doing business in Uganda is getting easier – thanks to #HakunaMchezo


EVERY year we celebrate a little when the ‘Doing Business’ and ‘Global Entrepreneurship’ indexes and surveys are released, because Uganda gets favourable mentions.

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.

(Their blog post on this is here: http://blog.approvedindex.co.uk/2015/06/25/map-entrepreneurship-around-the-world/)

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.

That is the Legatum Prosperity Index that kicks us off the list and swings the top to European countries (http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-most-opportunity-in-the-world.html). So let’s ignore it for now, oba?

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

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Registrar General Bemanya Twebaze

Registration Services Bureau, is #HakunaMchezo.

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.

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The URSB Truck (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

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).

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Mercy Kyomugasho-Kainobwisho strikes a pose next to the Mobile Registration Truck (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

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.


“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).


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.

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young Ugandans are doing great things out there


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.

get rid of street vendors but by turning them into enterprises


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.

improve your sales – lessons from saalongo mukiibi, the sugar cane guy


LAST Saturday after a brief discussion about urban poverty and the seeming hopeless of many of our very numerous youth in this country, I drove past Bugolobi and spotted my sugar cane guy there back at his station. I had noticed on some days over the last couple of weeks that he was not always at this point, and twice I had stopped to ask why but the boda men at the stage never seemed to know or care.
I had lost interest in him as a supplier a while back because he is located at a very busy spot right in front of the market where the parking is tight or scarce, and many a time one can’t catch his attention quickly enough to avoid road rage from other users whose interest in roadside sugar cane doesn’t match mine.
At any rate, his sugar cane is much more expensive than other suppliers I have found elsewhere, even though his product (the green stems called something like ‘gowa’) is superior to most other thin stems, being more fleshy and therefore juicy.
This Saturday the traffic was a little light so I took the opportunity to address a few irritations he presents, and as I was holding the seminar with him I realized that some boda men and one or two muchomo grillers (those that do sausages and chicken) were keenly eavesdropping. What I was telling the chap was useful to them as well – and, it would turn out, to anyone doing any sort of business.
First of all, he had a habit of facing the market rather than the road, so he constantly has his back to the considerable traffic going up into Bugolobi. Explaining to him that his location was prime for retail, I told him to re-position himself so he faced the traffic directly. That way, he would make eye contact with potential and actual customers and sell much more; even without making a sale, it would be easier for him to market his product if he smiled at all the cars driving slowly past, and gestured to them politely to try out his product.
But having done that, I told him, he needed to clean up his appearance. Like most of the roadside sugar cane guys who normally sell the stuff off of the back of a bicycle or wheelbarrow, his clothes were as filthy as the sugar cane itself. He, individually, was worse than most as his style of clothing was urban grunge – torn jeans, wrinkled clothing and basically dirty and messy, all the way through to his unkempt hair.
This, I told him, would not attract more customers especially if he judged them by the vehicles they drove and their concerns of the hygiene involved in his ‘processed’ product. One reason he stood facing away from the road was he was busy peeling and chopping up sugar cane into bits to put into buveera for those who wanted it already peeled – he didn’t have gloves but at least he had covered his hands with buveera while doing so, because sugar cane is so white you can’t hide grime even though bacteria is invisible.
We stood there and counted the Range Rovers, Land Cruisers and Mercedes Benzes going by and he agreed that those were certainly potential high value customers but they would be unlikely to hold a conversation with him, let alone allow him to lean against their vehicles if he were so shabbily turned out.
When I pointed to one of the muchomo guys and explained that the white coats they wore were to project the hygiene expectations that would give a customer comfort that they wouldn’t fall ill from eating that roadside meat, they all nodded.
Then, I told the fellow, get a piece of cardboard and neatly but clearly write the price of the sugar cane then prop it up so that everybody driving by can see it – display pricing will make some of these potential customers stop and think, “Hey! I can afford that quite easily…” and even if they don’t stop to buy right then, they can send a maid running down the road after they get home.
In fact, we agreed, even the sugar cane itself should be propped up in a manner that makes it call out to the potential customer, rather than laid out on the road out of sight. Actually, the people driving past get to see more of the sugar cane peelings than the sugar cane itself, making that spot appear to be a garbage collection point rather than a sugar cane point of sale.
He nodded as more of the boda men came closer and worked their auricles harder.
Even better, I suggested humbly, how about adding your name to that piece of cardboard so you brand your sugarcane and make it distinct from all the others in the village, division or district?
He smiled. His name is Mukiibi Saalongo.
Fantastic! I exclaimed; use Saalongo rather than Mukiibi, so that customers believe that they are helping to support the livelihood of a man who is looking after a couple of twins – in fact, thinking about it now I should go back and tell him to get involved the next time there is a Twins Festival organized by The New Vision, as that would be the perfect marketing opportunity for him and his products.
At this point in our seminar, though, I couldn’t resist pointing out that his current appearance made one worry that all the money he receives goes straight into habits that keep law enforcement officials busy at night and very early in the morning.
He laughed, but agreed with the opinion – also because a couple of boda chaps were also chuckling on the fringes of our roadside workshop.
And then he expressed his thanks and introduced a “But the problem is…” – Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) demands license fees that make it difficult for him to operate. This is a serious problem for these fellows, and keeps them ready to up and disappear at the sight of the KCCA enforcement colours turning a corner.
But I wasn’t done yet, and detailed to him how if he faced the road and did all the above he could easily set up a sugar cane delivery system right into the homes of those 1,200 apartments in Bugolobi and more than 500 residents living there – using his bicycle.
And, if it all worked out well then he would increase sales exponentially (I did not use this very word with Saalongo Mukiibi) and sell much more than the 40 sugar canes he ferries on his bicycle every day.
I think.
We’ll find out when we do a review – in about a month’s time.

re-starting independence with the children and their toys


WHEN you spend a few days sequestered with hundreds of people talking repeatedly about innovation, technology and education you tend to develop ideas along those lines.
My head was full of them as we emerged from a summit called ‘Innovation Africa’ and prepared to embark on Independence week. Because there was a weekend punctuation between the two, I was reclaimed by the children and eventually found myself inside bookshops that insist on selling toys.
I can understand the business imperative that makes them stock both products, so I have sympathised with them for years in spite of the irritation – I think it is unfair to distract these young ones with toys when we try to immerse them into a world of literary appreciation in order to stimulate their imaginative powers.
But there I was, trying to herd attention away from playing to reading, when I noticed one plaything priced at five million shillings (actually, it was Ushs4,999,000).

My next venture should be making these!
My next venture should be making these!
I was a little panicked because one of the children was paying more attention to this item than I was comfortable with – and if my bankers and a few other stakeholders had spotted us at that point I would have had to hold difficult conversations.
As I firmly drew her focus away from the thing, my mind was on one of the key statements people kept making at Innovation Africa – “But can’t you guys make this here (Uganda or Africa)?”
On closer inspection, the Ushs5million plaything was a creation of painted plastic or fibreglass, with a few lights here, buttons, and a motor that made it move to and fro.
I know a guy in Kampala who once did a fibreglass fabrication for me, and estimated the total cost here to be less than one million shillings. The lights and wiring involved couldn’t cost more than a couple of hundred thousand, and neither would the paint.
So I figure that if I got an artist and a technician together I could reap handsomely from toys – and the shop attendant confirmed to me that people buy these things, imported from China, quite frequently.
I looked around a bit more at hundreds of other items – all imported – including a little children’s bookshelf painted in lively colours and priced about eight times higher than a locally made one sold in most carpentries in Kampala.
The price of that bookshelf was even confusing because of the cheapness of the materials used to manufacture it – especially compared to the hardwood ones we make locally that are priced so low.
There was also a set of toys made of wooden blocks, each painted with numbers and letters and going for just over one hundred thousand shillings.
Believe it or not, every carpentry workshop in this country generates enough waste (paint inclusive) to be converted into such toys saleable at sensibly profitable amounts to a very willing foreign-toy-purchasing public.
Plus, if we start this with toys then we are doing it at a point where the next generation interacts quite closely, and the true meaning of independence will sink in better in their minds.
What do we need in order to do this?
Independence – and an understanding of the theme of Independence Day Celebrations this year: “Striving towards a prosperous people and Country: the meaning of true Independence.”
Prosperity and Independence – the two go hand in hand, if we strive at them, apparently. Importing toys from China enriches only a few of us here in Uganda, namely those who import those toys – but MANUFACTURING those toys here in Uganda will enrich many, and it IS easy.
As we made our escape from the toy bookshop, my daughter asked me the confounding question, “What is Independence?”