save fishermen so we strengthen our brains


Life Jackets From Bibles For Uganda

MANY of you might have missed a feature article this week about efforts to find solutions on Lake Victoria to stop islanders from drowning so much.

Not that they drown often, since once you have drowned you don’t normally get another opportunity, but the problem seems to affect so many of them it had to be addressed in a big way.

So big that the solution mentioned in the article is a recent US$25million (91billion shillings) loan:

“Last October, the African Development Bank approved a US$25million (91billion shillings) loan for the three countries bordering Lake Victoria. The money will provide regular weather reports and alerts to people on the lake (via text messages and radio broadcasts), expand cellular coverage, and build a network of 22 resource centres along the shore,” the article reads.

That’s a lot of money for text messaging and radio broadcasts. While pondering what these 22 resource centres would provide, I realised I had to dig deeper and went to the ADB website where I found the explanation:

The loan is for “a multinational project to establish a safety-of-life communications systems for Lake Victoria (which) lacks any alert or rescue systems…as many as 5,000 people die in the lake each year. The loan will finance the extension of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks and the creation of 22 rescues centres in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, contributing to save lives and stimulate business for the benefit of the economy of the entire Lake Victoria basin.”

Stimulate business?

What struck me right away was the photographs accompanying the article, which depicted fishermen in their boats and NOT wearing life jackets. The first step of safety on the water, one would think, would be to wear those bright orange or yellow life jackets that help keep you afloat should your boat capsize, and also make you visible for the rescue people to find you.

Being an easily terrified coward when it comes to water travel, I pay attention to such things.

Does the US$25million (91billion shillings) ADB loan include the distribution of life jackets to the 200,000-odd fishermen operating on the lake?

Your guess is as good as mine, but there is no mention of them anywhere.

“The project will address that important gap by establishing a Maritime Communication Network (MCN), based on the existing mobile (GSM) enhanced coverage on the lake and signal location detection features. The SOS alerts will be given by SMS or phone call to the Maritime Rescue Communication Centres (MRCC) which will be established in Mwanza, Tanzania; or to two sub centers based in Kisumu (Kenya) and Entebbe (Uganda). These regional centres will then dispatch rescue boats based in one of the 22 Emergency Search and Rescue (SAR) stations distributed around the lake,” the documentation read.

So I went off to find out whether anyone else is providing them – for free or commercially – and found four companies. Having emailed them all, only Lake Cruise Logistics (Google them and buy yours directly, since they are so good at marketing) responded to my queries about whether or not they have available 1,000 life jackets, if they are made in Uganda, and at what cost they are.

They can supply large quantities (such as my 1,000 units) but only if the order is confirmed, and within six weeks. Their life jackets vary in quality, class and price, and could go over Ushs400,000 per jacket.

None of them is made in Uganda, the helpful marketing guy wrote me. All of them are made in China. Then they are imported into Uganda.

You can see my thought process. I could not blame the ADB guys, or the people who formulated this US$25million (91billion shillings) project as being the most necessary for the lives of these fishermen to be saved.

It’s now time for you and I to design a project proposal for the manufacture of life jackets here in Uganda, submit it to the ADB and then pick up a fraction of that US$25million (91billion shillings) loan to employ people and import raw materials for items that will provide a return on the investment and pay back the loan on a commercial basis.

Stimulate business?

We can make money in many ways if we manufacture the life jackets ourselves. Think of the companies that would advertise on these life jackets – starting with the ones who are really going to benefit from the US$25million (91billion shillings) expansion of the GSM Network.

Life jackets have been manufactured in other parts of the world since before 1900. The elements used in their manufacture are simple – plastic, nylon and foam. We already make plastics and foam here by way of chemical processes, and making Nylon should be just as easy, since it has been made elsewhere since the 1930s.

What seems to be difficult here is focusing on the important things and connecting the dots so we spend effort and money on phrases like ‘Stimulate business’.

Stimulate business?

Besides the factory itself, think of the energy firms that will provide electricity to our life jacket manufacturing plant; and to the homes of all the employees working there whose incomes will increase exponentially and enable them to upgrade their housing units. Think of the various other businesses that will pop up to supply the life jacket industry – on Lake Victoria and our other water bodies. Think of the businesses manufacturing foam, plastics and nylon and needles and so on and so forth for the life jacket factory to use…

Even more to the point, the US$25million (91billion shillings) project creating those 22 rescue centres will be even more successful because by the time they get to our drowning fishermen they will find them distressed but still alive and afloat the waters because of our life jackets!

Everybody wins. Plus, we will have more fish to eat and export because fewer fishermen will perish, thus boosting our fish exports and our national nutrition rates.

And, as we all know but sometimes don’t demonstrate, eating fish makes the brain grow stronger!

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.

the rise of the shareholder activist versus capital markets trade


Activism adapted from adweek.com
(Pic adapted from http://www.adweek.com)

I BUMPED into the phrase ‘Shareholder Activist’ last week with some irritation; more accurately, it found its way into my phone via WhatsApp, which, these days, is my main source of intellectual garbage, high-strung emotion, low-level drama and occasional amusements.

After reading the term I headed to Google to confirm that the conversation we were having in that Group made sense, and found that there is an official term with quite a different meaning from the way everyone was talking about this particular ‘Shareholder Activist’.

The recognised term is ‘Activist Shareholders’, defined as “one using an equity stake in a corporation to put public pressure on its management.

The conversation came about because three of our pitifully few listed companies in this country were holding AGMs (‘Annual General Meetings’ to you, if you’re the kind that crammed your way through school) last week.

Company shareholders (of listed companies or private ones) are supposed to be active, especially during this most important meeting when they get to hold the company Board and Management Team to account.

Unlike what happens for about eleven months and twenty nine days of the year, the shareholder gets to attend the AGM one day and in a structured manner address the Board of the organisation.

By that time, the accounts and Annual Report would have been circulated so the shareholders read through them in detail and then raise issues, observations and suggestions while attending the meeting itself.

During the rest of the year, the Shareholder is represented by the Board of Directors which on a monthly or other periodical basis keeps tabs on the Management Team and ensures they are sticking to their approved strategy – approved, that is, by the Board of Directors on behalf of the shareholders.

See, the shareholders entrust the Board with approving and supervising that strategy, and it is this trust that they vote on during AGMs when they select their respective Board Members. The shareholders, normally by voting publicly during the AGM but sometimes following prescribed methodologies built into the company registration documents, get to choose who will be Director of a Company. The Director, “directs” – showing the management team where, in general, they should set their sights or in which direction they should go.

The Management Team or Executive Management, “manages” the company or “executes” the strategies as approved by the Directors.

It is a system that works beautifully if followed carefully and, as the phrase goes, to the letter.

Sometimes, though, there will be incidents such as those occasioned by the Activist Shareholder who, rather than walk within the marked lines, will take up as many other tools as possible and rocks the boat – or tries to.

Sometimes they take legal action – which is respectable and even, in some instances, admirable.

Other times they will rally shareholder troops and attempt a mutiny during the AGM – also admirable for the mobilisation skills on display, if successful.

Then there are the times the ‘Activist Shareholder’ does the despicable and goes after the very entity that, in essence, feeds him or her.

Until they have dug deeper, the ordinary onlooker will be confounded by those times the ‘Activist Shareholder’ attacks the very same company whose share value would ensure him or her (the ‘Activist Shareholder’) a return on the shareholding investment they made when they bought shares.

See, people buy shares in public (and private) companies in the hope that they will perform well, increase in value, make a profit, and pay them (the people who have bought shares) dividends every year until such a time as the initial investment has been paid back and then the shareholder is earning a profit.

Many of us don’t realise quite how this works, and how important it is for the company in which we have shares to perform well so that it pays back our investment in those shares, while also providing the service or product it was principally set up to provide.

A few weeks ago, ahead of last week’s AGMs, someone in a WhatsApp Group identified three people who they claimed would be at the centre of controversy during the meetings. Their shareholding in the companies involved, the WhatsApp Group stated, was so small that the only reason they had invested was to gain notoriety from their controversial actions during the public, much-publicised AGMs.

It didn’t happen the way this person predicted or feared, but this time round we still saw Activism but of a more despicable kind. A very lengthy and elaborate missive did the rounds with well-stated accusations that would obviously be difficult for the ordinary person to authenticate or verify.

On cutting through a few of them, however, by the second page it was pretty obvious where the piece was heading, but one read on (past tense) hoping to be disappointed by finding it to be hard hitting and factual in that way that would turn a shareholder’s fortunes for the better.

Sadly, it didn’t. It could have probably done quite the reverse in a market with few listed companies and a rather jittery, uninformed, impressionable public.

Luckily, instead, I saw WhatsApp Groups erupting in unflattering commentary that somebody quite recently labelled “intellectual garbage, high-strung emotion, low-level drama and occasional amusements”.

In real life, share prices stayed the way they were and shareholders queued up for their dividends then retired home to wait for next year. The Activists are at bay for now, till the next opportunity arises…

Follow the occasional Twitter hashtag #EconomicsUG. 

pearls from pigs; the pork fest in June should be more than just a BBQ


Like most Ugandans, my affinity for the cooked flesh of a pig can take on legendary proportions if dieticians and medical professionals look the other way.

Whether it is roasted, fried, stewed or even stood in the sun for just long enough to kill off all possibility of disease, pork is a welcome item on any menu I come into contact with.

In December last year the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) announced that Uganda is the biggest consumer of pork on the continent. Most weekends in most of our towns will appear to confirm this – both in domestic and commercial settings.

The news stories covering this most important issue quoted ILRI Country Representative Dr. Ben Lukuyu saying that Uganda came second to China in global pork consumption numbers at 3.5kilogrammes per capita.

But sites like www.pork.org list the top ten pork producing countries as China, the European Union (which is clearly a cheat entry), the United States, Brazil, Russia, Vietnam, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico and Japan. China leads with 53,500 metric tonnes and Japan trails with 1,280 metric tonnes last year.

The same site lists 42 of the world’s top pork consuming countries, starting with China, and does not mention Uganda at all, which made Dr. Lukuyu’s quote appear questionable.

Eventually, I found on the internet an article from 2014 that read, “Correction 21 July 2014: This story originally incorrectly said that Uganda is Africa’s number one pork-consuming nation. It has now been corrected to clarify that Uganda is East Africa’s top pork-consuming nation.”

Either all the journalists left out the “East” or the good doctor himself made that error – TWO YEARS LATER.

In 2014 various reports said Uganda slaughters about 3.5million pigs every year from about 1.3million households.

The stupid thing, though, is that there are reports that Uganda actually imports pork from other countries as well. Of course, we all know that there is a brand of sausages that is made in another country that is found to be popular here, so those reports are certainly true. Plus, we have cans of processed pork on supermarket shelves.

Even more incredible was the statistic that in 2012 alone Africa imported US$295million worth of pork and pork products from other continents!

I am not writing this just to work up an appetite.

See, last week I learnt that China has introduced its first ‘Pork Price Index’. This is a tool of economic analysis that they say will help farmers understand the market better and therefore serve it to their benefit and those of the world’s majority of pork eaters.

They are worried about both the availability of pork and the price at which it sells, those Chinese.

They are so serious about their pork that they have the government managing the sector, established a ‘strategic pork reserve’, and have the equivalent of the Uganda Securities Exchange (NOT in dollar or Yuan terms, of course) monitoring its trade as part of a government ministry.

So what are we doing importing pork, if we are the biggest consumers of the stuff on the continent? This is one of our niches in East Africa, so where is the Uganda Pork Authority? The business of pork isn’t just about the delicious plated end of the sector, there are many ebigenderako as well – in the real sense as presented on the lusaniya, as well as the feeds pigs consume, the by-products, and a MASSIVE market on the continent.

So, again, what are we doing importing pork? Why are there so few Ugandan-made pork sausages of a quality that we can export rather than laud imports?

I’ll be asking more of these questions in about two month’s time at the Mandela National Stadium in Namboole, during the Uganda Pork Expo (June 24-25th).

Pork Festival

And in between sampling various types of pork products, I will be looking out for people mobilising Ugandans to produce more pigs in larger numbers. One day we will stop finding embarrassing statistics on the internet that say the biggest pig farm in Uganda holds 60 pigs; but only if people spend more on rearing the livestock than they do in second hand Japanese cars.

I also hope to meet economists and business development planners who will do the maths around getting at least one million Ugandans to rear one pig each so that we instantly double our national pig production.

And finally some logical people who will work out that sausages, because of their constitution and cost of production, should not be such ridiculously expensive food items. Or perhaps an academic to explain to me why in most organised countries these are the cheapest meats in the supermarket yet in Uganda they are considered prestigious.

If all these elements come together and logic reigns supreme then we will be gathering pearls from pigs.

we’re missing the opportunity call on mobile phones by not harnessing our energy, entrepreneurship and the numbers


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.

Phone cover from allexpress.com
Photo from http://www.allexpress.com and product unlikely Made In Uganda

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.