Uganda’s professional shabbiness at the Dubai Expo 2020

Uganda is participating in the Expo 2020 Dubai currently taking place in the United Arab Emirates. This obviously is such a good opportunity to showcase what we have to offer as a country. However, there are some undercurrents that we cannot continue ignoring. They are largely to do with the way our government officials have organised our participation.

I for the first time heard about Livara Natural Organics, a company that identifies itself as Uganda’s leading natural and organic cosmetics manufacturer. Their hair and skin products are made using pure raw Nilotica shea butter from North East Uganda. They were invited to participate in the Expo by the Uganda Industrial Research Institute. It is unlikely she (I assume it is a lady) was facilitated by the Government but never the less, the proprietor went out of their way to ensure participation. The challenges she faced and has narrated in a missive shared on WhatsApp swung me down memory lane.

She states, “On invitation, I expected to have a brief sent to me about what to expect at the expo, the set – up requirements in the minimum, the recommended hotels, the transport options, the requirements for travel, etc……Nothing was shared even after several requests for information.” I must admit this is a typical fingerprint of how a good number of Government officials behave when it comes to such events. I am not surprised. It seems during this time they are preoccupied with being part of the team that is selected to fly out of the country and earn per-diem. They focus on the excitement of earning money as opposed to fronting the nation’s entrepreneurs for global opportunities as well as making the nation attractive to foreigners.

She further says, “That aside, I got to our Ugandan Pavilion and I had no space allocation to exhibit yet I had submitted a list of items that I intended to exhibit. Need I point out that I was the only local manufacturer with catalogues and magazines full of information about us and Uganda’s Shea butter greatness? I had to fight for the little box that I was given and then requested to have my other goods shipped back home.” After jumping all the hoops and making it to Dubai, she gets stranded having no display space, yet she had been invited by the Uganda Industrial Research Institute to participate. This leaves me with no choice but to use an alternative synonym for daft to define some of these officials as foolhardy. Not only is she armed with impeccable marketing material but she is vividly too ready to market Uganda then all they give her is some minuscule space and request she ships back her consignment, Huh!!!

The killer was this, “Come Uganda day, the few exhibitors were clearly told not to set foot in the pavilion. Apparently the Ministers would do the talking for us.” How thick headed can you be? To expect a minister to market cosmetics on behalf of the entrepreneur? Where do our civil servants sometimes leave their brains? This is such a brainless move. I am certain that none of the ministers has ever engaged in any sensible business that involves starting from basics. All they know is to be co-opted as business partners by investors that want an easy way into the local economy. In my view, it is the highest form of balderdash.

The Livara experience took me down memory lane 15 years ago when I was involved in a similar exhibition on the technological front in Switzerland. I fought tooth and nail to get there without any helping hand from the relevant ministry. I get there, participate in the exhibition, then I get spotted by a ministry official at my stall. He immediately begun running around like a headless chicken setting up a program for the then minister to come visit my stall. Later, I saw a convoy of well suited busy bodies claiming to be on state duty approaching my stall and shortly afterwards the minister appeared. At this point, the Yada Yada begun of how the Government is committed to work with entrepreneurs. Out of respect I feigned interest in his talk but couldn’t wait to see him depart.

One thing I have learnt over time is that most of these officials travel to suit selfish personal desires. Their zeal rotates around earning per-diem and shopping for their families and strings of concubines. Ask them for tangible outputs from their journeys and they will look at you with emptiness.

Unless something is done to change the organisational DNA of Government Departments we are bound to witness more of these lackadaisical traits from people that simply seek glory in job titles. All this while the entrepreneurs are going through alot of shit to get things done.

To the proprietor of Livara, my concluding advice to you is that hustle without expecting any push from the Government. However, if you’re lucky and it comes, embrace it. One time while at an exhibition in Munyonyo, the president stopped at the stall of my wife’s business, he was impressed and instructed his then PA, Amelia Kyambadde to follow up with her, what happened next further made me get disenfranchised with the greedy guts or better known as mafias that are entrenched in the civil service.

All this aside, I thank those civil servants that do their work well. I know you are the unsung heroes of this country.

James Wire

Business & Technology Consultant

Twitter – @wirejames

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2 responses to “Uganda’s professional shabbiness at the Dubai Expo 2020

  1. It will still run for more months ahead, a lot of work could be done?


  2. Haha!

    James I remember how we were snubbed in Entebbe by the busy officials are we tried to get you off to the Switzerland trip! However only to hear they were very happy to see you there.

    I once organized a delegation to Mobile World Congress, and once again while in Uganda not a single soul was willing to listen when I said there were actually SMEs headed to the same meeting where the Government officials were going, and yes they were very happy to meet in Barcelona!

    Lately, you may want to know that I sang the song of this Expo for almost 9 months hoping that it was going to be the biggest opportunity for Uganda when I finally gave up because time was not an ally anymore, I saw all the concerned citizens sing and jump! For me it was too late, I sat back and watched helplessly as things starting falling in place for those who could pull of quick wins.

    I am still hopeful that we shall eventually learn that to enter the export market and stay there is a long process of commitment, resilience, and persistent communication among others.


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