Is Uganda’s private sector ready to plant the mustard seed?
By Babirye Milly Babalanda
It’s said that the most powerful country in the world, USA, was built by a handful of people-JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Rothschild and Henry Ford. These trailblazers set America on its path to greatness by “sowing the mustard seed” in emerging sectors which they developed to power an economic boom that cemented USA’s position as a global power, overtaking Europe where its founders came from. These initiatives took place in the previous centuries. Just five people built the foundations of the modern US economic system. Who will build Uganda’s?
That question was on my mind early this month as various Chief Executive Officers (C.E.Os) of various business interests attended a 3-day retreat hosted by the Presidential CEO Forum (PCF) at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi. The Presidential CEO Forum deals with private sector issues and represents the Private Sector, Manufacturers and Industrialists working closely with government to reinforce private sector inclusion in developmental matters.
In a number of his speeches, President Yoweri Museveni has emphasised the role of the private sector in spurring national economic development. He has always noted that Government’s role is to provide a conducive environment and establish the necessary social overheads for the private sector to perform and flourish. With Uganda’s fully liberalised economic system and the increasing ease of doing business in place, CEOs and investors (local and foreign) can only lead by example.
At Kyankwanzi, the President highlighted the importance of markets and NRM’s struggle for unification of (economic) blocs such East Africa Community, COMESA, ACFTA and others like AGOA for the US market through AGOA, EU through MBA. When these markets are secured, what do we have to offer? That’s what the retreat was all about and our CEOs are all the wiser for it. The CEOs in attendance were a select few; looking at the economic potential around us, we all need to think as CEOs and rise to the occasion.
Thanks to President Museveni’s foresight and broad business mind, Government has prioritised infrastructure development, power, education, health, security as found, enablers for the business community to operate and satisfy the market-both local and foreign. The Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU) policy will only work if there are sufficient quantities of consumer goods for Ugandans to substitute with imported goods, goods which must be very competitive, of high quality and priced favourably so that Ugandans can appreciate them as the first line consumers before serving other markets.
Quality is paramount while identifying and tying down market. In the case of agricultural produce, Uganda’s comparative advantage is affected by poor quality issues arising from poor farming methods, harvesting, storage and transportation processes. Quality control can make or break market share. Farmers must adopt best practices along the production chain and CEOs should help follow up on assurance to meet requisite standards demanded by consumers.
In industry, as a budding industrial nation, our bargaining chip will hinge a lot on the class of goods we manufacture and how they are served out to the market. Ugandan producers are consistently being encouraged to engage in processing in order to add value to their produce which comes with additional benefits such as creation of jobs and prolongation of the shelf life of the goods. Let us minimise losses and rejection on the market so as not to disappoint the campaign for broader markets.
The traditional mindset that goods produced abroad are better than those produced locally needs to be cured proactively and appropriate branding. The days of exclusive reliance on imported goods are to blame for such (unpatriotic) thinking but that must change now. There is virtually nothing that cannot be produced here if the demand is there; most of the natural resources needed to manufacture anything are available here.
Who said Uganda cannot be used as a springboard for business to the continent? Are our CEOs unable to wake up to the opportunities around us? With closer Government-Private sector interaction, it will be possible to create a powerful lobby that can mobilise a big and sustainable market for local products in the region and drive social-economic transformation that can give our a region a chance to catch up with compete and even overtake the pioneer industrial nations.
Can the existing structure of the Ugandan system support rapid development of the people economically? This is no longer a question of “if” but “when” and the “when” is now. Every Ugandan can find his or her place in the economic equation. Everyone is called to be a producer of something; work, innovate, save, invest, sell! Uganda is a very affordable place to live and prosper. All one has to do is look around them and spot what the people near need to live better and find a way of answering to their needs. That’s how the seed of enterprise is sowed at the very basic level. With a natural environment that makes things sprout almost anywhere, it only takes a will to be rich to become just that. Aside from opportunities abounding in the “backbone” sector of agricultural, Uganda is a participant in the modern sectors of ICT, hospitality, tourism and general service sector. Every Ugandan can become a CEO!
The author is the Minister for the Presidency