would they be serving us lunch? Would they be a cocktail later that evening?

With the thought of a beef luwombo for lunch, a rather articulate Julie Owino who jazzed (spoke) with a full, full axe-so (accent) and who was giving us vibe (the gist) on the state of the tobacco industry, the alarm bells began to ring.

Can you imagine Smoker’s, parliament wants to make it illegal for us to buy ‘separates’ amongst other things?! So I have not done the required research, but dare I say a good proportion of smokers cannot afford to buy a whole pack of cigarettes thus, they buy what we call separates – one or two sticks for example. If the sale of separates is stopped, the ramifications will be very costly.

But I am not against some form of tobacco control and I am mindful of non-smokers, but there are some people who have the nerve like, Ruth Ondoru, who claimed to be an MP from Maracha District and who incredibly, had no idea what was in the bill, Young Lady who accosted me in Silk Oxygen which is the smoking section of the club and ‘Pastor’ whom I once gave a lift in my car. Let’s start with ‘Pastor’. Can you imagine, when I lit up, he had the nerve to tell me off and in MY ride that he would prefer it if I did not smoke?! Is there any need to guess what happened next? Just in case you can’t figure it out, the ride screeched to a halt outside the gates of Electoral Commission on Jinja Road, the central locking system disabled itself and I reached across, opened the door for him and barked at him to be on his way in a taxi or by boda!

Young Lady in Club Silk had the nerve to complain that the smoke was irritating her. Blowing smoke into her face, I sneered at her that there was the option of her going to Silk Lounge which operates a smoke free environment. With that, she walked off in a huff while saying I was being inconsiderate. Really?!

If parliament takes it upon themselves to impose draconian controls on us smokers, we are not going to take it lying down – at least I am not and nor would BAT board chairman, James Mulwana for it would mean he would be out of a job. We smokers reserve the right to smoke because it is a basic human right. By the way, the lunch did happen but it was no beef luwumbo luncheon as I had hoped.

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