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Masembe: All he sees is green

Joseph Masembe

A trip to Disney World with his children led him to starting a children’s festival in Uganda dubbed My Kid is A Superstar. One thing led to another, now he started a campaign involving children countrywide in tree planting. As a result, his annual children’s festival, on this Sunday, has been rebranded The Creative Kids’ Green Fun Festival. Christine Wanjiru Wanjala spoke to him.

I resort to calling Joseph Masembe after scanning the coffee shop where we were supposed to meet with no success. He picks and sounds concerned when I say I can’t see him. “You are already here?” He asks and I await him to give me more directions or tell me to get a seat and wait for a few more min¬utes (it is Masembe, he is busy) until I realise whoever I am looking for is looking straight back at me, seated a few tables away. Yes, he is pulling a plank on me. Having a good laugh at my expense. I was looking for a towering frame but Masembe is seated, blending in with the rest of the patrons in the cafe.

Here we won’t be disturbed. We met to talk about his sprouting green thumb, (what with being the brain behind the first Green Fun Kids Festival). But also why he is comfortable just where he is and how he has found his calling.

It is hot, he says of the final touches to the grand event this Sun¬day. His ear must be hot too from all the phone calls he has to receive. Still I manage to squeeze in ques¬tions in between eavesdropping on his phone calls, lunch and talking about the dog eat dog world of cor¬porate marketing. Here goes.

The green event is coming and there is a lot of interest around it? How are you the man at the centre of it feeling?
I am nervous, (drops his voice a little lower), I usually am before any major event.

We saw you pull off the My Kid Is a Superstar festivals, both of them huge hits. Why are you ner¬vous now?
Yes they were, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous about them. I hope and work towards the best, but there are things beyond my control, you know, the elements. (The event is in Lugogo Cricket Oval, open air and I can now see why he would be worried).

I am itching to know, why children’s functions? I mean, it is not exactly natural progression from what you were best known for -marketing alcohol.
I was inspired to do something for children after a day out with my son at Disney World in the US. I enjoyed myself but I realised that for my son, that could have been the best day of his life. But when I returned and looked around, we had very little to offer for children. Look at how many concerts we have had in the last three months and how many are coming and tell me how many are tailored for children. (I actually count them on my fingers, the Jazz Safari, Judy Boucher, Sisqo, Demarco… nothing you can take a child to). So we were discussing this with a friend and My Kid is a Superstarwas born. I thought if we can afford to go to a show our¬selves, why not afford the same for our children?

Just like that?
Just like that, but a lot of thought went into it.The aim was to get a place for children and parents. Where the chil¬dren can play and the parents can play along too as they watch them. The superstar bit is a thing that rings true with most parents. They think their child is the best, or want them to be the best. It can also be interpreted as an at¬titude parents should nurture in their children. A winning mentality.

Okay, you are a parent yourself. How many times over?
Three, one boy and two little girls. They live in the UK (He shows me pictures, they are absolutely precious).

Go Green festival. I am thinking there is more to it than the dress code (green IS the colour by the way).
I was looking at giving the My Kid is a Superstar event more meaning, besides the priceless family time and fun, something that the children can take home, that’s why we are giving each child a fruit tree. I have always been a nature buff, I remembered my childhood days, when climbing trees was normal fare, and at the previous My Kid is a Superstar festival, some children were asking if people really climb trees. It all came together.

I am going to have to ask this again. Just like that?
Well it’s based on the thinking that children have a proprietary interest in the future, in the environment too. We as adults do not own or inherit anything, we borrow it from our children and they borrow it from the next generation, that’s just the way it is. Getting them involved in the green festival (tree planting will be a big part of it) is a step forward. Imagine if every children took up the “save your environment – plant a tree campaign.”

Hey hold up, proprie…what? Masembe I know you are a marketer and throw yourself in any project you take, but sounds more like you were bitten by the green bug.
I have fond memories of my childhood eating mangoes from trees which grew around Kololo.The mango trees are no longer there and my children will probably never know about experiences like that, unless we do something. It is me going back to basics; we are currently importing fruit, which can easily grow here for example. The idea for Uganda’s Little Hands go Green, which is really the part driving the tree planting campaign among children begun taking shape late last year, after the first and second My Kid is a Superstar festivals.

Green fever and nostalgia I see, so have you been getting your hands dirty before this function?
We went to Yumbe and did a tree planting exercise in April, 1,250 trees. Then we did some more in Kampala with King Oyo. This is real, we iden¬tify places that really need the trees and plant them, not the ceremonial tree planting of politicians. Children got so excited, and for me the best thing is seeing a child’s smile.

Now I get it, Masembe, the man with his heart set on the future of the little ones. What we don’t get is what Masembe is all about. Some light on that?
I am a very simple guy. I believe in making things work…

No Masembe no, everybody says that. I need something I can sink my teeth into. Something about you…
(Hesitates, and then tells me he doesn’t like his life all laid out to the public, but after me alternately beg¬ging and prodding, he capitulates) I lived in different countries when I was growing up. About five. I come from a large family, we were nine children and only two of those are girls. I curved a niche in corporate experiential marketing. I started out very young when I walked into the then MTN marketing manager’s office and told him about my idea about their official launch, he listened and I got the contract. I was the first person to do the whole bikers and roller skaters road show to promote a product.

Keep it coming…
I have always been into children re¬ally. Way back I used to bring the film festival to Nakasero Primary School and I would hand Splash juice to the children. I became known as Mr Splash and some of those kids who are all grown up now still recognise me and call me Mr Splash.

Okay Mr Splash, is there a Mis Splash in waiting somewhere?
(Again that guardedness comes up and I have to coax him out of his shell). I will tell you this, I am in a comfortable relationship. That’s all you get.

I know being in the public eye neans anything you say can and will be used against you. But you ; re by far the cagicst celeb. Why is this?
I have learnt that what gets out in an interview about my personal life can be distorted and used wrongly and it bothers those close to me. (He mentions a certain tabloid). I really want to make it about what I do, not my personal exploits.

So what are we looking at in the future. A yellow festival, a red festival, another passion in the offing, Masembe moving on to beauty products?
(Dimples, then laughs out loud). I see myself doing the children’s festival for a long time, and the tree planting campaign. I have vested interests in both, and I derive a lot of satisfaction in making a child smile and seeing our nation become greener. Call it aging or whatever, this is my calling!

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