These rough times point to a new beginning

There is alot being said about the dwindling fortunes of the general public’s livelihoods. Many think it is a failure of the Government in Uganda but I beg to differ. The phenomena is global and seems unavoidable. Sri Lanka is officially broke, In Kenya they are protesting over food, in Libya they even burnt the parliament, I could go on and on.

One thing that is apparently clear to me is that there is something going on in the world that is changing the way we have been accustomed to doing things.

First was the COVID-19 avalanche that among others got us to explore alternative ways of working and doing business. Remote centred work was appreciated by individuals, agencies and governments that had stubbornly refused to believe in that approach.Even private businesses realised that they did not need to have all employees squeezing themselves through the office corridors on a daily.
It opened us up to the numerous alternative medication recipes that abound in our local and organic environment. We got to know the power of Ginger, Lemon, Garlic, Onions, eucalyptus leaves among many other things out there to the disgust of the medical fraternity.

We were hardly out of the COVID scare when Russia attacked Ukraine in an anticipated third word war after the Americans huffed and puffed only to contract like rain beaten chicken when Russia strolled into Ukraine leaving the Americans stuck on CNN and BBC propaganda.

However, currently there is a squeeze being felt in all countries worldwide affecting livelihoods. Fuel is expensive, various foods are either scarce, expensive or not available at all. This has made us cry until some ingenious people started thinking of alternatives.

In Uganda, we have for long chosen to patronise foreign food supplies without appreciating the fact that we have local alternatives. I am glad we are going through this depression. Imagine cassava which used to be a dirt cheap product, same with posho and others are now commanding premium prices, a good thing for our farmers. I have never sold rice at the farm gate for over 2,700/= per kilo in my life since I started growing rice in 1990 but this last season, I sold it at 3,400/= a kilo. Posho is hitting the 4000/= mark on the shelf among others.

Wheat is rare to come by, however, why we had never thought of using cassava still baffles me. There are lots of local products that we are capable of utilising without relying on imports. We just need to open up our eyes wider. Places like Dubai export to us furniture they have made when we who have trees cannot seem to make the same furniture.

We the citizens have been gravitating in a direction that is resource wasteful. You have a family of five with two cars that drive out each day. One to ferry the kids to school and back while the other ferries daddy. Is that fuel worthy spending daily?
Many of those living in urban areas have villages of origin with unutilised land and they buy maize, beans, groundnuts etc daily, preferring to part with their money in an inefficient manner as opposed to growing some of these foods. These are the very ones crying out due to the lack of affordable food.

With our neighboring countries lacking food to eat, it is such a great opportunity for our country to step up the production of various foods for export. We have a natural advantage in farming to the extent that despite our rag tag semi commercial small scale farming we have significant production going on.

There are other opportunities presenting themselves in other sectors of the economy. Instead of shouting ourselves hoarse over the misery we are facing, let us re-invent ourselves and slide into the new world that is slowly shedding of the skin of the old world. |Truth be told, things will never be the same again. We either adapt or be relegated to history. Do not expect the government to do much to save the situation. The technocrats and politicians are equally clueless on what to do and how to do it. Their non ending words are merely as fluffy as cotton wool. Think and establish how best you can make something meaningful out of our situation.

Cow Boy Never die.

James Wire
Business and Technology Consultant
Twitter – @wirejames

Who is Letting down Uganda?

One does not need to dig too deep before getting a very good sense of why this country is engaged in a development rat race. Let us look at just three things that can show you why.

In the early 80s we used to travel to distant locations from Kampala using the Train and public buses. One train ride from Kampala to Mbale would transport not less than 500 people and when Kayoola was introduced, the number must have increased to about 700 per ride.

Then came in the 1986 revolution that promised us heaven on earth. Before we knew it, the train services were dysfunctional apparently to pave way for private self seekers to set up bus services to transport people. To be honest, if the technocrats were foresighted, all we needed then was to improve on the rail system and we would be enjoying a much better public transport system today. The now elusive Standard Gauge Railway could probably have made it’s entry as far back as the year 2000. Why should one spend five hours (two hours between Kampala and Mukono) moving from Kampala to Mbale yet with a good rail system, that would be a mere 50 minutes?

The fuel crisis would be having a much less pinch on the layman because efficient public transport would be the way to go for most of us now.

We had numerous public schools at both primary and secondary level that were responsible for churning out good performing individuals. Schools like North Road Primary School in Mbale, Buganda Road / Nakasero / Kitante / Bat Valley Primary Schools in Kampala, Teso College, St. Joseph’s College Ombaci in West Nile, Tororo College, Kigezi College Butobere, Dr Obote College Boroboro, Bukedi College KachoŇča, Jinja College, Busoga College Mwiri among very many others. These schools were left to rot and one would not be wrong to believe that the move might have been intentional either at the technocrat or the political level or both. Had they continued receiving just the basic attention they used to get prior to 1986, they would be amazing today.

It is strongly believed that the selfish interests of some technocrats and/or politicians led this drive and today they run some of the most popular and expensive chains of private schools that seem to have the magic wand when it comes to making students pass with high grades.

When I heard the President complain about the high charges by schools, I was not very surprised because I think he seems to have lost touch with what is on the ground many years back. He talked like this problem started recently.

Your Excellency, you watched over successive teams of Government technocrats who systematically led us here either with your full or partial comprehension. What you cannot dodge is being part of the problem. You have always supported people who abuse resources for as long as they invest locally. These are some of the results. People who invest and want to get their returns within 5 years hence charging an arm and a leg as you look elsewhere.

One of the reasons I like President Kagame is that despite his shortcomings, he is a man that is decisive when it comes to getting things done. He reached Rwanda and realised that private schools were invogue, something which was skewing access to education. He went ahead to implement a few measures aimed at making Public Schools better. Today, Rwanda’s private schools are closing steadily while public schools are much more serious. Did he need Billions of dollars like they tend to insinuate here in Uganda? I doubt. It’s all about smart planning and ruthless execution.

Let us move to the food sector. Uganda is a country whose soils (all of them including Karamoja and Nakasongola) are good for the existence of different types of crops. When I see how the milk industry turned around from 1993 when the government took a conscious effort to address the milk value chain hence making us one of if not the biggest milk producer south of the Sahara 30 years later and attracting million dollar investments in processing facilities, I ask the powers that be;

Can’t you replicate the milk story in other food sectors like Rice, Coffee, Simsim, Sunflower, Maize, Fruits among others?

Is it intentional that these other products are ignored?

By simply addressing the value chain demands of some of the listed crops, the argument of Uganda being in Middle Income Status would be history.

I have always had this feeling that most people running economies in developing countries like Uganda are of suspect ability. They Present themselves with all these degrees and academic accomplishments usually gotten from countries that we have been led to admire like the USA, UK among others.

When you try to actually establish what they do for our countries, it is not rocket science. They are largely reactive and not proactive. They always wait for things to get sour then come up with all sorts of text book explanations on inflation, GDP, productivity, mindset change and many other silly terms aimed at confusing the minds of the lay man.

I challenge those of you in the various offices claiming to plan for this country to stop what the president calls Kukolera Kida (working for the stomach) and create a difference by planning for future generations beyond your immediate family.

What is wrong, Uganda? Is it the Politicians? Technocrats? Or Both?

James Wire
Business & Technology Consultant
Twitter: @wirejames