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.

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. 

let’s all become venture capitalists in our small ways


LAST week a young man called Gimei Nagimesi shared an amusing tale that tickled my hopes.

This young man is the type who always stays in the background doing groundbreaking things. I know, for instance, that he was instrumental in the creation of the ‘Golola Moses’ brand and all those statements around ripping pages out of Facebook and hanging clothes on telephone lines.

His story last week had far less of a celebrity factor. He confessed that he is the type of person who can’t walk past a volleyball court, and so during a health run along the northern by-pass one day he got stuck playing his favourite game.

Before long he was a permanent fixture on that court and being the only urban professional on the court, Gimei found himself buying rounds of drinking water and kabalagala every so often from the cycling vendors that went by the court at a certain hour every evening. It became obvious that this event was a highlight of the day and Gimei suspected that some of them turned up to play purely for that kabalagala break.

Total cost of feeding the entire court per day? Less than ten thousand shillings (Ushs10,000).

He then began to look into the other permanent fixtures on court, and as he was doing so, one of them caught his attention for being keen and earnest.

The young man in question opened up to Gimei and told him he was generally broke but played every day to expose himself to opportunities. He then proposed that Gimei funds him with Ushs1.4million so he could get going.

What’s the business?

“Counter Books.”

counter-books-250x250
From indiamart.com, NOT Uganda

Gimei found the figure intriguing, and the response even more so, and probed further till the young man outlined his plan.

Where he lives, in the swamps somewhere off the northern by-pass, there are many school-going children who use each buy a book at the start of each school term. Annoyingly, the nearest source of stationary is somewhere in Ntinda, which involves some kilometres of walking.

The young man therefore wanted to make Counter Books and sell them to the many schoolchildren in his neighbourhood, and believed a profit could be made.

Gimei gave it a brief thought and figured that it made sense. Besides, to him Ushs1.4million was not such a massive amount of money so…he invested.

The young man took up the cash and embarked on the job with gusto NOT just buying books to re-sell, but buying reams of paper, glue, hard covers, and other materials; then spending hours making Counter Books himself, which he then sold out of his home.

Profit? Ushs500,000 in total.

Gimei was nonplussed when the young fellow showed up out of the swamps to hand over his 50% of the profits, a few weeks later. They’ve continued the cycle, unless some bureaucracy steps up to investigate, in which case it ended.

But not before another young fellow approached him and asked, in Luganda, whether if ‘someone’ funded him (this new young fellow) he couldn’t set up a kaveera water business of his own right there at the court for the players, so that they buy from him instead of buying from the cyclist going past.

Gimei now finds himself to be a venture capitalist of sorts, and the experience is enjoyably uplifting.

investopedia.com defines a Venture Capitalist as “an investor who either provides capital to startup ventures or supports small companies that wish to expand but do not have access to equities markets.”

In developed economies venture capitalists are a serious factor of economic growth, because they are willing to invest in these small ventures that formal financing doesn’t trust or finds awkward.

In the United States, companies like Intel, Fedex, Apple, Google, and Microsoft started off with venture capital funding, and are now global giants. Their ideas, when they kicked off, seemed crazy or wild or simply untenable because they were different from what leading organisations like banks and financial analysts generally knew.

No bank or government agency would fund Gimei’s young Counter Book manufacturing friend, for instance, but Gimei now has the fellow earning a respectable income, while earning a profit of his own, and possibly also thinking about going to other parts of the swamp to do the same and multiply his earnings.

Besides just financing, though, venture capitalists also provide mentorship – which is probably the most important element in entrepreneurship, and what the boys at the volleyball court take from Gimei more significantly than kabalagala. See, anybody can get financing, in a manner of speaking, but the attitude and aptitude to run an enterprise are a different matter altogether.

Plus, venture capitalist funded companies and enterprises tend to introduce new solutions that regular businesses wouldn’t dare touch. That’s why we more of us use Apple products than Texas Instruments (I had a TI calculator back in the 1980s that was all the rage then!)

Venture capitalists also experience major losses when their picks fail, but these investors are typically wealthy enough that they can afford to take the risks associated with funding young, unproven companies that appear to have a great idea and a great management team – as Gimei would have exhibited if the young man hadn’t turned a neat profit.

The problem of youth unemployment keeps getting talked about with reference to government intervention and ‘support’, yet we all have the opportunity to make some market corrections and build the economy by being venture capitalists in some small way.

If we had as many entrepreneurship meetings as we do wedding, graduation and funeral fund raising meetings, I am certain things would be different. If we had gatherings at which we threw around entrepreneurship advice and funding rather than suggestions of which caterer to procure or what colour the cake should be, just imagine how many more jobs would be created in this economy.

We probably collect a hundred million shillings weekly for weddings, funerals and graduation parties, which certainly supports a certain segment of the economy, but Gimei’s story made me think more of what could happen if we collected that money to fund ventures instead.

A couple of Stanford University scholars did a study on the impact of venture capitalists on the US economy and found it to be large. Between 1979 and 2013, more than 2,600 venture capital-backed companies went public (onto the stock exchange there).

Compare that to Uganda where the Uganda Securities Exchange holds eight (8) companies – if you and I funded up a few earnest, hungry young fellows, maybe our companies might join the lonely eight on the Stock Exchange one day?

Uganda! we can still reap large from the sowing of the barcelona legends last year


LAST year we talked excitedly, some of us, about the Barcelona Legends soccer team coming to Uganda to play an exhibition game, and we actually pulled it off as a country!
There was a little hitch in the beginning but we (the country Uganda) quickly overcame it thanks to there being more good Ugandans than bad ones, and by December we were registering success.
The Legends played at Nambole Stadium against the Uganda Cranes AllStars – a team specially built for that charity match – and got thrashed 5-3 in a thrilling game that gave us legend Patrick Kluivert scoring a magnificent goal shot from nearby the halfway line.
The goal was so classy that goal.com featured it under the headline, ‘Move Over Messi; Kluivert Scores The Goal Of The Season!’
They left after a week, and that seemed to be it. Some people complained a little on social media platforms and called the arrangement a rip off because of who the Legends were – since they expected a game with Barcelona FC, and others said the President and Uganda Tourism Board had wasted money having offered to fund the exhibition game.
The complaints came from people who were not appraised about the reason for the Barcelona Legends game.
See, during their time here the Barcelona Legends went gorilla tracking and visited a couple of other tourism hotspots, as well as Kampala’s very lively night scene; and they interacted with many of our children under a programme with UNICEF, as well as through a scouting initiative.
All the while, they were tweeting their experiences, and getting coverage in the international media, and updating their Facebook pages – official and personal – with

Barcelona-legends-in-Bwindi-Forest
Photo: http://www.showbizuganda.com

details about this fantastic place with its magnificent tourism offerings and great, hospitable, generous, talented people.

All thanks to Tourism’s Amos Wekesa and Basketball’s Ambrose Tashobya, the two fellows who put their backs and elbows into ensuring the Legends’ plan went through, so that we reap benefits as a country.
The charity game, aka exhibition match, was just that; staged for various reasons: 1. To enable Uganda to showcase our good tourism offerings through celebrities who have a large global following; 2. To give us a platform for our soccer talent to show itself – as it did that week and on game day itself; 3. To create positive talking points around Uganda, rather than the usual negative kaboozi we sometimes like to attract and portray; 4. To open the minds of the large following of Barcelona FC to Uganda, and therefore the minds of anyone who even googles Barcelona since their results would show up the word Uganda at some point in time.
Kluivert’s goal was a major bonus for us; he tweeted a video of his goal on December 14, 2015 to his 790,000 followers and it was re-tweeted 5,096 times and got 4,227 likes within a short while. Among the people who commented was Luis Garcia with his 270,000 followers (then) watching. The video itself, by now, must have garnered more than 10million views – all saying “Uganda” in positive light.
Think about this: that goal and even the game being talked about on goal.com and other such websites gave all the Ugandan soccer players in that game visibility on the world’s premier online soccer platforms – which many of them don’t enjoy every day.
FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) has 17million followers, most of whom saw these tweets from their former players, the Legends, just as each of the major Legends’ millions of followers.
Not only that, though – Amos Wekesa, because of his intimate involvement in getting the Barcelona Legends game under way, has been off to Barcelona to push the ‘Visit Uganda for tourism’ agenda with such success that in a few weeks time you will be hearing more

Barcelona Legends in Uganda
From L-R: Ambrose Tashobya, Rayco Garcia, Edgar Davids & Amos Wekesa at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel. (Photo: http://www.safari-uganda.com)

 

about an airline called Air Europa (I won’t spoil that story by telling it prematurely), owned by Jose Jose ‘Pepe’ Hidalgo.

All this is coming to me now because the official fifteen-minute video of the Barcelona Legends visit to Uganda is finally ready for airing. It is not a video for us to gawk over here in Uganda, no. It is a video that will promote Uganda. It contains footage of the Legends enjoying themselves in this country, for anyone watching it to imagine themselves doing just that over here.
And, I have been told, the video is going to be aired soon on Barcelona TV, which has about 400million viewers worldwide, and to television stations in all Spanish speaking countries worldwide which could mean 800million viewers (probably NOT counting the United States). Besides those two, the video is also going to be aired on the French and Dutch national televisions under arrangements made by the promoters of individual Barcelona Legend players.
On top of that, the reason the promoters of the charity exhibition game undertook the venture was to set up a footballing academy here to take Ugandan players onto the bigger global stage and to give Ugandan coaches a higher level of exposure. You might have seen mention in the papers of one Geoffrey ‘Baba’ Kizito being snapped up by the Spanish team Malaga?
There is more to come.
Which is why I am changing focus this week, and hoping my compatriots do the same and wake up out of our slumber. We need to learn a bit of Spanish now, so that we make use of the opportunities being opened up by the Barcelona Legends; we need to get in touch with agents in Spain and make contacts with potential counterparts there so we absorb the tourists and businesspeople bound to take an interest in this part of the world, now that a window has been opened up.
We need to study Spain and find out what they like so that we can give it to them over here. If the Spanish like their food rich and creamy, then we need to set up menu options in specific (or ALL) restaurants for those who might make the decision to come to Uganda.
If they like dancing a certain type of dance and cannot do without it, then let’s open up those dancing rooms for them so they are not too homesick when they visit.
Actually, start with the basics and someone set up a website or a series of guide books with translations from Spanish to our local Ugandan dialects – if even 1% of all the numbers quoted above actually board a plane to Uganda (aboard Air Europa?) you will be assured of good sales!
Eventually, we will forgive the Prime Minister of Spain for his “Spain is not Uganda” comment if he contributes to his nationals coming here as tourists or businesspeople buying up our processed goods to sell in Spain and beyond, and we do enough to receive them for a neat profit.

two journeys, one path – different destinations


TAKING a walk through Mutungo for health reasons – exercise, I must declare – I found myself at the top of a road I had ignored countless times before, and ventured down its lead.
The short walk was uneventful besides the number of people I had to prompt into responding with “Good evening!” as I walked past grey and brown walls shielding what appeared to be regular residential houses with regular grass gardens.
Then, quite suddenly, the grey and brown was broken by a burst of thick shrubbery. I believe my breathing changed before my mind had fully taken in what my eyes were seeing. The thick hedge ran for a regular distance but I slowed down my paces to take it all in, and to peer through it out of curiosity.
There was much more behind it than just grass and a house; the flowers and shrubs were not rare and in some cases not in bloom, but it was interesting to observe. So interesting, actually, that when I got to the gate and found it was wide open I took that as an invite.
Inside, the neat garden exceeded my expectations, as it came with many pots and plants,img_20160121_170250.jpg all of them obviously made (the pots) and nurtured (the plants) within the perimeter fencing. The house was obviously old, probably built when my grandparents were youths, but it was well kept. Against the front of the house, someone had carefully fashioned an archway of flowering shrubs that arrested my attention for a while before I called out, “Koodi?”
There was a stirring in the sitting room and a young man peeped out of the window to return my greeting and inform me that the person behind the pots and plants was probably in the smaller house at the back – and he left his television set on to pop out and check.
The fellow, who this young man identified as his cousin Joe of Jowy Creations, was indeed away but could be found on Facebook.
A few days later I returned, this time deliberately, to view the garden again and try to meet this Joe of Jowy Creations.
Again, the gardens were still but there was sound in the sitting room. This time I didn’t have to call out before the very same young man, possibly wearing the very same vest, stood up from his television viewing position.
His cousin was in, this time, and came out to meet me though I first summoned the TV watching youth to interrogate him a little bit. Top on my mind was the question: Had he been watching television non-stop since the last time I had been, a few days ago?
He laughed and said he hadn’t. He was on holiday, from his university course studying “IT”, and was therefore chilling. Did he have a laptop or something else to occupy his time? He chuckled a bit but became irritated at my lugezi gezi, but I made it clear to him that I had an endless supply of it and would return to him after meeting his cousin properly.
img_20160121_170421.jpgHis cousin, Daniel Joe Semakadde, listened quietly to the exchange while behind him I noticed the garage held about fifty concrete pots in formation which hadn’t been there the last time I was.
He then took me round the garden to see his plant creations, his pottery and even
ironmongery! This was their grandparents’ home, and they now live there with a sectionimg_20160121_165903.jpg of the family.
Semakadde, a graduate of Food, Science and Technology, took to interior design as a child and made his first sale at the age of fourteen by putting together some dried twigs, colouring and arranging them in a pot. He still went through school dutifully, taking a difficult professional course, but during that time img_20160121_170446.jpgtaught himself how to make pots, weld metal, grow plants and design art pieces.
He has lived off that income very comfortably ever since.
As he spoke, his cousin was back at the television, and I could not understand how the fellow had let me leave the first time without trying to sell me any of the Jowy Creations. So I cut short the visit and called the young man out of the house for some more lugezi gezi.
To begin with, he had only Ushs15,000 to his name at that point, and confessed that he didn’t know enough about pottery and plants to earn any money from me doing it.
Long story cut short, we made arrangements for his cousin to train him for the remainder of his holiday, and I offered to ease the process by paying for his transport from the television set to the garden for the training course.
Today marks the end of Week One, and I am praying I don’t find him in front of a television. I also need someone to give me lessons in understanding how these two young fellows can grow up in the very same home and take such different paths in life – one to wealth and success through sweat and hard work, and the other likely heading to a despondent declaration of a lack of opportunities.