this year, let’s get the youngsters to save (for) Uganda

this year, let’s get the youngsters to save (for) Uganda

AT some point in December I was gallivanting round my neighbourhood and spotted a pile of curious-looking little boxes in a carpentry workshop.

My first thought was that they were some type of ‘Piggy Bank’ savings box made in a rudimentary but apparently effective manner for the use of little children. I had no clue what gave cause to that being the first option to come to mind, as I had been feeling irritated for months by the specific direction commercial bank advertising here takes.

I have watched this for years, and like any other ordinary Ugandan lacking in astute personal finance skills, have fallen prey. See, we don’t encourage saving money as much as we do spending it in this country.

As late as November 2017 I was catching radio adverts with high tone melodious backdrops to hyper lively voices enticing people to apply for loans to “win” stuff like “free TVs and airtime”.

The concept has always angered me especially because we appear to have a large population of people who are gainfully employed to levels that enable them to sign up for these loans, and yet not insufficiently intelligent to avoid the debt trap.

I have imagined many a time before that commercial banks would be better served by encouraging people to save more money and get them to take loans for things that will enable them to earn the money they need to pay back with interest. But I am no banker and certainly not an economist of the lofty levels that cause banks to make huge profits, so I probably can’t advise them properly.

If life were fair, though, the authority that supervises public advertising – like the Uganda Advertising Authority (it doesn’t exist – we have the private-sector Uganda Advertising Association instead) would monitor and veto all advertising that hoodwinks people in any small measure.

If life were fair there would certainly be no hope for a campaign that gets people to participate in a lottery while becoming indentured for a major portion of their productive future.

This stuff went through my mind swiftly as I walked over to the carpenters with the little boxes to establish what they were for – and I was blown away by the declaration that they were “Savings Boxes”!

The carpenters were surprised at my demand that they explain their motivation for making those particular items. The plain little boxes, made of the cheapest wood possible and clearly put together from off-cuts, cost just Ushs2,000 each.

I bought the entire lot and have gone back thrice since in four weeks.

My mission? To distribute as many of the boxes as possible to all nieces and nephews I come across in the next few weeks, along with a quick tutorial in saving money and a pledge from them that they would spend 2018 filling their allotted boxes with savings. They also get to colour and decorate their boxes so that they are personalised and fun to own.

Their parents are conscripts, and will find themselves having to provide pocket money and other revenue in exchange for work done by the children while avoiding child labour breaches. Weekend outings will not involve money being spent on fast food and sweets, but put into the hands of the children with reminders that they should keep some for insertion into the savings boxes.

My experiences with this approach have been so successful that I don’t directly suffer expenses such as mobile phone and airtime purchases. The children have allowances of their own that they bank daily using a journal system.

It is satisfying to see it in action – as first happened when one rolled out a ledger and ordered for an iPhone online – but also inconvenient when they rack up high numbers and come collecting together!

Nevertheless, while I keep lowering the radio volume when commercial bank adverts start encouraging people to take loans to spend on consumables, I will also be pushing this savings box initiative so these little ones are less likely to enter into the debt traps that many of our lives have become.

The next step in my plan will involve teaching them about interest on savings. By coincidence this week, one of my colleagues at work, Conrad Van Niekerk (a charming fellow of South African origin but Ugandan spirit) told us of the practical lessons his mother – a banker – taught him.

Once, when he had just left home and was setting himself up, he borrowed 600 Rand from her to buy a television, and saved up over a few months to pay her back. When he hit the mark he walked into her bank office proudly and handed her the money in full, beaming with pride at how impressed she would be.

She took it, gave him a warm motherly smile, and then replaced it with the seriousness of a banker, “That should be 623 Rand and twelve cents – but you can keep the 12 cents!”

He paid the interest.

My children have no idea how soon that story is coming their way…but with THEM earning the interest from their savings, rather than having to pay it when they borrow money.

aligning our personal objectives with our national ones


THE other day I said, on radio (KFM – where I am invited on Tuesdays to join a panel of serious people), that I was disappointed in a number of “educated and otherwise informed people” because of their reaction to the announcement around the President’s End-of-Year Address.

It was reported that the Uganda Communications Commission had issued guidelines (instructions?) that private media stations would have to air the address live, which caused a social media furore – not that there is any other kind these days in Uganda.

Coming from some quarters, we shouldn’t be surprised by an uproar or flurry of angry messages whenever anything about our political leadership is mentioned – much like most countries face around the world (Google ‘United States of America’).

But in others I had to check whether I was reading the comparison wrong or not.

See, in most “corporate” (which word could in the past easily refer to an entire State) organisations the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) communicates the objectives and goals of the organisation, on behalf of the Board, which in most cases represents the shareholders (citizens, nationals, etc).

In the corporate world the CEO might likely address staff every month or every quarter, depending on how big or busy the corporation might be, which event is a ‘Stop-Everything-And-Pay-Attention’ affair.

It has to be.

This is the one person at whose desk “the buck stops” because this is the person entrusted with leading the management of the affairs of the entire organisation. This person chooses a team to assist him or her to run the organisation; provides guidance and leadership to that team; secures or mobilises resources from the shareholders and investors; then leads the motivation of the workers so they turn their human capital and other factors into value for the shareholders.

Many years ago, I was told by two notably successful Asian-Ugandan businessmen that their fathers had taught them to always pay attention to speeches made by politicians – starting with the President – and daily news reports. The information they gleaned from those two sources, they explained separately, was their core business intelligence.

One of them told me his father had been raised with this knowledge and their family wealth had therefore weathered the Idi Amin Asian expulsion of the 1970s. Many years after I first heard these statements from them I attended an event launch at which one of them was unveiling a massive new investment and on the sidelines he revealed what had shown him that possibility.

“Every time the President makes a speech, I listen for clues…”

Exactly as happens whenever a CEO speaks – shareholders, investors, employees, business partners, suppliers, and other key stakeholders…they all stop and listen.

Especially at crucial points of the business cycle – at the end and start of the financial year, hence the State of the Nation address taking place just before the Budget speech; at the close of the calendar year; and when major business changes are taking place.

Reading the second tier newspaper across the border in Kenya a couple of weeks ago, I caught the headline, “Uhuru bets on four key sectors to boost growth’. The story outlined the “four pillars” the CEO of Kenya is focusing on: ‘Food Security, Affordable Housing, Manufacturing and Affordable Healthcare’.

IMG_4130.jpg

Stop right now and ask the next ten people you meet whether they can recite Uganda’s strategic priorities – it might be as frustrating as asking fifty people whether or not they know what our National Development Plan (II – not the first one) is.

Mind you, the idea here is not that we should have kept quiet and taken in everything said by the CEO without criticism and analysis, but maybe, just maybe, criticise and analyse after listening?

He spoke about many things: More sophisticated crime detection methods; illegal fishing; local content (Buy Uganda, Build Uganda); improved lake management; irrigation; innovations in solar power usage; import substitution (we annually import finished products worth US$7billion); the need for value addition to our raw materials within Uganda before exporting; more support for scientists; artisanship parks being built in Kampala…

The list is long and it contains many hints as to where the government will be placing its priorities next year – which should direct where the rest of us should place ours so we all push in the same direction and achieve “A Transformed Ugandan Society from a Peasant to a Modern and Prosperous Country within 30 years” – Uganda Vision 2040 as stated in the National Development Plan II.

In the corporate world, after the CEO has made those speeches and presentations, laying out the plans or strategies, the rest of the leadership translates these plans or strategies into departmental and personal plans and strategies so that over the year all staff focus on achieving the central goals and objectives.

After the speech over the weekend, though, do we remember what Uganda’s – OUR – goals and objectives for 2018 are; what the government that is running OUR affairs intends to do this year?

what 2018 will be in Uganda


Meme New Year 2018

IN talking about what to expect in 2018, let’s start from the bottom and go upwards, since Age has proven to be such a factor in Uganda during 2017, what with the Age Limit debates dominating everything we’ve seen and talked about in all settings for the last so many weeks.

I know for sure that in 2018 we will see a record number of births in Uganda because this appears to have been the trend that has over the years led to our population being so generally youthful.

It’s going to be worse this year because not only do we have more educated people filling the space within our borders, but the doctors are now being paid much more money than before, and the nurses and midwives have also brokered a good salary deal for themselves.

Using simple logic, that means they will work much, much harder at ensuring that people stay alive from the time they are born till the time they really have to die. 

Newborn infants will therefore live till their old age, ill-raised toddlers will not die due to the carelessness of their ignorant parents who let them cross the road willy-nilly or chew on dry cells imported from China; teenagers won’t be expiring due to drug abuse because there will be doctors on hand to plunge syringes into their chests…

The list goes on and on – just like the lives of many more of the little babies that will be born this year. 

Besides doctors being motivated by increased salaries, the science also bears this thought out: infant mortality dropped from 54 per 1,000 newborn children in 2011 to 43 in 2016. Imagine that! In 2018 we might be below 30!

The clever people will have already realised this and invested in stuff that will take advantage of the existence of so many young people – besides big ticket items like electricity out of massive dams – ranging from more schools to more toy imports and local toy manufacturing.

2018 is going to be the year of all manner of things that our parents – those of us old enough to actually be reading this article – would never have dreamed of.

When you speak with primary school children, for instance, and ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they will say stuff like: “NeuroAtomic Scientist” and “Robotologist” and “Life Tone Adjuster”.

Those jobs will not be in actual existence yet, but the kids will have their sights on them and so will the academicians. See, the future is already here, we are being told, and it will not require lawyers and doctors and people with other regular jobs.

A colleague of mine told me how her multinational employer (soft drink beverages) had this year started to do away with their big, global Audit Firm because of the concept of big data and computer-generated robotic analytics.

Because the computers of today are so clever, apparently, they only need to have more information fed into them and they will think and analyse just like a human being does but in the millionth of time we do.

The Audit Firm is flabbergasted right now but considering that in the developed world supermarkets are employing robots to carry shopping and manage the payment tills, think how many jobs we will have left soon.

Of course, we don’t have that problem in such a big way yet but technology is wiping out some of our regular jobs – “Nanti Google yajja!” (“Google came, so…”) is already pushing out jobs that used to be so knowledge based that some people were gods – Doctors, Lawyers, Economists…

Today before you take the Doctor’s word for it from Abim to Zombo, everyone will have first done a quick google to check the symptoms, making the conversation with the doctor a kind-of “I dare you to get this right” guessing game.

This lugezi gezi will increase almost tenfold in 2018, since we will have more smartphones in circulation and bundles (properly pronounced ‘bandwidth’) will be much, much cheaper and easier to access – not to mention the number of apps that are going to continually be rolled out by thousands of innovative ICT-nurtured youth. 

We ordinary mortals can only imagine the irritation by comparing it to the times we are doing homework with the children and trying not to google the right answers, only for the whippersnappers to challenge us – having googled the stuff themselves earlier in the day!

But we won’t break out into violent parenting methods, thank God. There are enough threats of violence around us without our adding to the pile – from the United States to North Korea and even some regional sabre rattling over here.

Luckily, none of these will come to fruition – most of 2018 will be like that time Kiiza Besigye and Kale Kayihura shook hands and smiled at each other just weeks after one of them had been let out of a police cell.

Speaking of politicians, after all this excitement of #Togikwatako we will have at least one surprise in 2018 – a young (REALLY YOUNG) politician with charisma, eloquence, poise and even serious local backing, stepping forward to declare his (not her) interest in the Presidential seat.

The name and identity of the candidate won’t be as much of a surprise as the fact that he (or she) puts themselves forward – and I am not talking about any popular musician here!

The youthfulness of the candidate is to be expected, what with our demographics, and we will then have to address ourselves to any other factors that come into play with these young new people.

That youthful politician will talk about cryptocurrencies as if they are about to be introduced in Amolatar and Isingiro, but again that will not surprise us either.

See, in 2018 there will be more cryptocurrency-genic people living and working outside of Kampala. One major advantage of all the internet connectivity we are seeing these days is the ability it gives people to work from anywhere they please.

Rather than live and work in Kampala, more young and upcoming professionals are going to move out of the capital city to take up residence in rural settings with less stress.

Because Kampala can cause you to have a nervous breakdown. All the traffic, bad driving, erratic road works and phone snatching roadside thieves will push many impatient and imaginative young people to take up cheaper accommodation well outside of the city and even Wakiso.

These young people won’t be employed by the big multinational companies – small and medium scale companies are going to be as flexible as their larger cousins, providing the internet access for their younger staff to be able to perform money-earning tasks from remote districts.

Some of these youngsters, unfortunately, will be the ones responsible for some high level crime as seen on TV. Not corruption related crime as such – that will still be in plenty since as a people and a society we have gone down that path quite consistently for many years now – but that terrible crime that makes us wince when we see it on TV.

The kidnappings we are going to deal with this year, and serial killers, and blackmailers are going to be much, much more serious than what we have talked about in 2017 – mostly in ignorance.

Now that we are binge-watching crime thrillers by way of pirated DVDs and subscribing to pay TV packages that are cheaper than the price of a litre of milk daily, there are going to be many more twisted criminal minds out within these borders. It will not be pretty.

Provided we don’t grow the type of gun culture that countries like the United States has developed, we will be fine. 

See, we will continue to be optimistic during 2018 and we will continue chant things like “Hakuna Mchezo” and “Buy Uganda, Build Uganda”.  We MUST.

I know – a lot of this sounds like a dream. 

But we should dream – provided we spend less time sleeping in order to have those dreams, and more time actually putting them into practice.