LISTENING to a podcast the other day I learnt that China has so much of everything that one point in recent history they had more billionaires (United States dollar terms) than the United States with 594 billionaires to America’s 535 billionaires in October last year.
This is not kaboozi relevant for us on its own, so don’t focus too closely on that point. Next, I learnt that the country with the most female billionaires was China – and since this was around Women’s Day I was intrigued and spent a bit more time on that.
Still, though, to focus on just that would be tantamount to gossip, so let’s move along quickly. One of those female billionaires, I learnt, is a lady called Zhou Qunfui.
She became the focus of my thoughts, and not just because her net worth is possibly US$8billion. She was born poor in 1970 and her partially blind single father made bamboo crafts and furniture to raise the family, while doing bicycle repairs. She herself, as a child, helped out by raising animals to earn more money for the family.
She dropped out of school at age 16 and became a migrant worker in Shenzhen, and ended up working in a factory to earn a living while studying accounting. Story fast forward, at age 22 her factory employer shut down and she decided to start her own company making watch lenses.
But while doing so, she noticed that the mobile phone industry was growing pretty fast and soon got into making mobile phone screens instead, creating a touch-screen company called Lens Technology, that started supplying all the big names.
In brief: she started off poor, worked hard, used her experiences to identify opportunities, then employed professionals to take advantage of a fast growing market, producing high-value affordable items that would be demanded in high numbers.
I am not suggesting that any of us here should start a touch screen factory just like that. China has about 1.4billion people, so their mobile phone population is massive enough to get someone to a value of US$8billion.
But Uganda has about 23million mobile phone subscribers (not mobile phones) and an estimated 8million of those use smartphones. But focus on the mobile phones in general.
There is a massive range of opportunities around these mobile phones that we are allowing to go to people elsewhere, and then sending our scarce Uganda shillings there as well.
Where Zhou Qunfui chose to focus on just the screen of the smartphone, we need to find a Ugandan or ten to pick one aspect of the mobile phones being used daily by these 23million subscribers and turn that into their success story.
Most of these mobile phone users, for instance, use phone covers to either protect their devices from dust, dirt or damage, or simply to beautify them. I know young people who have more than one phone cover – sometimes changing them with their outfits.
What is stopping someone from setting up a line of these accessories locally made, using our local materials and designed to fit these mobile phones? Where is our Zhou Qunfui to work out a way of turning so many materials into mobile phone covers – kitengi, barkcloth, light lugabire rubber, ensaansa, some brightly coloured batiks, and so on and so forth.
What about phone covers designed cleverly with the Uganda national colours or symbols like the Crested Crane, done in a manner we would proudly brandish? Or even phone covers designed for specific tribes or districts? I suspect that if some Ugandan Zhou Qunfui got in on this they would be quite successful.
What about other mobile phone accessories that could be churned out in vast numbers to take advantage of these 23million mobile phone subscribers? Mobile phone holders for use in the gym or while jogging? Mobile phone stands for use in propping up the phone so you can watch your videos easily at the coffee table (or, God forbid, office desk)?
Let’s just assume that of the 8million smartphones we have our local Zhou Qunfui could get 800,000 smartphones wrapped with her locally made Ugandan products – how much does each cost? The cheap imported plastic ones on the local market go for about Ushs30,000 (some cost thrice that!); that’s a Ushs2.4billion industry right there.
Continue the mathematics from there, Ugandan Zhou.
I’M scared of running a restaurant, coffee shop or eatery. I’m so scared that I’ll only do it if I am the person cooking, cleaning, and serving customers. Me, myselef.
It’s been a dream of mine for a long, long time – owning a profitable enough eatery that I can live off it doing all the other stuff that I enjoy.
Sitting on the terrace at the Taste Budz of the Capital Shoppers City Mall in Ntinda and swatting away numerous houseflies settled it for me.
Even as I chose the location I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it, but I needed somewhere to sit and wait till my next meeting nearby. I was quite certain I wouldn’t be enjoying any food here, so I planned to drink just a pot of spiced black tea with honey (I’m also cheap like that).
So I took up position, slapped open the Macbook Pro and watched the waiting staff watching me through the grimy window. It was a public holiday, and they were mostly chilling – some seated at a table chatting and texting while one of them folded up those little thin serviettes into triangles.
Three others were behind the counter chatting and moving things about for some reason that the person who invested money in this venture might not have included in the Staff Manual or books of accounts.
This is one reason I am afraid of owning such a business. I cannot imagine paying rent, electricity bills, internet costs (there is a paper glued to the window here that says ‘Free WiFi’), food costs, staff salaries and so on and so forth, then having just one customer sit at the tables at 1100hrs on a public holiday.
(In your mind, reader, change tense now because I am doing so here)
A minute in, a chap walks up to me slowly with a worn menu card and generally mumbles something as if unsure whether I am a customer or…(I don’t know what else I could be).
“Do you have black tea? Spiced?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says, toying with the menu card.
“Please give me one black tea. Spiced.”
I know that the menu is not impressive but now that there is Free WiFi I feel it would only be fair for me to appear to be spending good money here.
So I ask for it.
He must be intelligent, because he appears surprised and tries to hand it to me but I pretend to be busy with the laptop and gesture to the table so he places it there.
Nothing to report, except that I check for my hand sanitiser and find comfort that it is present before I handle the menu card.
That’s another thing I’m scared of. I cannot imagine owning a restaurant and then getting told my menu cards are fake, with their laminated plastic covering and funny spellings. Then supposing these things are so expensive that restaurant owners can only change them once every twenty years or so? These might be things that non-restaurant owners don’t know and only discover after investing in the business. Then people start talking about your entire family because the menu cards at your restaurant are so old and sticky and worn and dirty and smelly.
I am also scared of being a restaurant owner getting sued for spreading some deadly disease by way of a bacteria infested menu card that I placed in the hands of a customer.
A few minutes later, I gesture to him and ask for the Free WiFi. He puts his hands together as if to rub off some of the bacteria from the menu card he had picked up and says, “I don’t know the code.”
He seems upset by this lack of knowledge – as would I be, if I were him.
“But it says there that you offer Free WiFi.”
“They don’t allow us to know the code.”
I look at him silently for a bit so that we can both spend some time thinking about this situation rather than brainstorming or arguing.
Eventually he figures out a solution.
“Let me call someone to give it to you.”
He returns with the black tea, presumably spiced, and sugar. All in those metallic contraptions that must be the cornerstone of some empire somewhere that convinced Ugandans that this is proper etiquette.
When did we start using these damn things and when will we realise we need to destroy them all? Why do those tea pots NEVER pour out tea properly? How come we all know this but still use them? What were the manufacturers thinking when they made them? Where are they made anyway? <— Five W’s and H. Tick.
“Please give me honey instead?”
“We don’t have honey,” the fellow says, and makes to leave.
“I don’t take sugar with my tea, so please get me honey,” I say with a firmness that normally works with the children and people who expect to be paid in exchange for goods and services. He was clearly neither of the above.
He looks at me as if I am being dense and decides to explain a little further, so as to clear out any doubts and confusion on my part.
“We normally get the honey from upstairs but it is closed. Those people haven’t come yet.”
My confusion deepens because whereas I am vaguely aware that there is an upstairs section to this Mall and perhaps even to this restaurant itself, I see no reason for this detail to be shared with me.
“Then I have to cancel the tea.”
He looks at the teapot, cup and sugar arrangement briefly, then at me. Then he leaves.
He turns back.
“Seriously – please get me honey instead of sugar, or take back the tea. And don’t take long because if it cools and you bring honey I still can’t drink it.”
He leaves and returns two minutes later with a fresh, non-uniformed employee. Not likely the Manager, but clearly higher up the ladder – maybe from upstairs?
She doesn’t have honey in her hands and comes right up to me before I realise that this is the custodian of the Free WiFi code (Taste110). At this point I enter into a moral dilemma – if they don’t bring me the honey I will send back the tea; will I still be entitled to the Free WiFi?
I debate for a few seconds then take the path of the Christian. She understands me quite well, exchanges a look with the waiter, then they walk off together for a few seconds.
She returns with a small piece of paper bearing the Free WiFi code (Taste110). The waiter follows closely behind her and removes the metallic tea pot, sugar bowl, and the cup and saucer.
I am scared of running a restaurant where they do that – spend my investment while not bothering much to get a return on it. I am scared of having employees who allow a customer to sit on the chairs, use the electricity and space, and EVEN the ‘Free WiFi’ without trying too hard to get some money out of his pocket.
These things really scare me. To think that I could be the owner of this place, which is about 200 metres away from the Capital Shopper’s Supermarket that sells honey at about Ushs5,000 a jar, yet have employees withdraw tea and sugar from a paying customer…
I fear to imagine being the owner of that restaurant – what did they do with the tea that had been brewed? How do they recover the cost of heating the pot of water involved?
The fears continue to rise as I log on and start typing out this lengthy review, and somebody else walks in, taking up a seat on the verandah. Within one minute a different waiter walks over in that slow, hesitant way we tend to use when employed in such jobs. He moves faster than my waiter, and seems more awake. They talk a little bit and a menu card is placed in the customer’s hands.
Eventually, the customer asks for a soda and hands over a Ushs50,000 note right away. I can’t be the restaurant owner who doesn’t get feedback from the staff about how people keep looking at the menu but they don’t order.
Or maybe it was just a slow morning with picky, stingy customers?
I still feel a little bad about using the ‘Free WiFi’ so I call this more sprightly looking waiter and ask for a bottle. He brings me my bottle – Dasani – and places it on the table.
I probably wouldn’t have used a glass if it had been placed on the table, but I feel a little slighted that none is offered.
Ripping the kaveera off the top of the bottle makes me gag as it is DEFINITELY SMELLING OF SOMETHING UNHYGIENIC!
I push it away and take another sniff and indeed, I feel like calling up the people at NEMA…or UNBS. A friend comes over to say hi and I ask him to smell the bottle. He is aghast. The waiter appears to notice, and comes over to check (marks given for that). I ask him to smell the bottle as well – “Nothing.”
“THAT smells okay to you?!”
I am at such a low point in my life that I can’t raise a tantrum, so I smile and bid my friend farewell.
And the waiter shocks me with: “I can get you another bottle if you want.”
Courtesy. Politeness. Attentiveness to the needs of a customer. Why is this surprising? Astonishing? Downright shocking?
I would hate to be a restaurant owner where my staff’s courtesy is a surprise. It’s hard being an entrepreneur sometimes…too many times. Especially in the food business – I’ll only do it if I am the person cooking, cleaning, and serving customers. Me, myselef.
Today on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index we rank 115 out of 190 countries – up from 116 in 2016 and 135 in 2014. That is progress (though we were at 106 in 2008). But on the Global Entrepreneurship Index 2017, Uganda is 127 out of 138 countries, down from 123 last year.
These statistical tools are quite different from the research that ranks Uganda top entrepreneurial country in the world. The Global Entrepreneurship Index hints at that position by stating somewhere in its report that in sub-Saharan Africa the one thing we excel at is our “startup skills”, where we are at par with South Africa.
In 2015 (again!) Uganda was named “the most entrepreneurial country in the world by approvedindex.co.uk basing on a survey that defined Entrepreneurship as “the percentage of an adult population who own (or co-own) a new business and has paid salaries or wages for at least three (3) months.”
In that survey, China ranked 11, the United Kingdom 33, and the United States 37. The LEAST entrepreneurial countries that year were Suriname, Puerto Rico, ITALY, JAPAN and FRANCE… (Germany was 12th least entrepreneurial, India 15th.)
The survey stated that “developing nations breed far more entrepreneurs than the west. When unemployment is high and the economy is weaker, people are forced to start small businesses to provide for themselves and their families.”
Of course, considering that in Uganda we all, at one point or another, have a second, third or umpteenth venture running at any time ‘t’, we would rank highly in such a survey.
But how many of our ‘businesses’ actually fit the conventional definitions the economists use and understand? I certainly can’t answer that, but the economists have an educated way of working round it using a Prosperity Index that measures many more factors “encapsulating the Economy, Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Governance, Education, Health, Safety & Security, Personal Freedom and Social Capital as sub-indices.”
Measuring the Ease of Doing Business is important because economies grow better and faster when their private sectors thrive, so whereas we may be top at entrepreneurship, we need to make it easier to DO business so that the enterprises we launch keep running on sustainably and profitably beyond just three (3) months. In this year of #HakunaMchezo, we need to focus on such indicators and respond to them so that the economy swings upwards.
Talking about this last Saturday with one of the key people charged with making our private sector work successfully, I noted that he kept using the word “results” during our conversation. Everything about his office came back to that word, and hearing it so often gave me comfort that Bemanya Twebaze, Registrar General at the Uganda
I had already noted, personally, the changes in that office since he took over.
Back when I was a young newsman the Registrar of Companies was a nightmare venue. It was the ultimate government office. It was a graveyard. Work went there to die; it was tended by sullen gravediggers working in tandem with bodysnatchers vandalising coffin files and desecrating everything.
I discovered quite quickly in those days why many stories circumvented simple details such as who owned what company – getting that information out of the Registry was impossible if you didn’t have petty cash for it, but it was also unethical to engage in corruption to pursue a story most likely about corruption.
Those days are long gone, as the indexes keep stating.
Walking into their headquarters on George Street this week I noticed a truck with loudspeakers mounted on the top of it, all properly branded “URSB” in that bright and jolly way that marks a big difference from its past.
I thought it was for making field announcements by way of noise pollution. I was wrong. I was in the presence of a ground-breaking innovation. This truck had arrived minutes before me, and has been developed by the team at URSB for use in the field to register businesses anywhere in Uganda.
It opens up into a mini-office so that the URSB staff can park it anywhere and register your business, upload the information onto the servers, and print out your Certificate on the spot. #HakunaMchezo. It is fitted with a computer and printer, safes (for the certificates and other valuables), internet access (to reach the server), a generator with lighting (so they can work even into the night) and the loudspeakers are linked to a bluetooth amplifier (less cabling).
Don’t waste time imagining how quickly we will move up the indexes with that one innovation in place, because it should be on the road even as you read this.
That innovation aside, when I got upstairs I found a host of energetic youth circulating around scanners, computers and other electronic gadgets on the brightly lit half of the floor, flanking the second half darkened by immobile cardboard boxes – coffins of paperwork being brought to life by technology.
The EDMS being set up (Photo: Simon Kaheru)
Part of the paperwork that occupied an entire floor (Photo: Simon Kaheru)
“Hello children!” my chaperone, the even more energetic Mercy Kyomugasho-Kainobwisho, chirped as we walked in, to which the children laughed and responded brightly like this is a day-to-day occurrence. Government offices are rarely this way in most countries. More importantly though, this is the Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) being implemented as announced in July last year.
About 500,000 paper files are being made digital so they are accessible by way of computers and mobile phones. The project is on track because there is #HakunaMchezo. No disgruntled staff issuing whistleblower reports about it. No investigations putting a halt to the work. No court orders. Nobody asking for money around it. All staff are on board with it. It is working.
That digitisation will make this information an incredible resource. Imagine how much faster your bank loan applications will run just because they can log on to a system to confirm your records, your Tax Identification Number, your land ownership status, and so on and so forth? Or any of the other transactions that take forever to happen.
And that’s without considering that all this paperwork, before this project, cost you and I a vast amount of money in rent occupying an entire floor of a commercial building in central Kampala. #HakunaMchezo. That money is now going to be put to better use elsewhere.
A few floors down, the other workflows were in progress with remarkable differences – during the lunch hour, moreover. Finding an electronic ticketing system like the one used by international airlines was surprising. It made for such orderliness that it was disorienting.
I was almost dizzy when I got to the One Stop Shop I found on the first floor of the building. The entire floor is open except for a Board Room, and sectioned off to accommodate all the abbreviations that would intimidate a business starting up: KCCA, UIA, NSSF, URA, NIRA, NEMA, URSB (Kampala Capital City Authority, Uganda Investment Authority, National Social Security Fund, Uganda Revenue Authority, National Identification & Registration Authority, National Environment Management Authority).
(Photo: Simon Kaheru)
(Photo: Simon Kaheru)
(Photo: Simon Kaheru)
(Photo: Simon Kaheru)
There is even a desk area for officers who will help link you up with any local government in Uganda for information your business might need without you loading airtime or fuelling up your car – all the way to Zombo.
With all this, how can we fail to climb higher on the global indexes this year?
Plus, we already have a One Stop Shop similar to this at the Uganda Investment Authority on Twed Plaza, who are yet to take up their desk space at the URSB but will certainly do so before its official launch.
If we continue with #HakunaMchezo then each and every one of the abbreviations above should open a One Stop Shop at their premises. Then, every district should open one up as well – in fact, the Ministry of ICT & National Guidance Minister, Frank Tumwebaze, last year announced that the Post Office buildings would be turned to this purpose. #HakunaMchezo.
For that private sector to thrive it should have fewer obstacles in its way – especially non-essential obstacles such as filling out forms, finding an elusive government officer to place a stamp on the forms once you’ve filled them in, or getting the forms to move from one window to the next relevant one.
The World Bank definition of their index says: “A high ease of doing business ranking means the regulatory environment is more conducive to the starting and operation of a local firm.”
We will certainly climb higher up that list this year, if everyone takes up the #HakunaMchezo the way the URSB has done at all levels with clearly visible results.
ON the day of the ‘Expats In Uganda’ cocktail issuing the ‘Amateur Photography Awards 2016’, the young man in charge of marketing GEMS Cambridge International School asked me, “How come you are here?”
I wasn’t sure whether he was asking me because he knew my discomfort with evening events away from my headquarters or whether I was inappropriately present since I was neither an expatriate nor an award-deserving amateur photographer.
At that very point he was interrupting my silent admiration for the young lady behind the little booklet ‘Expats In Uganda’ and http://ugandaexpatsguide.com, who was making her remarks at the podium. The first time I met her, I honestly believed she was doing work at a clerical level but quizzed her with caution that I thanked God for when she revealed all.
Grace Atuhaire, young as she was, was walking the streets and approaching people with courage to get her project underway and seemed to be doing quite well at it by the time we met.
So I told the gentleman from GEMS, Solomon Rachkara, why I was at the event: I enjoy seeing young Ugandans doing great things with a passion – whether they succeed at it or not. Grace has succeeded so far, and with her energy and passion she is bound to go much further.
As we were chatting, another young fellow joined us at my earlier behest. This young fellow is one of my most hardworking cousins and we had unsuccessfully been trying to meet for weeks over an idea he had.
Hours later, we were eating roadside chicken (heated up a little extra to avoid anatomical interferences to our discussion) and reflecting on how surprised the chicken roaster was when we gave him a tip of Ushs2,000. The tip was because the chicken roaster had graciously accepted our demand for extra heat and also because he didn’t have change and the process of finding it would have taken more time than the value of Ushs2,000 when compared to what we needed to discuss.
We talked over many things that night and I marvelled, again, at how enterprising young Ugandans are. This cousin of mine, Arthur Luwuge, had just returned from a self-funded trip to Kigali where he had gone to attend a launch event and see that city he had heard so much about.
Hearing that he had taken official leave from work and drawn money from his bank for such a trip was different from what I normally hear about urban young people and their proclivity for spending money on partying and retail shopping. More astonishing for me, though, were the details of the event he had gone to attend.
I had heard and read a little about the Kigali Heights project and was impressed by the images and details around it, but this was the first I was hearing that there was a Ugandan involved. One of the magazine reports read, “Kigali Heights is the result of a dream born in 2010 to build a state of the art retail and office development in the heart of Africa. Denis Karera, Managing Director of Kigali Heights Development Company, and partner Michael Idusso, knew where they could turn this dream into reality.”
Arthur told me how many years ago Michael kept talking about such big projects and tried to find a way of implementing them here in Kampala City. The closed-mindedness of certain people in positions of authority made it difficult, and one thing led to another till Arthur was sitting at the launch and watching his age mate taking the President of the country round the US$36million facility.
Arthur had gone there for inspiration, and he certainly found it. He himself, as I mentioned, is highly enterprising – we were eating our roadside chicken inside a small design studio he runs, and which is equipped with furniture made inside a workshop he owns. He started the workshop when he left home to buy his lovely daughters a set of bicycles and found some second hand carpentry equipment on sale.
He bought that instead, and now has a brand of furniture I will tell you about another day, made exclusively out of used wooden pallets.
We need to support more of these young people so that we celebrate more ventures of different heights; and eventually get even the roadside chicken sellers operating restaurant-type outlets, making sure the food is hot and receiving tips as a matter of course.
THE conversation about street vendors somehow always ends up being political and linked to the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).
The issue is certainly political in origin, and its management falls squarely under KCCA but those can’t be the only two focus points in dealing with the issue – and it IS a seriously disturbing issue.
Back in the early nineties when Uganda started building straight tarmac highways we heard the President complaining that residents upcountry were only using those roads to dry their cassava and maize, and it was a laughing point. His stress point then was that those roads needed to be used to transport produce to markets, rather than as pre-processing platforms.
The irony is that roads are designed to make connections that improve economics, and we – the educated elite – are clearly failing to make the right connections here, while ’those people’ have made a quick connection to improve their economic situation.
The Street Vendor problem, from the point of view of the elite chap driving home in a nice, air conditioned car having finished grocery shopping in the comfort of a large supermarket, is one of irritation and aesthetics. They make those neat pavements look shabby, and also get in the way, causing anxiety that they or their customers could stumble into the road and get knocked.
The pedestrian walking home might think the same, in addition to being worried that they might step on the wares of the vendors and get asked to pay for the damages. To avoid that risk, the more cautious pedestrian might choose to walk along the main road where there is a risk of getting hit by vehicles, but in that case the vehicle owner would be liable to pay any fines or compensation, since the congestion will make it easy to stop them should an accident occur.
The regular traders are unhappy about all this because they have to pay taxes and license fees where these street vendors don’t, and then their legitimate entranceways for which they pay rent get blocked by the very same street vendors who go ahead to ‘under-cut’ them with lower-priced items, thanks to their decreased overheads.
On the way to my home outside of the city centre, the street vendors even have night-time lighting from the solar powered installations KCCA put in as they re-did our road, so they can work late into the night.
It’s a mess of an affair, and within minutes of any discussion around it there is talk of politics a la, “Nanti those are voters…” and medioconomics a la, “How do you expect them to survive…?”
First of all, the fact that those are voters means that all parts of the government need to get involved in solving this ‘problem’, also because those elite or ‘rich’ people, the pedestrians who aren’t vending, the ‘legitimate’ or licensed traders, and so on and so forth, are also voters.
So yes – the issue is political in nature but only because it involves the management of society, not because we need to please people in order to make them vote a certain way or another.
The management of society involves administration as well as setting and managing (the right) expectations.
Each and every one of these people we casually refer to as ‘street vendors’ is a potential business unit capable of being built into a much larger enterprise. By the time they are engaged in selling whatever they are selling, they have a certain amount of enterprise, a motivation to go for profit, the mathematical skills to calculate it, and the energy to work.
So rather than deploy just the enforcement people from KCCA, what about we deploy business enterprise experts from the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda and Business Uganda Advisory Services to register and help develop these guys? Add to them a couple of business professors from the likes of the Makerere University Business School, and people from the Youth Livelihood Programme to fund their business expansion into places that are compliant with the law, and people from the Uganda Export Promotion Board to make them export.
Ridding the streets of these vendors means get them into a more formal, profitable setting and not into KCCA garbage skips.