the economy is leaking at the rate of many foreign-manufactured $100 pens


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Some of the Pens AND Writing Implements (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

The journalist who did a story on the expenditure of the Central Bank of Uganda (BOU) buying Writing Implements as gift items costing about US$100 each, made one of my days this week.

We refer to them as ‘Writing Implements’ rather than just pens because at US$100 each we need to introduce some grandeur into the conversation.

The journalist in question, bless him, will receive from my personal account a box of pens (not ‘Writing Implements’) made in Uganda. That’s a modest gift in monetary terms, but quite meaningful because I value pens quite highly.

Those who have sat close to me during meetings where pens are placed on the table before you walk in must have noticed how quickly I latch onto any available and carry them off with me at the end.

My collection of pens is mentioned in my Last Will and Testament, though I won’t reveal here who is destined to receive them after I place my last full-stop.

The journalist picked up on an issue raised elsewhere and highlighted a niggling matter that keeps coming up whenever we discuss this economy and how difficult things seem to be.

On one of our online professional discussion forums populated by marketing and merchandising people, the story created a healthy discussion.

Some explained that high value pens of that nature were justified under certain circumstances, others simply declared it a waste of money, and elsewhere there was suspicion of foul play.

My joy with the story was because it was another wake up call to our economists – which is not to say that I am accusing the Bank of Uganda people of being economists.

I went to read the Bank of Uganda Act of 1993 and found it’s description saying, “An Act…for promoting the stability of the currency and a sound financial structure conducive to a balanced and sustained rate of growth of the economy and for other purposes…”

Among other things, that BOU Act says the functions of the bank shall be to formulate and implement monetary policy directed to economic objectives of achieving and maintaining economic stability, including: “act as financial adviser to the Government and manager of public debt”.

The journalist who did this story of BOU and the US$100 pens brought it to the fore on many fronts – my point of focus being the purchase of foreign items as corporate gifts; more importantly, that purchase of foreign-manufactured gifts by a body that should be mindful of how this economy is doing.

One argument on our forums was that the pens were probably Mont Blanc (Yes – I own one of those as well, valued at over US$300 at purchase and given to me as a gift from a foreign Multi-national company some years ago).

Another person even pointed out that the total cost of the Procurement was too low to merit so much chatter – something in the region of Ushs125million.

I chose not to focus on those points.

Again: the purchase of foreign-manufactured gifts by anyone in Uganda will continue to be our downfall. If the BOU people can’t calculate how many jobs can be created or sustained by an order of manufacturing merchandising items at Ushs125million, then we need more Ugandans to do courses in Economics and PAY ATTENTION IN CLASS.

The BOU people know how much money we have in circulation and, probably, where exactly it might be at any given time ’t’. If anyone knows the impact of sending Ushs125million out of the country, it should be them.

Yes – the pens were supplied by a Ugandan-owned firm or company, and money was earned from logistics et al; but surely an economist somewhere can extrapolate (those words studied people use with ease, that people like me borrow every so often when facing a US$100 writing implement) the economic impact of keeping that money in circulation here.

Even if the gifts were going to the highest ranking Central Bank Governors from the richest countries in the world, would they not appreciate a well-made item crafted by the hands of the legendary wood carvers from Bunyoro, using some of our high grade Mivule or Musambiya trees?

That’s just an example – probably not a realistic one. But if the extrapolating economists got that Ushs125million and put it through their intellectual machines, they would find ways of making us DEVELOP an industry producing merchandising items that eventually the countries where US$100 pens are made would buy for THEIR friends using THEIR equivalent of Ushs125million.

That way, the BOU Ushs125million would be used to make Uganda earn many different rounds of Ushs125million coming in from OTHER ECONOMIES.

Afraid of popping a vein in my head at all these thoughts, I went searching for a copy of a Local Content Bill that I have heard about, so I could contribute by sharing it with the BOU people for the next time they have Ushs125million on their massive account slated for the purchase of Writing Implements.

The internet couldn’t find it readily. I tweeted, called and WhatsApped a few people who I felt should have the Local Content Bill 2017 at their fingertips – not one of them responded well enough within the first few hours.

But eventually, I found a helpful Ugandan who works with the Parliament of Uganda (not a Member of Parliament) and the person shared a version of the relevant document.

Actually, the person shared the ‘Motion Seeking Leave of Parliament To Introduce A Private Member’s Bill Entitled “The Local Content Bill, 2017”’.

I applaud the Parliamentarian who is moving this Bill, for noting that “whereas the Government of Uganda formulated the ‘Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU) policy…(it) has not been fully implemented.” and expressing concern that “Uganda currently does not have legislation aimed at promoting Ugandan manufacturers or service providers to compete favorably with international goods and service providers.”

You have to read the rest of it on your own, and then give it the support it needs (coming soon to a blog post near you).

I pondered over why this required a private member rather than a front bencher. A front bencher who was involved in the NRM Manifesto.

The vein in the brain started throbbing again.

I am one of those Ugandans who finds it hard to pay bills and obligations on time because of slow, non-existent or absent payments from clients (government inclusive), besides my own inefficiencies. Still, I surely have a right to be miffed by the procurement of foreign-manufactured gifts by a government body, and thankfully, I can put it in writing using an ordinary pen procured by myself in Uganda, made in Uganda, employing a Ugandan somewhere.

raise those hawkers respectfully to major economic heights


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Photo from http://www.emmasadventuresinuganda.wordpress.com/tag/icye/

SINCE I was much younger I have found engagements with street hawkers entertaining in many ways. Along the way I have graduated from comical time-wasting banter to what I hope is a more useful sort of interaction.

I distinctly recall one incident in about 1993 at a place called Hakuna Matata in Bukoto, when one of us – Gary Samuel, we called him, called a hawker over and asked: “Olina…bino?” (‘Do you have…these?’) and gestured with his palm held out flat and slicing into the air sharply.

The hawker, arms full of plastics and mostly light kitchen utensils, had no clue what Gary was asking about but tried guessing. Knives? No. Spoons? No. Brushes? No. Brooms? No.

Everything he was vending was in full view, in his hands and slung over his shoulder and back.

And with each guess, Gary insisted with more animation and sharper gestures shooting higher into he air: “Bino! Bino! (Luganda for ‘These’) Things that go like this (Shooting gesture high into the air). Bino!

We all joined in on the guessing game but none of us could get it right. I could see the hawker losing hope of making a sale, and felt sorry for him when I realized how much direct sunshine he was absorbing. If he had started his journey somewhere in Kikuubo and had his time wasted like this at every bar and pork joint he stopped at but in exchange for a small tip, he would be a millionaire.

He was still guessing in the hope that he would make a sale, while the rest of us who were seated in the shade and having a drink were already fed up with the game. We insisted that Gary put a stop to it and he finally stated what he was asking for:

Olina…amabaati (‘Do you have IRON ROOFING SHEETS?!’)”

Laughter ensued, and the crestfallen hawker sauntered off. Some of us felt bad about it, and I can’t lose the memory of that, and other times when hawkers got asked for DSTV dishes, tractor tyres and other such ridiculous items.

I have tried to make amends over the years in various ways, mostly by showing this cadre of Ugandan entrepreneur a lot more respect and courtesy than they usually receive; for instance, I don’t swat them off when they approach me at traffic lights or in heavy traffic. Instead, I politely smile and mouth a “No, thank you.”

Their stigma is hard to appreciate – imagine being a hawker and finding the sign “Hawkers Not Permitted Here” on every door you walk past even when you are not vending your wares.

Recently, my change of policy towards hawkers has led to interventions of a different kind.

I am keenly aware that the Kampala Capital City Authority Act (2010) Section 3 of Part A, gives KCCA the responsibility to “Prohibit, restrict, regulate or license (a) the sale or hawking of wares or the erection of stalls on any street…”

Because of that, I am rarely eager to exchange money for wares from hawkers, but there is some other support they can benefit from, as one Robert Mwesize reminded me last Friday.

He was vending soft cuddly toys, normally called Teddy Bears, in Ntinda. He hesitated at us because he didn’t think a random group of men fitted in his categorization of sure-deal clients.

We called him over anyway and quickly bought a couple of his second-hand Bears so we could have a conversation with him.

At first, he was reluctant to give us his second name, which gave us the opportunity to explain to him why he needed to do so to increase his sales over time. Then we told him that since he only sold Teddy Bears, as he confessed, he had chosen to specialise and now needed to brand himself as the Teddy Bear guy.

So we took his number (0751266921) and saved it as Robert Mwesize Teddy Bear. I offered him my number but he didn’t see the relevance till I explained that if he built up a customer database he could make regular sales to repeat clients by direct marketing.

All the men in the group, we told him, had wives, girlfriends, daughters and other female interactions that they needed Teddy Bears for. Besides, we explained, if you vended these wares and told these customers that they would make good gifts to hand in as they got home late that night…

His eyes lit up as the brief conversation developed. We even suggested to him that he should spend more time studying the soft, cuddly toys and figuring out a way of making some of his own.

Surely that is possible, isn’t it? Yes, he responded in a low tone of voice as he studied his wares more closely.

We left it there, but I have his number if you are in the market for a Teddy Bear, and high hopes that one day Robert Mwesize will be the owner of a factory manufacturing Teddy Bears somewhere in Kampala, or at least operating a slick distribution system of soft toys to a growing customer base.

Shiyaya Coupon Book Advert FINAL.001

uganda: time to open the national office of event planning and fill it wisely…but urgently


Museveni Selfie
Photo from http://www.matookerepublic.com

IF you were like me and found it surprising that there was a major Commonwealth event taking place in Kampala this week, then please accept my sympathies for missing yet more opportunities for this country.

According to the official website: “The Commonwealth brings together government ministers, senior officials, young leaders, and youth workers from across the globe for the 9th Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting.”

The meeting involves the Youth Minister’s meeting, the Youth Forum and the Youth Stakeholder’s Forum. This meeting, I have discovered, takes place every four years in a different country each time – and the one in Uganda this week is the 9th in the series.

There are 52 countries in the Commonwealth, so a basic mathematical analysis into this means that the next time Uganda might get a chance to host such an event will be the year 2181.

These thoughts came to me because during this week I also received news of the Tokyo Olympics 2020. This news was broken to me NOT by way of a sports publication but through an ICT magazine – www.computerweekly.com.

The article in this magazine was titled, ‘How Japan is gearing up to secure the Tokyo Olympics’, and explained a non-obvious link between computers and the world’s biggest sporting event.

The story told us that the ever-efficient Japanese, hosts of the 2020 Olympics, were focused on securing electricity and communication systems THREE YEARS ahead of the event, to ensure there are no cyber attacks or system failures in 2020.

Three years to go, and they are already planning for contingencies. Some articles even state things like, “The 2020 Olympics are around the corner…

The Japanese have planned their 2020 event to such levels of detail that even the possibility of cyber interruptions is being looked into.

When I remarked on this to a youthful colleague, on the day the event opened and a photograph circulated widely of the grey-haired Kirunda Kivenjinja at a podium opening the event, he laughed.

“Even you, “ he said, “You can’t claim to be good at planning, so don’t start that kaboozi…”

He was right about one part, but we really have to stop and think a little bit.

The Permanent Secretary for Youth, Gender and Culture, Pius Bigirimana, wrote an article about the Conference and concluded with: “Let me also mention that right now and in days to come, all Commonwealth focus will be on this important event and this will further showcase Uganda to the world.”

Right.

Another youth asked me, when I mentioned the Conference to her, whether it was really trending worldwide on the social media platforms that most youth spend their time on.

Luckily, the President himself stepped forward with a selfie stick and created at least one superb image that went viral for hours on end via digital media, starting with his half million Twitter followers.

The rest of the stats of impressions and views of the hashtag @9CYMM are pathetic.

Yet we knew FOUR YEARS AGO that we would be hosting this most important event in the country with the world’s youngest population. We knew FOUR YEARS AGO that this event would make Uganda the focus of at least 52 countries for a long period in the run-up to the Conference, then during the three days of the Conference and meetings, and thereafter when they return to their homes, and update their Facebook walls and photo albums. We had FOUR YEARS to plan our hashtags, and menus, and itineraries and millions of other opportunities.

I say millions of opportunities because there are millions of youth in Uganda alone who could each have been brought on board in some small way to take advantage of this event – not necessarily by attending it, but even by tweeting it or gramming (from Instagram) elements of the meetings, or using the hashtag to promote bits of Uganda that would be highlighted to the millions following @9CYMM in the 52 Commonwealth countries.

Mind you, this opportunity is so massive that we are amazing in the way we have let it pass. From a tourism or investment point of view, for instance, the Commonwealth countries are english speaking and can communicate with us rather easily, and have certain other similarities that make it easier for them to send their nationals here to benefit us. Plus, many of them presumably don’t have stringent visa requirements and other prejudices that would keep other ordinary people from bringing their funds to Uganda.

I’m sure some segment of our millions of youth here would have appreciated the opportunity to make souvenirs for the people who came for the Conference to buy. Better still, they would have certainly been happy to take them round the country on tours, and sell them Rolexes and other home grown delicacies. Even just Re-Tweeting or Liking posts about Uganda so that the rest of the world’s seven billion people get a good impression of this country would be putting this resource to good use.

I checked the impressions of the hashtags and googled for the #CYMM and was disappointed at the numbers. Little of the above was done.

As usual, though, I took up hope. Since the Japanese are global experts at getting precision right and exact, should we not aspire to be like them? Perhaps we can take some lessons from their Tokyo 2020 Olympics planning and then apply some of them to our upcoming events. Maybe we can create an office in charge of events planning, whose first role would be to compile a list of all events coming up in future.

For instance, what are the Independence Celebrations on October 9 this year going to look like? What about the UMA Exhibition in the first week of October? These events are just two months away but try googling for the theme or other aspects around them and see. THAT is what the Office of Events Planning would concentrate on. Identify opportunities around events, publicize them so that the general public can work out more, and make them nationally profitable.

Since we have up to 2181 for the next @CYMM, we can even send a few people to Tokyo 2020 specifically to pick up ideas from the ground there, for use in 164 years’ time. We appear capable of waiting another three years, since we allow these opportunities to casually go by without batting an eye lid.