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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Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes in Uganda: his pearls of wisdom on day one here


Ivan Menezes, CEO of Diageo plc. - Photo by Simon Kaheru
Ivan Menezes, CEO of Diageo plc. – Photo by Simon Kaheru

The fact that the Global Chief Executive Officer of Diageo plc. is in Uganda should not be treated lightly by any measure, and I am duty-bound to share the following with you.

Ultimately, I have transcribed the comments he made on Friday at the residence of the British High Commissioner to Uganda, Alison Blackburne, who hosted a cocktail in his honour.

If you know protocol you will understand why she did this and how important he therefore is as an individual, even though he is not British by origin. You see, Diageo is a British company, and as the head of the company he is more or less entitled to that kind of near-royal, and state-like treatment.

Menezes was cornered to deliver ‘Words of Wisdom’ to those present, mostly top-notch Ugandan business leaders and influencers, besides those at work at the event in one way or another.

He did so quite neatly, and I won’t force you to take the lessons and thoughts I did; instead, read for yourself and take what you will, regardless of how big or small your own business enterprise (or employer) is:

Alternatively, you can catch the full recording here: https://soundcloud.com/simon-kaheru/speeches-at-ivan-menezes

It starts with the UK High Commissioner stating why Uganda is such a superb destination for tourism and investment, and Menezes himself declaring why he chose Uganda as a holiday destination, and ends just after the Minister of State for Industry, Dr. James Shinyabulo Mutende, begins his own set of remarks, but that was a result of a recording snafu.

***

Ivan Menezes:

I am thrilled to be here. This has been one of my dreams – to visit Uganda. I am delighted because I get here before my family, so I can brag that I got to Uganda before them!

A few words on Diageo and how we view East Africa and Uganda:

The future of our company is going to be determined to a huge extent by Africa. We are very privileged because we have an amazing history, tradition and business in this region. Within Africa, East Africa is a real jewel for us, and within East Africa, Uganda is an amazing market for us.

We’ve been here a long time. Bell Lager was introduced in 1950 and is an absolute jewel of a brand. It’s the market leader in the premium beer market. Another jewel, my personal favourite, is Uganda Waragi, UG, and we are celebrating 50 years of UG.

So when I think about our business here, we have an amazing tradition, long heritage, strong commitment to this beautiful country. We have been investing here substantially in the last few years and we will continue to invest.

Someone asked me in Singapore yesterday, ‘What is it that concerns or worries you?’

I have been in business 34-35 years, worked all over the world, seen all the ups and downs, seen companies and corporations, and economies develop and grow.

I think we are at a point in time in the world where business has a huge role to play in building its reputation around building for the long term, building a business in a sustainable way and being a force for good in society.

The days of just coming, making money satisfying your shareholders, and that’s what you are about, I am convinced, are over. You will get no trust, no respect, and you will be out of business if your model is all about just making money

And at Diageo I am proud we passionately believe that, ‘Yes! We have got to perform and do well’, but we have to earn trust and respect from communities and stakeholders at large where we operate.

I can use what we are doing in Uganda to bring this to life. I take a lot of inspiration from the direction we are setting in a market like this.
The starting point is that it’s really important to have good values and codes of conduct in organisations. In today’s world there are so many pressures and so many places you can take short cuts.

But I am proud that the culture we building across the company – we have about 36,000 people around the world – is that ‘Do business the right way, there is no right way to do a wrong thing.’

It doesn’t matter if you can’t get your business done because we will be around, just like Bell has been around for 65 years; Johnnie Walker has been around since 1820. We have faced revolutions, we have faced famines, we have faced World Wars, and we are still around.

That’s what I say to my colleagues in the business: ‘Always do things the right way; never feel under short-term pressure to cut corners. Live your values.’

There are four or five things I am proud of our team at Uganda for. It is not about our business performance which is strong and continues to grow.

The first is the impact we can and will have on having alcohol play a more positive role in society, and indeed reducing the harm that alcohol plays in society. Underage drinking and drink driving are real in Uganda.

People ask me, ‘Can you have a successful business and reduce misuse of alcohol?’ And the answer for me is that there is no trade-off. We are here to build a sustainable business; we are a strong company with good talent. We can be a force for having alcohol play a responsible, positive role in society through some of the programmes Nyimpini (Mabunda – Uganda Breweries Managing Director) and team are doing around drink driving and underage drinking.

We have got to stop underage drinking; i know we can’t eliminate it but we have to play a force to really reduce it. Responsible drinking is really an important element for me.

The other component is what are doing around local sourcing of raw materials. It wasn’t too long ago we had been importing most of our cereals and grain; now 70% of our cereal requirements come through small farmers here in Uganda.

We are working with 17,000 farmers in Uganda.

From grain to bottle we want to build value chains that will enrich local communities!

If you asked me five or ten years ago could I ever see this happen, I would have probably say I couldn’t imagine we would have gotten this far. Today, 70% of our needs come through local materials.

We have a programme called Water of Life in Africa, which is all about providing drinking water to communities and people who don’t have clean water.

Nyimpini and the team here last year did well. ONE MILLION Ugandans got access to water because of the work that our team did here, in one year!

I was astounded!

On average every year we have been doing about 400,000 people a year but last year we did a million in Uganda These water programmes are essential but are just an example of how business in the future needs to build sustainability.

We are in the top five of the tax contributors and I hope we can get back to the top three or two but we have other industries ahead of us.
When I look at the contribution we make to the exchequer and indirectly to the economy – we employ over 300 directly at the brewery and about 500 total employees, but the multiplicative effect of this employment is far, far greater.

The final thing I would say is that we really want to be one of the star employers in Uganda. A company that grows talent, exports talent, provides a great place to work, provides an opportunity to learn, builds skills, provides good economic support to individuals and talent in this country.

We have had great success in exporting wonderful people in this country to other parts of Diageo and I hope we can continue to make Uganda a great source of talent for the company.

I don’t know how wise this wisdom is but we are a lot more than selling beer and making profits; that stuff is boring, quite frankly. It is!
Because I think our impact needs to be much bigger because I always say that the only job I have is to come in and make a brand like this greater when I leave

The only way that happens is if you truly build a sustainable businesses and your contribution goes much beyond the economic value you create for your shareholders; it’s about how you do that sustainably.

That’s my ‘pearl of wisdom’ in the pearl of Africa!