Dear Supermarket Guy who was bemused and puzzled at my kids checking products to see whether they were made in Uganda before placing them in our trolley:
They are very young, my little ones, and I don’t want them to get too old before they undergo this basic lesson in economics.
You see, if they join the army of shoppers that concentrates spending fire on products manufactured in Uganda then they will eventually win us the economic war of building Ugandan industry – cottage, small, medium and large together.
Unlike you and I, supermarket guy, these children are being raised in an age when there are actually good, respectable, competitive Ugandan products on the shelves.
Of course you are younger than I am, or came to Kampala long after I did, so you cannot possibly recall a time when there were no supermarkets besides Ugantico (run by Nasser Ntege Sebaggala) or outlets such as the confectionary of Mrs. Ofungi in Kisementi and Bimbo Ice Cream Parlour of the Mukulas (Mike and Gladys).
You might have no clear idea of an environment where scarce products were called “England” as evidence of quality and ‘authenticity’ as opposed to “China” for cheapness and potential fraudulence. That’s why you probably don’t get confused when you walk round your home today and find that most things are actually made in China but are not really disintegrating on impact every time you touch them.
And right now you might not be aware that all those decades of this “England-China” identification form what sociologists might call “normalisation”, which is why you cannot understand the product-inspecting actions of my children.
That was one of the lessons of my university days that stuck – “normalisation” and the cementing of certain ideas as believable facts that we grow up with and cannot break away from.
It’s also why we generally think toothpaste is synonymous with Colgate, cereal with Kellogg’s, and coffee – we are so stupid – with Nescafe.
My children know different and will continue to be told different. Which is why, Supermarket guy, I bring them shopping and make them check labels before we buy anything.
Actually, it is only one of many reasons. I also need them to know how much stuff costs so that they work out what it means for us to buy them supermarket food. But it is a major reason – the ‘Made in Uganda’ one – because we need them to understand that if we buy products made in Uganda then the bulk of the money we spend will stay in Uganda, with people working in Uganda.
If we bought honey made in Australia, for instance, you would still earn your wages; but when we buy honey made in Uganda then some bee-keeper in Bulindi, Hoima or or Mutolere, Kisoro might soon be shopping with you as well and your wages might increase.
If that bee-keeper also buys his or her raw materials and tools of production strictly Ugandan…I’m sure you catch the drift?
So these kids of mine who appeared to irritate you by their inspection of every packet of everything, are actively protecting your job tenure.
Rather than brush them off, my supermarket friend, you should make yourself an authority on where the products made in Uganda are. If your supermarket and the Ministry of Trade and Industry are too short-sighted to create a ‘Proudly Ugandan’ campaign with dedicated shelves for products and staff assigned to chaperone money back into the economy in this way, then YOU do it yourself.
If you make it your business to know and promote Ugandan products while the
vast, ignorant majority push for foreign exports then you will stand out and be more valuable than the rest. It won’t be long, I assure you, before one of these Ugandan companies sweeps you up to join their marketing or sales or product development departments.
And in any case, which is easier – for a French Coffee or Egyptian juice company to spot and employ you, or one of our Ugandan ones whose owners and managers actually meet you on the shop floor?
I’m telling you the truth, my friend, focusing on foreign imports rather than pushing our local products will keep you down there shuffling boxes for a long, long time.
So when these little kids and their parents approach the shelves to choose biscuits or juice or crisps or pencils, point them in the right direction. A direction in which even your own progress and prosperity might lie.
Make them buy Ugandan.