is #Uganda the most entrepreneurial country in the world? we can do much more…

This article was also published by the people at the Competitiveness & Enterprise Development Programme here:
UGANDA being the world’s most entrepreneurial country is NOT a myth; the most recent research cited for this is the B2B Marketplace Approved Index, which looked at 73 countries and the proportion of adults there who have started a business.
We (Uganda) scored 28% of adults who had done so or co-owned a business – almost twice as many as those in the country that came second (Thailand with 16.7%).
To be honest, we all know that if our SMEs (Small and Medium sized Enterprises) were more organised we would rank even higher in such studies, but more importantly we would be doing much, much better economically.
In private I frequently raise this fantasy in my mind of every single Rolex Stand on the side of every road in Uganda registering as a business entity, with a Board of Directors, Share Capital, a Management Team and a bank account of sorts (even Mobile Money).
Just imagine how far that fantasy could go: perhaps one day a group of our better-healed Ugandans could get into an investment arrangement that would buy into or buy up all these SMEs and create a national equivalent of KFC or McDonald’s, but of Rolexes – like ‘RolexUG’.
Today, a venture like the RolexUG food chain could easily find itself cornering the Rolex market in many amazing ways, and possibly open up branches in the United States and Japan and Russia, selling shares on the stock market and creating a worldwide revolution even bigger than Russia’s blini (which is now street food in London…)
Sadly, our SMEs mostly prefer to operate as ‘the informal sector’, mostly because of a traditional fear of regulation and the costs that come with it. Most of us are afraid that registration means paying more taxes and other statutory obligations, or facing more scrutiny from authorities.
For instance, those Rolex stands would find themselves having to file more paperwork – which would mean many changes to their current business structure that would be a little discomfiting, since we rarely see them with reams of paper or computers and other such paraphernalia normally associated with ‘office’.
Plus, they would find themselves having to report more to offices dealing with things like public health, environment, and so on and so forth. Their employees would now start talking about NSSF and Pay As You Earn…the complications are daunting.
But if we teach our entrepreneurs that the benefits outweigh those complications, and develop an environment that makes it easier (not easy – nothing good ever comes from things being easy), then perhaps we will reap more from this officialdom.
That officialdom is much less daunting these days, with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) on hand.
In the past, we struggled to get companies registered and off the ground, and many times found the idea of the companies registry daunting; whereas now we work with the Services Bureau as just that – a Services Bureau.
Registered businesses, for instance, will attract funding easier than loose, informal arrangements do. Even that Rolex stand would make for a good investment, but only if the investor – be it a massive global bank or just the uncle of Sula the Rolex Guy – would be more comfortable if Sula had an official business under which agreements would be signed and guarantees placed.
Entrepreneurship support funding also goes easier to organised business, than to informal, mobile stands. Registration, for instance, gives you a presence that is reliable and easy to find – which is essential when anyone’s giving you money; so essential that some people aren’t comfortable buying newspapers at traffic lights in case they turn green and your newspaper guy goes in the opposite direction before giving you back your change…
Add more benefits to capital injection – sales, for instance, will increase organically to a point that makes sense of business registration and the officialdom that comes with it.
Ideally (key word) an SME that enters the formal sector (business registration being the entry point) opens the doors to such benefits as research and development and scientific marketing.
Sticking to the Rolex stands, if we had clear visibility as a nation of how many Rolex stands exist and are operational, perhaps we would do research into and develop a certain type of healthy and resource-saving cooking oil or frying pan to support this business. Or maybe we would come up with a better design for the Rolex stand, like the guys at Musana Carts have done. The opportunities are limitless.
And those opportunities stretch to marketing as well – we have an entire sector of marketing researchers and creatives out there who are focussed on the ‘Big Guys’ simply because that’s who they can find out there, engage with, and create concepts for that they can get paid to execute.
I can see, in my fantasy, a few marketing professionals applying themselves to concepts for the Rolex stand when they realise exactly how many of them are potential clients who can apply for external funding support to pay for these concepts with an eye on the global market as customers.
Speaking of that global market, sympathise with our Export Promotion Board and how hard their work is right now simply because too many SMEs are not registered as businesses. If they had this well-built directory of all SMEs then they would, perhaps, find or develop foreign markets easier for us.
These registered businesses would also find it easier to engage both the government and their other stakeholder groups, because they would exist officially as entities with identities, locations and strength of presence.
And it is that engagement that advises and develops government policy such that it supports the SME – creating that very environment that makes business registration make sense for an SME.
It’s a fantasy, but dreams could come true.

the cassava chronicles – in this, the regional centre of excellence for cassava: UGANDA!

Cassava Garden
Photo taken from: – with thanks

A CHANCE meeting at the start of this week has re-focussed my attention onto agriculture as an economic activity and one day, a few years from now, I will share stories of my successes perhaps even in in one of those newspaper pullouts that inspire us weekly to till the earth.

My chance encounter was with an old friend, Gerald Owachi, whose story shocked me on so many levels there is no way a newspaper article can do it justice.
He will write a book about it all one day, since he is a journalist by training and a well studied one at that, having attended classes at Harvard and Tufts in the United States.
After those classes, he joined various high end organisations doing public policy, conflict resolution and what not, earning money in foreign currencies, but one day dropped everything to do agriculture. Teaming up with two other friends – Harry Hakiza and J.J. Onen – they went into northern Uganda.
The story is rather long and I have since moved on from the incredulity I felt when they shared their plans many years ago, so by Monday morning I was asking for a simple update only for Gerry to tell me they had 240 acres of cassava full grown!
Cassava is one of my favourite foods right now, because my domestic arrangements have involved training people up to fry cassava sticks to a point that we are soon entering the dish into cooking competitions for local foods – another story coming soon somewhere near you.
Every time I find there is a shortage of cassava in the markets near my home I marvel at how silly our agricultural marketing is – but that is nothing compared to Gerry’s experiences in the fields of cassava.
With 240 acres, for instance, their cassava project is probably the biggest single one of that crop in Uganda but, for some reason, they are not one of the major suppliers of the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS). They are one of the suppliers, but only got listed after a hilarious story that must go into Gerry’s book.
It involved having their ‘project’ inspected by a superior, imperious NAADS fellow who had the bearing of a small god simply because he has the power to determine whether or not the results of the sweat and investment of people like Gerry, Harry, J.J. and their thousand-odd workers, should be placed onto a list of suppliers.
See, there are these well-intentioned projects that governments around the world implement but in doing so they employ small-minded chaps who take their representation of the government to such heights that if they don’t like your attitude they can reject (or frustrate) your project into oblivion.
So this big cassava project was off the supply list but they insisted their way onto it and eventually got allocated some bags – meaning they were assigned the privilege of supplying bags of cassava cuttings to the NAADS project.
Off their 240 acres they were assigned 663 bags. Or, let’s say they were assigned 6,000 bags. Cuttings are just that – you get a cassava stem then cut it into segments of about 30 centimetres.
I interrupted the conversation to call up my pal, the Executive Director of NAADS, and left him with that information to deal with – which he undoubtedly will.
Anyway, what madness had possessed these three young men to plant so much cassava?
Cassava has hundreds of uses besides being fried, salted and put on a side plate next to my cup of tea. Uganda Breweries uses cassava as a local raw material in brewing beer; CIPLA, the multinational pharmaceutical firm, is buying up 51% of Quality Chemicals and one of the major ingredients in pharmaceuticals is…cassava; it is used in making glues and one hundred other things industries rely on.
“You know Uganda is the Centre of Excellence for Cassava growing…?” Gerry began, making me choke on my coffee as I spluttered a ‘What The…?’
It is true.
The internet even says stuff like, “The Cassava Regional Centre of Excellence is based in Uganda, taking advantage of Uganda’s proven track record of success in providing leadership in cassava research, training and dissemination of technologies and information…”
Go and ask the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations for more.
Another website declares that six years ago Uganda was the sixth largest producer of cassava in Africa, and the crop is our second most important after bananas.
It would be – it basically grows anywhere under even arid conditions. Which is why the three chaps’ project was so important – because on their 240 acres they focussed on one, consistent breed or strain of cassava, rather than the very many funny ones in existence elsewhere.
As they were starting up, they tried to get the right cuttings and couldn’t find any that were consistent for a while. They went to the National Crops Resources Research Institute at Namulonge and eventually set up a partnership that ensured they had a sensible strain of cassava.
That’s another reason NAADS should be interested in them, and them in NAADS, because if one of the odd strains gets into their 240 acres they could lose their entire crop. You see, a short while ago someone said they had found Cassava Brown Streak disease in Western Uganda…
No – crisis meetings have not been called, even if Ugandan Brown Streak disease is ranked among the top seven biological threats to global food security.
All in all, their book will be an interesting read – wait for the section on ACF – the Agricultural Credit Facility under Bank of Uganda, an abbreviation few of us can recognise as quickly as TDA today, yet it’s been there since 2009. Under the ACF you and I can get up to Ushs2.1billion (or even Ushs5billion if the project is good enough), at 10% per annum.
They got one of far less than that, and because of bureaucracy found themselves paying a commercial bank loan at a much higher interest rate a couple of months into planting and…they are now in court minus the tractor they purchased with the loan, and the 80% they had paid for it in cash.
But they have their 240 acres of cassava sitting intact, for now, and they’re aiming at 3,500 planted by 2017.
As a resident of the Cassava Centre of Excellence, how many patches of your own cassava will you have by then?

stretching Uganda’s good name across the globe

LAST WEEK a Ugandan called David Egesa was quoted in an online publication asking,
“Why should I be crazy and stay in Canada where it’s cold?“
This was the closing sentence in a report on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Canada website about how a team of Ugandan Kayakers had fought their way through piles of red tape to get to the International Canoe Federation (ICF) 2015 Freestyle World Kayaking Championships.
Their story is much like the She-Cranes – with very little support of an official and unofficial nature, a small group of very hopeful, resilient and positive thinking Ugandans fought against all odds to get to the world stage and have held the country’s flag high in the sky.
The She-Cranes did it on the extreme bottom right hand side of the map of the world, and the Kayakers have done it on the extreme top left hand side – stretching Uganda’s good name across the globe thanks to these young, voluntary, patriotic and passionate citizens working in their private capacity!
At this rate, the people who select candidates for national medals will find the coming ceremonies much easier to handle, because the reports from Ontario, Canada where the team of three is making waves make them heroes of serious note.
Besides Egesa, the team in full is made up of Sadat Kawawa (23), Amina Tayona (23), Yusuf Basalirwa (23) and… Sam Ward, whose name gives you a hint what tribe he belongs to, and who deserves applause for that very reason.
As usual, their local exposure is still quite dismal, even as they rack up such valuable international points for all Ugandans that we should honestly be made to line up from Entebbe Airport all the way to their base in Jinja, handing them hard cash as they drive through.
Their official Facebook page at the start of this week had just over 950 likes – much, much fewer than the number of people in Canada who gave the team a standing ovation at the opening ceremony a few days ago!
We’re going to take a while to understand what people like these actually do for this country when they go out there flying our flag and showing off how we are nationally muscular, energetic, cheerful, patient, jovial, good-looking, cooperative…and gifted by nature.
To summarise the value that these four Ugandans gave to the country, one photograph on their Facebook page depicts a menu chalkboard in

Kayak Kudos
From the Facebook Group

a Canadian Bar & Restaurant, with the Ugandan flag, complete with Crested Crane, drawn and coloured in at the top, and:

“Tonight’s Dinner: …Ugandan cabbage salad…BBQ Chicken…roasted sweet potatoes…Ugandan beans & BANANA CAKE!”
Just imagine how much excitement is being made in that corner of the world about Ugandan food right now? Tear-jerking!
THIS, now, would be the perfect opportunity for the Uganda Tourism Board to attack Canada with all they have in order to bring Canadian tourists here, to the source of this amazing Ugandan food and superb Kayakers such as Egesa’s team.
If anything would advertise to the world that Uganda is a great place to come and brave rapids in a Kayak, it is THIS team participating in this one event!
Obviously, they should go with the Uganda Export Promotion Board to convince the Canadians to import more of our fresh food, and other stuff besides, into their country.
Reading the story of the Kayakers and what they went through to get to Canada to represent you, me and forty million others, made me hope that one day we will expend our tourism and investment promotion dollars on funding such teams rather than government officials wearing European suits.
The four Kayakers applied for visas numerous times and rejected the rejections by applying again and again until they had Canadians writing to their Parliamentarians (NOT Ugandans writing to OUR Parliamentarians!) to let them in.
When they did get their visas, they needed to find the money to go – and, again, (mostly) non-Ugandans pooled resources and efforts together to fund the team
…to go and put Uganda on yet another map of international acclaim and celebration.
And for most of us, by the way, until this group of youngsters fought their way to Canada the only thing we knew about that country was that it was a favoured location for people wishing to relocate to a place where they could start a new life.
Which made Egesa’s comment even more powerful, especially when read in full:
“It’s really beautiful (in Canada); I like it. But I like Uganda the most. It’s where my family is, it’s where I work…Canada is good, but Uganda is good!”

a wheelbarrow full of ideas

I have fond memories of a time, back in the 1980s, when we children would spend weeks at my grandfather’s residence in Bulindi, Hoima doing all sorts of work – especially mowing the compound using a mechanical mower, then sweeping up the grass.
To convey the cut grass into the nearby garden for use as mulch, we used an old iron sheet that had two holes punched into it for a long wire to be inserted and used as a handle. In those days of scarcity we made do with what we had, and invention was born of necessity.
At around the same time in my life, one day in school we were taught about simple and compound machines, including the wheelbarrow. We learnt to draw the wheelbarrow and found it was made up of basically the two items in its name – a wheel and a barrow. Its function was to allow one to convey things carried in a barrow, using the convenience of a wheel.
All this came back to me last week at the end of a day spent hobby gardening in Wakiso, with a couple of chaps, one of whom had a ‘Citizen’s’ identity card (not the National ID ones) that described him as a “Peasant”.
I had insisted, as part of the gardening plan, that we divide the different agricultural plots with paths and walkways for various reasons – including enabling the workers to use wheelbarrows to do their basic duties.
They were convinced, and at the end of the day one of the items on the list of requirements was a wheelbarrow – which they assumed would go for about Ushs90,000 each in Kampala. I eventually found one at Ushs50,000 being sold online, but of course it was imported from China.Wheelbarrow Kaymu
Dissatisfied with the idea that we still don’t make wheelbarrows here, I went off to the internet as usual, and found leads on for wheelbarrows going for as low as US$10 a piece – but only if you place a minimum order for 200 pieces. Then I called up my preferred metal worker who offered to make one for me at Ushs180,000.
But before closing that discussion, a memory hit me from a month ago: while doing some work at home, we dug up quite a lot of soil that needed to be relocated elsewhere, but the wheelbarrow I bought years ago while doing the construction had since been stolen.
Just as I was about to approve the hiring of fifteen casual labourers to use their muscle power, one of the workers told us we could hire a wheelbarrow from Mbuya, and provided a phone number. About Ushs1,200 of my phone airtime later, they had confirmed that hiring the wheelbarrow for the day would be Ushs3,000. But we also had to use a boda boda to fetch it, at Ushs5,000 one way.
By the evening, I had spent Ushs14,200 for the use of a wheelbarrow for a day.
And now, with my situation in Wakiso, I feel we need to make more wheelbarrows in Uganda – and not the wooden ones used to carry fruit. All the construction and farming work we are doing should certainly support a local wheelbarrow industry even if we do not produce the steel for it.
In fact, while pondering the issue that weekend I spotted a dis-used satellite dish in the corner of my backyard and immediately called my preferred local metal worker with the suggestion that he buys a wheel and fabricates a local wheelbarrow for me using this dish as a barrow – I will report progress on that later. (UPDATE on October 9, 2015 – I actually did it, and the brief report is here –
But before that, would you believe this story from a Canadian on Facebook in 2011? After visiting Uganda and doing some voluntary work building things, he noticed work was being done too manually. So this person bought a wheelbarrow all the way from Canada, flew it to Uganda on an aeroplane, then put it in a minibus to Gulu for use on a construction project, and the people there were fascinated by the contraption. In fact, after he had assembled it, with the entire village gathered round, they were all afraid to use it “until one young man was brave enough to try it”.
To declare a young man in Gulu, the centre of war in northern Uganda for over two decades, “brave” for using a wheelbarrow, is what we call in local vernacular, “okujooga”.
I blame our being kujooga’d for so long by so many people on our stupidity in not adopting simple technology for developmental use, in spite of our education and the availability of the basics we need to fashion our own wheelbarrows and make use of them to ease work.
Wheelbarrow in Uganda

the Gecaga-ism in YOU revealed by Obama’s visit

Jomo Gecaga scoring a lifetime achievement
Jomo Gecaga scoring a lifetime achievement. Photo from

OF THE numerous photographs that did the rounds on WhatsApp, email, Twitter and Facebook from Obama’s visit to Kenya, the one that made me look up and take notice of our overall focus was one of a chap with his hand on the bonnet of “The Beast”.

(“The Beast” is the motor vehicle of the United States President, and you can google the rest because I don’t have time for it here.)

I sat up because the fellow in the photo was described as the Personal Assistant (or Private Secretary) to the President of the Republic of Kenya, and named as Jomo Gecaga.

The man appeared quite foolish in that photograph as a Secret Service fellow appeared to be stopping him from putting his hand on the vehicle.

That Gecaga fellow’s excitement at being near the car that conveys the President of the United States was a little understandable until I discovered that not only is he a nephew of Kenyatta, he IS Chief of Staff of the Kenyan President and attended some of the best schools in the world – including, according to the internet, Eton.

Gecaga and The Beast 2

THAT GUY was the one having his photo taken next to the car of the US President the way those kids in your village do when you drive your second hand four wheel drive car over there for Christmas?!

I was flummoxed, which sounds like the Sheng word for the kind of punishment one would mete out to a fellow caught in his situation according to that photograph.

Even a well-heeled chap like that one could lower himself to this and get told off by askaris? America is a superpower kweli!

And I couldn’t laugh at him properly myself because over the entire period almost right up to this point, I find that most of the material being shared with me by otherwise upstanding members of society is the WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook equivalent of copping a photograph with one’s hand on “The Beast”.

Check your phone and laptop – how many people sent you links to the terms of the pacts and bilateral agreements signed between Kenya and the United States during that visit? How many of your pals engaged in insightful analysis about how Uganda (or whatever other country you are in) could benefit from the presence of the United States President and right here – right next door where we go on bus rides to see rally cars, eat nyama choma and collect cars from the port to drive them back to Kampala?

Did any of your pals talk about the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, especially since Uganda was named yet again just TWO WEEKS AGO as the world’s most entrepreneurial country?

Did Ugandans set up Rolex stands from Jomo Kenyatta airport to trap all the Secret Service men and possibly even entice Obama? Did we do anything to stress to his entourage that the single entry visa that put them in Kenya could have elicited value for money if they hopped over to Uganda quickly for a day – perhaps even using the airport parking of British Airways, since those ones are not going to be around for a while anyway?

I didn’t even hear about any serious restaurants creating an #ObamaInKenya rolex and putting the menu online so they attract Google search hits to their websites.

Obviously I might be linked to the wrong social and business networks and should therefore seek to join those in which members were invited to or made their way to the Summit in Nairobi to mingle in with globally accomplished entrepreneurs from the United States and across this continent.

Do you know anyone who went to meet with the billionaires that accompanied Obama? Maybe one of them met ex-Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg (worth US$37.5billion), Businessman Aliko Dangote (worth US$17billion), and TV Sharks Daymond Garfield John (worth US$250million), Barbara Corcoran (worth US$80million), Mark Cuban (worth US$3billion)…the list is much longer!

Luckily for my self-esteem, none of the people I have been communicating with has sent me photos of personal achievements such as standing next to the Presidential Car or a Secret Service Guard.

But sadly, none has shared with me their prospects for increased business and entrepreneurship or even personal development pursuits with the United States. All I have received so far are Gecaga-istic exclamations around Obama and the paraphernalia around his office.

Let’s see if we do different when the Pope comes over…