Commonly known as Kantobatobe, after one of his songs, Mr Gerald Mutabaazi, had no any other option than resorting to his childhood art and crafts skills of making artistic salable wooden kitchen ware.
Kantobatobe is a trendy colloquial among Ugandan youths loosely meaning ‘let me toil.’
This was after the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic that hit many but the entertainment industry as no gigs could be staged anymore unless in defiance of the health ministry’s guidelines against social gatherings.
Kantobatobe fell a victim of Ugandan music environment in which once a song is released, the singer will only earn through concerts or wedding ceremonies and birthday parties.
He can only expect pride from radio or television stations playing the hit on the airwaves also as a favour without any accrued financial gains to him.
In an interview with Kazi-njema News, Kantobatobe said he found himself squeezed up in Hoima city when the lockdown entered its second month in May 2020.
“I couldn’t afford food by then and I couldn’t explain to my children how our industry had been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he told this online news portal.
But Kantobatobe went past his home into the neighbouring bushes to search for appropriate bits and pieces to make of wood some kitchen ware like mingling sticks, trays, cups, ladles and other rare but gorgeous objects.
A celebrity quitting town to his home village no matter how hard life may be mainly for fear of his image is no easy a thing to decide.
In two weeks, Kantobatobe had bounced back to the streets of Hoima city with products on the market.
Undoubtedly, he started winning a bread for the family back at home in Kacungiro village, Buhanika sub-county in Hoima district.
He is working jointly with Mr Jordan Kitasoboka, the Director of ‘100 Flowers’- a brand name they intend to promote to sell their products.
Let alone other youths who got stuck in urban centres or remained idle hoping COVID-19 will vanish like an event, Kantobatobe has not regretted his decision.
The trade has become his reliable source of livelihood. Kantobatobe has also foreseen a need to expand it by establishing a woodwork workshop and register the business that will in one way or the other help him tap into the booming population attracted by the oil and gas industry in Bunyoro’s regional capital, Hoima.
Kantobatobe’s products cost between Shs20, 000 to Shs50, 000.
“I normally come to the market with products worth Shs150, 000 and all are bought. I started by coming twice a month but nowadays I come once every week,” he says.
With his short dreadlocks, Kantobatobe has impressed many including some media executives.
“I have loved his products in the first instance and also admired his flexibility to manage this COVID-19 period. I bought a mingling stick and I have ordered for a wooden tray,” Ms Leila Bbaale, a News Editor at Spice FM told Kazi-njema News.
Rastafarian life supports marketing
Our reporter was afraid of asking the Rastafarian about his dreadlocks and bobbing on the city streets while in this new business only to hear that it was helpful in attracting customers.
“Sometimes when I am walking on the streets carrying my products, I hear people call from a distance saying: ‘Rasta, Rasta, come here’. I nod my head advancing towards them and after displaying, they buy joyfully,” explains Kantobatobe.
The Hoima city Mayor, Grace Mary Mugasa, lauds the young man for the courage to keep his family moving by engaging in a legal activity that inspired many youths.
“Because of coronavirus, some youths resorted to unscrupulous ways of eking out a living including theft and robbery while others became drug addicts since they lost jobs. Mutabaazi is a good example to the rest of the youths beyond the COVID-19 narrative. I was also surprised but impressed when I saw him with his products. I bought some from him,” Ms Mugasa said.
Will Kantobatobe ditch music ?
“I will not leave music because it is a hobby but the lesson from COVID-19 pandemic is that one needs an alternative source of livelihood. You can’t predict the future,” he said.
Kantobatobe plans to establish himself in carpentry since it sounds more reliable and sustainable.
While officiating at the Uganda Small Scale Industries Association (USSIA), Youths Innovation Awards at Glory Summit Hotel last week, Dr Charles Kajura, the Hoima District Production Officer, said Hoima has many youths with art and crafts skills but the syndrome of the desire for white collar jobs is upsetting.
He says others just need to get organised and register their enterprises with government to grow in the business world.
In a separate interview, the production officer told Kazi-njema News that Mutabaazi’s mind of flexibility has beaten many graduates who continue starving in urban centres after being laid off work following the coronavirus outbreak.
“It is not too late,” Dr Kajura says.
Kantobatobe dropped out of school after failing to perform well in Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) at Buhanika Primary School.
He attempted to re-sit five years later but also failed to complete the year at Kyentale Primary School over failing to balance school, financial and time demands with fatherhood responsibilities.