You go to shoprite just to buy a kilo of rotten meat en those chicken drumsticks that test like nothing nearer to aroma of that local bird. Yet there are whole chicken in Nakawa market numerous butchers that give you the liberty of pointing to the specific section of the cow. Era modernity at a stupid level.
One of my Face Book friends this morning posted these words on his wall. These words got me thinking about Uganda’s domestic trade policy once more and hence, this post.
Once on a flight from Entebbe to Dar es Salaam aboard Air Uganda we were served yoghurt from Jesa Farms, Wavah bottled water, pastries, tea, coffee, fruit juices and fresh fruits, all products made, grown and supplied by Ugandan owned companies. It was a proud Ugandan moment for me.
Sadly, now Air Uganda grounded on silly grounds which could have been avoided if only Uganda had any pride. How is it possible that the Government of Uganda (GoU) allows for Air Uganda to fail? How is it logical for the GoU to allow an opportunity for national carriers of other nations to go out of control hiking the cost for air travel for Ugandans and for those wishing to come to Uganda.
Does GoU care for Ugandan’s at all? Actions such as the ones taken by Ugandan District Local Governments in awarding tenders to foreigners compound the situation for Ugandans even further. For example, how is it possible that Lira Municipality was unable to find Ugandan engineers to upgrade a small road? Lira contracts Chinese to up grade roads.
I have deviated, back to the point now. My trip to Dar es Salaam, when I flew board the now defunct Air Uganda, was for a meeting with other leaders from within the East Africa Region. At the meeting, during a health break, one of the leaders, a successful Ugandan business woman, Maria Odido, the Chief Executive Officer of Bee Natural Uganda, shared her philosophy on import and export trade. She used the analogy of a mother who prepares a sumptuous meal, serves the best part of the food into her best serving dishes, wraps it up nicely, takes it and gives it to the neighbours; and then returns home to serve her children the cold leftovers. According to Maria this is what she will not do with her products – her honey is first for the Ugandan market and then when there is extra she will export it to East Africa, Africa and then outside Africa.
Maria’s philosophy indeed seems particularly relevant in regard to the inept services Ugandans are receiving from those who are charged with the duty to supply us with said services. Take electricity, for example, you would think that citizens of a country such as Uganda which generates and exports electricity should enjoy regular power supply twenty-four seven, but this is not the case. It is not uncommon for us in Uganda to experience power outages for as long as five days in a row in some areas; and moreover in some cases no explanation is given and most certainly no apology is given. I need not explain how this affects our productivity.
It is the norm for the GoU to consistently serve Ugandans with its debilitating decisions. A case in point, for example, is how the sugar crisis was handled by making it favourable to import more sugar into Uganda, which mostly benefited a small crop of Ugandan shilling millionaires with aspirations to become dollar millionaires at any cost. Would it not have been more logical to just stop sugar exports and first satisfy the Ugandan market? It seems like the general message of the GoU in this case was that the sugar producers can continue to export as opposed to first meeting the needs of Ugandans, this is illogical.
Examples such as these are insightful of the prevailing attitude within Uganda’s economy. The attitude alluded to by Maria’s proverbial mother who serves leftovers to her children, most times without regard to issues of presentation. Indeed, on the whole, Ugandan entrepreneurs with an attitude such as Maria has are rare, for there is a tendency within Uganda for the GoU, entrepreneurs and their customers alike to have low expectations from each other. As a matter of fact, in the case of sugar and electricity the GoU and entrepreneurs seem to behave exactly like Maria’s proverbial mother, taking great care to select and package the best for export, while not taking the same level of care for the goods to be sold locally.
This is indeed one of the contributory reasons as to why Ugandan products are not competitive – because of the failings of the GoU to provide the relevant infrastructure, such as constant electricity supply, good road network, air travel, that would ensure the reduction of our production and transportation costs. So, while Uganda is gifted by nature, waterfalls from which electricity can be generated and fertile soils on which sugarcane plantations grow abundantly, our economy does not seem to be concerned with how we can best focus our energies and incentives on ensuring that we utilise our gift of nature to produce sufficient goods and services for our own consumption first.
Admittedly, the GoU has made some effort to support Ugandan small and medium enterprises (SMEs). However, it has done so selectively and piecemeal, within a framework that encourages the SMEs primarily to focus on producing for export as opposed to improving on their product quality and distribution within the Uganda market. So, in my neighbourhood of Bugolobi it is easier to find Nescafe coffee than it is Good Africa coffee.
This status quo shows that we are declining and not rising. In matters domestic trade, our government is seemingly no different from matooke traders who overload their cars to breaking point. Shame on us.