Tag Archives: Uganda

Sudhir’s robbery must have been in connivance with Bank of Uganda Officials

As far back as 2010, word was rife on the grapevine about the unscrupulous nature of the operations at the then high flying Crane bank. Stories abound of the existence of a duplicate set of accounts, the use of unsuspecting individuals’ accounts to launder money, intimidation of key employees that opted to leave the bank etc.

So, while Mr. Sudhir Ruparelia was being glorified by the media for his feat as a billionnaire, I remained part of those who kept insisting that the end doesn’t justify the means. Money on its own isn’t worth its salt if it has a trail of tears in its wake.

The year must have been 2001 when a friend of mine set out to open up one of the first ever internet cafes in Kampala (and by extension, Uganda). He opted to take a bank loan and as security, submitted his father’s land title in the form of a prime residential property on Luzira hill overlooking the lake. To this day, I do not understand why he ended up at Crane Bank but those I have shared the story with tell me the bank was very easy when it came to lending money. Approvals for loans weren’t as laborious as other banks and not much due diligence was needed since it’s believed their interest was eventually in attaching whatever security that had been deposited.

This friend of mine, I’ll call him Akat, got a loan of UGX 15 Million Shillings and went ahead to set up the business. As fate would have it, internet use was not yet massive and only a few elites patronised it. The loan he got unfortunately attracted interest weekly on a compound rate basis. This is how it works out, imagine a Loan principal amount of UGX 15 Million attracting a 3% compounded interest rate weekly. It implies that by the end of the first week, the loan will have grown to;

UGX 15 Million (Principal Loan Amount) + UGX 450,000/= (Weekly interest of 3%)

= UGX 15,450,000/=

Come Week 2 and the total loan sum with interest for the first week becomes the new Principal sum i.e

UGX 15,450,000 (New Principal Loan Amount) + UGX 463,500/= (Weekly interest of 3%)

= UGX 15,913,500/=

You notice that within two weeks, your loan will have grown by nearly a million shillings. By the time two months are past, the original loan amount is likely to have doubled.

Akat struggled for a couple of months trying to keep up with the repayments until he realised that the business was not in position to service this loan. He tried selling off the business but the money offered wasn’t enough to pay off the now humongous loan sum. This led him to seek for work abroad and by a stroke of luck, an opportunity opened up in Europe.

In his own words, Akat told me, “The Crane Bank loans are designed to fail you. Imagine, I toiled in Europe, earning Euros 350 per day and it took me 6 months to pay up the loan. I just thank God that I retrieved my Father’s land title.

News of Crane Bank going under therefore never came as a surprise to many. We expected it. Our only concern was when. I recall talk doing rounds at one time of how the bank’s systems run amok and account holders found millions on their bank accounts that they were never aware about. Massive withdrawals were made by the crafty ones and no prosecution ever occurred. If indeed this was true, how did it go unnoticed to the Central Bank?

Section 4 (2)(j) of The Banking Act of 2000 states, “… the bank shall – supervise, regulate, control and discipline all financial institutions and pension funds institutions;”

It therefore leaves many of us wondering how a bank that was regularly getting Banker of the Year Awards could be so rotten at the core of its operations without the awareness of the Central Bank. The kind of fraud that has been unearthed so far could NOT have been carried out solely by Sudhir Ruparelia and a few cronies. No Way!!! We all know how information tends to leak from within institutions to the outside especially within industry circles. I doubt Crane Bank employees privy to some of the fishy dealings all kept mum. They definitely shared this information and that is how some of us were able to have red flags raised on this bank as far back as ten years ago. Like a puffed up balloon soaring up into the sky, we knew that all it would take was a spiky object to deflate it and bring an end to its flight.

I am no financial expert but there are some basics that can never skip my interrogative mindset. These are some of those;

  • How could a credit facility of over 3.5 Million dollars to Infinity Investments Ltd (Sudhir’s company) be written off without attracting any attention to the case? Is it that common for companies to default on loans in millions of dollars in Uganda only to be written off? In most cases the banks usually go after these businesses. That is a flag right there.

  • How could the transfer of titles for the plots where the bank branches were located to Meera Investments (Sudhir’s company) go unnoticed in an annual review of the Bank’s operations? Another Flag.

  • How can a phony purchase for banking software of US$ 10 Million not be given a nod of approval by Bank of Uganda?

  • How could Sudhir’s amateur attempt at concealing his 100% ownership of Crane bank go unnoticed all these years? Matters are worsened when Bank of Uganda labels these efforts as sophisticated. In an interview published on 2nd April 2012, when asked whether he had business partners, to which Sudhir responded, “I don’t like to engage in partnerships. I only have one business in which I am a partner with Godfrey Kirumira ….” Couldn’t such an utterance have raised a red flag?

I’m sure there is a lot more to this web of intricate theft than what has surfaced already into the public domain. It’s a shame that BoU kept a blind eye to all the rumors that have been surrounding Crane Bank all these years. This is another strong reason for us naysayers to advance as proof of collusion.

The times I have had bank transactions of substantial sums of money, I’ve always received calls from the bank with requests to furnish proof of why the transaction is being carried out. When I did ask why this was always the case, a bank official told me that transaction amounts over a certain limit need to be reported to the Central Bank and sometimes State House. There is therefore NO way Sudhir would have engaged in such financial fraud without some key people at BoU being in the know.

It is upon this premise that I believe heads have to roll at the Central Bank. The first action I would advise the Governor of BoU to do is resign from his position. This is not because he is guilty of having carried out the act, but a sign of remorse to show the public that stuff went wrong under his watch and he is taking responsibility since the buck starts and stops with him. We call this vicarious liability.

His action should be followed by the line managers stepping aside to pave way for an internal investigation to take place. It’s a matter of ethics here. No form of whitewashing can redeem their professional integrity at this stage, just like no amount of lipstick can turn a pig into a beauty queen.

All said and done, the people my heart goes out to are those that have been fooled for long into believing that crooked business personalities are the epitome of success. The thousands of youths and upcoming entrepreneurs that have attended Pakasa Forums whose panels are lined with star studded so-called business success stories that are as shallow as temporary graves will now be forced to rethink whatever knowledge they attained.

The biggest learning point from this saga and many more to come is that achievements without integrity are as useless as rains without good soils.

It’s time to rethink our basic morals, values and aspirations. Why would you build a multi-million dollar residence yet fail to remit Social Security contributions for the thousands of employees under your payroll? At this rate, Joseph Kony might appear a saint.

By the way, let us not always wait for people to fall out of political favour before doing the right thing. There are many more ‘Crane Banks’ in Uganda today that we need to get rid of.

For God and My Country !!!!

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

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MTN’s “Unlimited” Limited Internet

I’ve been on the wrong side of various service providers as a result of my open expression of experiences while consuming services. It therefore came as a surprise when MTN Uganda called me up and requested that I try out the MTN Unlimited Internet Premium service.

Unlimited is a term that essentially means unrestricted, unconfined, boundless or infinite. So, in the real sense of the word, this service is not really unlimited. The package offers you internet access of upto 3 Gb on a daily basis. So, there is actually a limit only that it’s quite high for the average Joe to fully consume.

Being one with a mobile office, I rely a lot on mobile internet services to render my services. I must admit that I was one of those who were skeptical about this MTN offer until I tried it out.

In my days as a kid, I always demanded stuff like sweets from dad and mom whenever the opportunity presented itself. Today, my children demand data !!!! It is so serious that even when I claim not to have data, they mobilise resources among themselves and load a data package to see them through for a day or so. The kind of game apps they access can strain the regular data packages. This is another reason why I gladly wanted to test this service. How easy is it to deplete the 3Gb allotted daily?

I gave my family the challenge to deplete the daily allotted data and this meant unrestricted use of the internet. Where I used to limit them watching videos and TV shows online, this time round, they had a blank slate. They could hardly believe their ears. We all tried and worked towards this feat without success.

My initial observations show that it’s an always on service with much less downtime than my traditional data provider.

Consuming 3Gb of data is no mean feat especially if you’re not the type to always be at the computer. I tried watching all sorts of videos, encouraged my children to play online games, watch online study lessons, chose to upgrade software but alas, still failed.

This data service works well for urban connectivity, however, in rural settings, there are still challenges. I’m writing this article on a sojourn in Butaleja district and have had to do without internet while in my gardens and at home. Most urban dwellers can do with just about any service provider since their services are usually decent in such locations. It takes one a journey to rural locales to establish whether your data service is worth its salt. MTN Uganda has to find ways of improving 3G coverage nationwide.

There has always been this talk of lost data and I blogged about it before. It’s still a big problem apparently. I can authoritatively state that six (6) out of ten people I have interacted with have complaints about unexplained data loss. As a matter of fact, I personally transitioned from buying monthly data bundles to daily ones simply because of the ease of monitoring my data consumption. Imagine loading 1Gb of data for a month and by the third day it’s finished.

If you’re a power user and want to save yourself the data loss gymnastics, then I strongly believe opting for this “Unlimited” MTN Service is ideal. The cost of UGX 330,000/= monthly for the Premium option however leaves me wondering whether it is pocket friendly enough. However, there is the Basic option that goes for UGX 179,000/=. Maybe, I will consider subscribing for the latter.

Overall, my experience tells me, the MTN “Unlimited” Internet is worth having for the internet savvy.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

Hon Tumwebaze, Uganda should venture into Outer Space

I am one of the numerous Ugandans who expect little in terms of cutting edge knowledge and proactive initiatives from our distinguished Ministers. A good number of them are viewed as partaking of political rewards as dispensed by the Fountain of Honour.

After being entertained by pedestrian reasoning from the likes of Hon. Anite Evelyn one would be hard pressed to expect anything better from the current lot of ministers. However, I was taken back when I came across a statement that Hon Frank Tumwebaze made in the Parliament of Uganda in response to a query by Hon. Cuthbert Abigaba. I must admit that I’ve had to eat my words and change my attitude abit. I now believe there are some ministers and Members of Parliament worth their salt in Uganda.

The Minister had been tasked to share plans that the Government of Uganda has to tap into the vast opportunity provided by the Upper Air Space. In his response, he made an effort to point out a number of issues that got me and my fellow amateur astronomers excited. While it definitely fell short of many things, we agreed on one thing, it’s a good start and commendable line of thinking.

The use of the term Upper Air Space would literally restrict the kind of information the minister shared, if we are to go by some of the definitions out there. However, I would like to believe that what Hon. Abigaba wanted to know about was basically our plans as a country to tap into the opportunities offered by Outer Space.

The Minister’s full statement is available here in which he points out a number of issues that are being considered both as a nation and Africa as a whole.

According to Wikipedia, Outer space is defined as the near vacuum that exists between celestial bodies. Celestial bodies are natural bodies located outside of the earth’s atmosphere like the Sun, Moon, Jupiter, Mars, the numerous stars and planets that litter the sky etc. Scientists refer to the point of separation between the Earth’s atmosphere and Outer Space as the Karman Line. This is located 100km from the earth’s surface.

Karman-Line

Depiction of the Karman line. Image courtesy of Derekscope

Countries like the USA, Russia, China and India are already trailblazing in the space exploration arena and some people have been left asking why we mind so much about investing money in space exploration when hunger and poverty are still rife in our countries.

Uganda has largely been passive in this endeavour and this can be attributed to the overwhelming need to address survival basics for our citizens as well as a general lack of guidance in this regard. A discussion on outer space should not be restricted to satellites and communication technologies. We need to be looking beyond that. Like the explorers of yester-years who traversed the world by ship searching for distant lands and peoples, the opportunities outer space offers us today are;

  • Better monitoring and management of planet earth. We can be in position to track a lot of aspects about this planet including among others weather. This monitoring will definitely help us better manage the resources at our disposal as well as right the wrongs that have been done over the years.

  • Explore alternative planets/locations for settlement. Have you ever imagined that one day man shall be an interplanetary specie? Just like you have Ugandans living in Uganda and others in the U.K, we cannot rule out a time when we shall have humans living on Mars or dwelling in floating cities in space. Earth as we know it might eventually become hostile hence the need for us to establish alternative locations of abode in the universe where we can set up ourselves afresh in the event of a catastrophe on mother earth. You might for example not be aware that 50Km above the surface of the planet Venus, one finds an atmosphere that is very earth like. This could be one good candidate for a space colony through the use of floating cities.

  • The Solar System that we are a part of is just one of the millions of solar systems in the Milky way Galaxy. The Milky way Galaxy is just one of billions of Galaxies in the universe. Have you ever considered the possibility of other intelligent life forms existing elsewhere in the Universe? Sincerely, do you really believe that God only placed man in this universe? We may have been the only ones he made in His own image but we cannot rule out many other human like beings He created that are not necessarily in his image.

If we are to remain relevant to the future, as a nation we need to stand up and be counted. We have to join the Space agenda as fast as possible. Uganda has entry points that can be utilised to get into this arena if only we took time to educate ourselves more on this subject matter.

Located at the Equator with a big water body in the form of L. Victoria, Uganda is an ideal location for a Spaceport (used to launch rockets to space).

The earth is always continuously spinning on its axis. This spin can act as a boost when launching rockets into space. The experience is similar to someone giving you a push before you dive into the swimming pool. The strength of the push determines how fast you get into the pool. Due to the oval nature or the earth, in the 24 hours it takes for it to spin on its axis, a spot nearer to the North or South Poles moves a shorter distance than one at the equator.

earth_rotation

Earth’s rotation.

An object at the equator in Uganda already has a rotation speed of 1670 Km/h as opposed to one in Norway at about 800Km/h. Since the surface of the earth is travelling faster at the equator, a launch in the same area implies that the rocket takes off at a faster speed and reaches orbit much quicker. This has a lot of implications towards minimising the cost of launches.

The presence of Lake Victoria as a water body is ideal. These water bodies are favoured near launch sites because they tend to offer a good backup of water supply in the event that a fire erupted at the spaceport. Remember rocket launches are basically controlled explosions. Something could go wrong at the launch pad. SpaceX had a pre-launch explosion in September 2016. John Young (American Astronaut) once said, “Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world, knowing they’re going to light the bottom, and doesn’t get a little worried, does not fully understand the situation.”

Uganda being on the Eastern side of the African continent is also another compelling factor. Most space launches (at least for geostationary orbit satellites) tend to take on the easterly direction during launch. With the Indian Ocean not too far, the stages that eject during flight can drop into the ocean.

Today, our Mpoma Satellite Earth Station is largely idle. It could easily be revived and used to track satellites most of which are largely cycling around the equator.

On the Human Resource front, as a country, Uganda has been acknowledged for having a large youthful population. This coupled by the high numbers of technology graduates being churned out of school is another mouth watering opportunity that awaits exploitation. These brains can be put to use in an elaborate space programme.

ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organisation has not engaged in any major inventions but simply utilised already available knowledge in the public domain to make leaps in the Space arena. They have sent probes as far as Mars at a fraction of the cost of NASA to study more about celestial bodies. This is encouraging news and implies that Uganda can easily follow suit.

For starters, Uganda’s Space Agency can count on the massive backlog of satellite launches to make money that would then fund other activities in this regard. A thorough strategic plan is required prior to taking this leap of faith.

Once again, Hon. Tumwebaze, I thank you for the insight you and your team has shown. I believe there are Ugandans out there ready to work with you to turn this Outer Space fantasy into a reality and appease visionary MPs like Hon. Cuthbert Abigaba. Please join the Uganda Astronomers’ WhatsApp group or the Facebook Page for starters so we can engage from both a civil and technical perspective.

“The probability of success is difficult to estimate; but if we never search, the chance of success is zero,” Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison’s paper ‘Searching for Interstellar Communications’ that was published in September 1959

Let us start NOW!!!

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

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Why Nakumatt struggles as Capital Shoppers and others thrive

While browsing the Twittersphere, I came across a thread in which the issue of Nakumatt Supermarket’s limping performance in Uganda was being discussed viz a viz local Ugandan Supermarkets.

Ms. Nancy Kacungira loudly wondered what the likes of Capital Shoppers are doing right to stay in business to which the renowned economic affairs analyst Dr. Ramathan Ggoobi duly responded by stating, “Alot. Location, good supply chain management (high fill rate), and damn, I’ll say it …. loyal ‘sectarian’ clientele.”gobbi_tweet

The last part of his submission is what I didn’t find worthwhile. So, as a supplier of supermarkets, I went ahead to respond as follows, “They pay us well and promptly. Including Quality (Supermarket). I find the assertion of “sectarian clientele” as lame reasoning by @rggoobi.”wire_response

Its eight years since I started supplying supermarkets with products and this has given me some time to appreciate the business. A supermarket is no different from a warehouse where suppliers bring their products for onward sale to customers. The only difference is that Supermarkets have to invest in a few things that make the shopping experience of a customer conducive. Their key issues of concern are usually branding, location, management systems, market identification and interior décor.

The success of a supermarket is hinged on three core factors as indicated in the illustration below.Supermarket_Success

When Uchumi joined the Ugandan supermarket space over ten years ago, they heralded a new era that saw them take supermarket branding to a new level all together. The supermarket enjoyed market leadership overnight, largely a result of the corporate buzz created whenever anything new is launched as well as the significant presence of Kenyan professionals in Kampala. Nakumatt followed suit years later and it too caught the attention of the Ugandan market by launching 24 hour shopping services. Within a short while, it had grown and surpassed Uchumi as well as other leading local supermarkets like Quality and Capital Shoppers.

During all this time, the local supermarkets must have been learning serious lessons from these foreign entrants. Nakumatt, Uchumi and Tuskys, all Kenyan supermarkets by origin had the money, systems, branding and rode on the wave of a significant presence of Kenyans in Uganda to kickstart their business. They also won over many Ugandan shoppers and a simple way to tell that is by studying various suppliers’ delivery schedules that largely rotated around these supermarkets.

So, the factors Dr. Ramathan Ggoobi attributed the success of Capital Shoppers to like Location were definitely considered by the likes of Nakumatt. Take a look at Nakumatt’s branches at Oasis Mall, Bukoto, Entebbe, Mbarara, Bugolobi (although they goofed up by placing another branch at Village Mall in the same vicinity). Consider Uchumi’s branches that existed at Garden City, Nateete, Freedom City, Kabalagala and Gulu. They were well thought out and always outcompeted neighbouring supermarkets. But somehow, they went bust. Uchumi is now spoken of in the past tense having fled with Billions of Shillings owed to local suppliers. Nakumatt is in intensive care unit, trying so hard to stay alive and relevant. How did they get to this?

I will rule out the economy because the same economy is where you find other thriving supermarkets like Capital Shoppers, Quality Supermarket, Mega Standard, Ssombe Supermarket, City Shoppers Supermarket, Senana, Cynibell among others. The customers are still existent considering that they are the very ones patronising the currently well performing supermarkets.

In my view and as a supplier, the one aspect of the business that these supermarkets did ignore and are now paying heavily for is the Supply Side (read as Stock in the diagram shared earlier). This is in tandem with Dr. Ggoobi’s point on good supply chain management.

A supermarket’s shelves are what they are because of the goods that suppliers diligently avail for sale. Without these goods being supplied, they remain empty and useless to any consumer. Most supermarket suppliers never get credit from their raw material suppliers prior to producing products for the supermarket. However, when it comes to supplying the supermarket, they are required to do so on credit. The credit terms range from a few weeks to two months. Consider that often times, the supermarket pushes the supplier to offer significant discounts which are hardly passed on to consumers. In essence, the supermarket receives an interest free loan since after sale, they can still re-use the supplier’s money on other activities of their choice.

Suppliers are usually resilient and able to patiently wait until the due dates promised for payment. Sometimes, the due date is not honored by some supermarkets and suppliers have to make multiple attempts and trips to get paid. This is where the likes of Uchumi, Nakumatt and Tuskys went wrong. They knew that being “large” and “credible” players in the market, the suppliers were at their mercy. Wrong!!! This perception might have been true for a while but as word spread through the networks of suppliers about their financial dishonesty, one by one, we begun pulling out of making supplies. Eventually, the shelves begun starving of our products and customers started noticing. This proved one thing, suppliers are as important as the consumers.

Another aspect is the shoppers’ psychology. The reason a good number of urban dwelling Ugandans abandoned the small shops in preference for Supermarkets was the ability to find everything they needed in one place and at a competitive price. This expectation can only be met when the supply chain is very fluid. So, by letting down their suppliers, these supermarkets once again exposed themselves and could hardly meet this expectation. End result? Customers begun gravitating towards alternative supermarkets that fulfilled this need. Take the case of a battered Uchumi, in its last days at Garden City mall, Capital Shoppers opened up a branch right below Uchumi’s premises and within no time, it was attracting a much bigger crowd. A relative of mine once intimated to me that he was fed up of going to that Uchumi branch due to the lack of a wide range of goods for sale. He felt so relieved when Capital Shoppers opened up. This too further cements the supply chain factor.

Now, back to the insinuation by Dr. Ggoobi that Capital Shoppers is thriving because of a “loyal ‘secterian’ clientele.If indeed this is worth noting as a reason, does it also imply that Nakumatt’s failures are attributed to the sudden absence or exit of a loyal sectarian (Kenyan) clientele? It is an open secret that Kenyans loved patronising Uchumi, Nakumatt and Tuskys. These very Kenyans are still around and their numbers have probably grown. Why is it that these three supermarkets have either closed or are limping in this market?

I do shop a lot at Capital Shoppers and Quality Supermarket but have not seen any sectarian tendencies in their clientele. I would be hard pressed to point out that the majority of shoppers “appear” to come from one region of the country.

Lets face it, the Kenyan supermarkets came in with a lot of SWAG and knew they would steamroll the local market in a bullish manner. While they appeared to be scoring early successes in this regard, their local counterparts used that time to re-invent themselves and learn a few things from the competition. The founders of Capital Shoppers and Quality Supermarket are very hardworking modest living Ugandans who started off in very humble ways. Their continued success even during this trying time of the economy can be largely attributed to the respect they accord their suppliers as well as being able to continuously learn and unlearn.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

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Stolen National ID Data ~ Questioning The New Vision’s Agenda

The headline on the front page of the Sunday Vision screamed, PANIC AS NATIONAL ID DATA IS STOLEN. I dropped all I was doing to quickly get myself a copy of the news paper. Being one of those people that have continuously cautioned our government over its handling of electronic data, I was only too eager to see what had been done wrong this time round.

vision_headline

The screaming Sunday Vision Headline

The title of the article gives one the impression that the folks at the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) were caught napping on duty.

In the article, a one Norbert Kamwebaze was allegedly paid twice for work he did for Roko Construction with the second payment being dished out to an imposter who presented an ID card to Roko that had all his details save for a difference in the face.

The article starts off with a clear indication of the agenda the authors had; “Panic has gripped members of the public after it emerged that confidential data that Ugandans submitted to NIRA could have landed in wrong hands….” Using a very basic example, we have had forgery of permits for a long time in this country where someone lifts all the information of a legitimate permit and only changes the face to reflect his. Why has there never been any doubt cast on Face Technologies over our data? I was irked by the quick conclusion being insinuated in the article yet the details of the story indicate that suspicion should first be cast elsewhere.

Let us look at the issues raised so far and what they mean;

  • Mr. Kamwebaze was contracted by Roko construction to do a job for UGX 51 Million Shillings

  • Upon completion of the job, he was paid in full but not before producing proof of his identity by presenting a National ID which was duly photocopied.

  • Mr. Kamwebaze proceeded to bank the cheque on his account in Barclays bank and it was cleared.

  • A few days later, another person bearing a similar ID appeared at Roko for payment and was issued a cheque for payment.

This is where the story gets an interesting twist. Roko as a company has decent accounting systems in place with well set processes and procedures. I have done work for them before and know that the point persons one deals with when it comes to finances are limited and they usually know even off head who has been paid. The issuance of cheques follows some fairly lengthy procedures and this makes me wonder how a second cheque could have been issued without internal connivance. Is it possible that by coincidence all those who handled the first payment issued were never available when the impostor turned up?

  • The double payment was discovered by the Roko top management.

This is already a pointer that the lower level staff have some serious questions to answer.

  • The impostor opened up an account with the same bank, Barclays using the same bio data as Mr. Kamwesigye, went ahead to ensure the account had the same bank balance as that of the legitimate Kamwesigye and two days later, deposited the cheque of 51 Million. Upon maturity, he withdrew all the money.

This raises some interesting questions. They are:

  1. Could it be that the banking software used by Barclays has no ability to detect duplicates? How could two accounts with similar bio data exist yet having different photographs? Shouldn’t a flag have been raised internally at least first with the Systems Security team?

  2. How did the impostor get to know the details on the legitimate Kamwesigye’s account including bank balance? Was he working with an insider in Barclays? Could there have been collusion between Mr Kamwesigye and this alleged impostor?

Back to the National ID, no where in the article does it indicate the trail to NIRA. There is a presumption that the NIRA database could have been hacked to get this information but this does not appear to hold much water considering that there are still many other ways one would have accessed this ID information. Based on my assessment, these are the first areas of suspicion before casting NIRA in bad light:

  • The impostor could have worked with staff at Roko who availed him the ID information since they already had a photocopy and considering that he picked his money after the real claimant had already got his.

  • The real Mr. Kamwebaze could have connived with the impostor and come up with the new ID that the impostor used.

  • The impostor could have tracked Mr. Kamwebaze and been able to get access to his National ID without his knowledge. Thereafter, he hatched out his plan.

At this point, unless further information is availed showing complicity by NIRA, I am inclined to believe that this was more of social engineering than hacking into the National ID Database.

It is on this note that I would like to register my disappointment with the New Vision for falling prey to the sensationalist headline approach typical of the reckless Ugandan tabloids.

One positive though the article brings out is the need for our public institutions to guard against data pilferage. Remember, the weakest link in any IT systems is the human being. Employ professionals who know what they are doing and are willing to stand by a pre-set code of ethics. We shall minimise the likely occurrence of such.

Eid Mubarak to my Muslim brothers and sisters.

James Wire is a Technology and Small Business Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

Hon. Anite, you’re a Minister. Get out of your Slumber

Abraham Lincoln once said, “it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

I could hardly believe my ears and eyes when I read and heard allegations that the State Minister for Investment and Privatisation, a one Hon. Evelyn Anite had blurted out statements in line with the fact that all Ugandans shall be required to have a simcard of the rabied Uganda Telecom.

Before I start on Uganda Telecom, I would like to register my disappointment in the level of intellectual ability depicted by some of the ministers in our government. I now realise why a minimum education requirement was put in place for anyone who wants to be a member of the Parliament. However, today, I propose that the education requirements for Ministers be elevated even much higher than a Senior 6 certificate.

This is not the first time I have been uneasy about the kind of chit chat this Hon. Anite turns into public speeches. Matters are even made worse when one learns that she holds a sensitive docket whose aim is to promote investment in this country.

Why should Ugandans be forced or required to have UTL Sim Cards? In her wisdom, she calls upon our nationalism as a way of reviving the ailing entity. Now here are some questions for her in this regard:

  • Where was Nationalism when the top four managers were earning a combined salary of US$ 95,500 (UGX 343 Million) monthly?

  • Where was Nationalism when a one Emmanuel Kasule was paid UGX 50 Million before he even begun working for UTL?

  • Where was Nationalism when the Uganda Police and lots of other Government agencies raked up unpaid bills in billions?

  • Where was Nationalism when a decision was hurriedly made to sell shares to UCOM without following due process?

  • Where was nationalism when the share holding structure was further altered to favour UCOM by reducing on that of the government?

  • Where was nationalism when UCOM continued having lee way over management issues in the business despite the expiry of an earlier agreement?

  • Where was Nationalism when Lap Green acquired the UCOM shareholding under unclear circumstances?

Hon Anite, your simplistic trend of thought is inexcusable for someone who has had a parliamentary stint. You have since enjoyed the perks of not only being a parliamentarian but also a ruling party member only for this to be later followed up with a ministerial position. Most of what you seem to share in this docket is either extracts from peers you relate with or smatterings of information that you collide with.

Hon Anite, if you want to appeal to our sense of nationalism, you need to present a package not these one off requests. We need to see you in government as being practising nationalists before we can kowtow.

As a UTL sim card holder, I have a lot of frustrations that I can share which will just show you that the entity, while being in the 21st century is actually being run with a 20th century mindset. During Sim Card registration, as Africell, Airtel and MTN were using electronic methods to register us, I walked to the UTL outlet at Game and the first thing they asked me was to go photocopy my National ID, write my number on the same paper and then wait till the photocopy is taken to the head quarters. I refused and as a result abandoned my line. I cant allow to be associated with such incompetence under the guise of nationalism.

It is now over two months since the Hon Nandala Mafabi probe into UTL, a lot of wrongs were unearthed but to-date, no action has been taken against the culprits. So much for nationalism.

While I may want UTL to continue existing for sentimental and nationalistic reasons, your very government’s inaction towards wanting to see it succeed has made me and many others give up on that side of things. Truth be told, we now don’t care afterall we are having some decent services from the other players. I do enjoy my data with Africell, Voice with MTN and occasionally Airtel’s Pakalast.

By the way, even if you legislated that we own UTL simcards, will you force us to use them? Does UTL have the capacity to support over 20 million users in its current derelict state?

Like a glutton who after puking calls upon others to clean his vomit, we are being rallied to support a cause for a mess others deliberately created.

#Temutukooya (Don’t make us tired)

As it is, the hussle in our economy is so real that the last thing on our mind should be dealing with such dreams that are devoid of a serious thought process.

For God and My Country

Wire James

Twitter: @wirejames

SMACK, Namilyango, Gayaza, Lubaale Mubbe

There is a Luganda saying that goes like, “Bakuuma mbugo, Lubaale mubbe.” Its nearest English equivalent is, “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.”

This saying is purported to have been coined during the time of Kabaka Jjunju (1780 – 1797). Baganda families had gods they worshipped to suit different needs in their lives. Each family had a select member who was in charge of keeping these gods. It was a prestigious role that many envied. These gods apparently were “kept” wrapped up in bark cloth (mbugo). Due to one reason or another, these gods could be stolen or misused by a member of the family or someone else who had the ability to “steal” them. So, while the guardian of the gods thought that he had them in safe custody on behalf of the family, the opposite would be the case. The gods were already stolen and he was just keeping bark cloth. Hence the saying which is loosely translated as, “They are keeping bark cloth, the gods were stolen.

A while back, I wrote an article warning the traditional giant schools in the form of Namilyango, SMACK, Buddo, Gayaza etal that they were digging their own graves. Alot of criticism was directed at me including allegations that I was a hater among other flimsy pedestrian conclusions. Today, I came across the list of admissions for the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at Makerere University, government sponsored and it read as follows:

No.

School

Number of Students

1

St. Mary’s Kitende

13

2

Uganda Martyrs Namugongo

12

3

Bishop Kihangire

5

4

Kiira College

4

5

St. Mary’s Namagunga

4

6

Kings College Buddo

4

7

Seeta High Main

3

8

Naalya Main

3

9

Mengo SSS

2

10

St. Julian

2

11

Gombe SS

2

12

Nabisunsa Girls

2

13

St. Mary’s Ruhoroza

2

14

Ntare School

1

15

Mbarara High

1

16

Seroma Christian High School

1

17

Seeta High Mukono

1

18

Ndejje

1

19

Gayaza

1

Namilyango College

00

St. Mary’s College Kisubi

00

The government scholarship admission for this same degree for those that joined Makerere University in 1993 had at least Ten (10) guys from St. Mary’s College Kisubi. It was basically an extension of old students from either Namagunga, Gayaza, SMACK, Buddo, Namilyango, Mwiri and a few other schools like Makerere College.

It is shocking to find that in 2017, Gayaza was just lucky to get only One (1) candidate on state sponsorship while SMACK and Namilyango contribute zero (0) students for this course. This is an abomination and a fulfillment of what I did warn a while back.

In a scathing article that I wrote on the traditional schools, I stated thus, “… one thing I can admit is that the prioritisation of quantity over quality has put me off totally to the extent that I wouldn’t recommend anyone with a radical mindset like mine to take their child to those traditional big guns. It is time they rethought their strategy otherwise today’s perceived minnows will eclipse them tomorrow when their products excel where it matters …

If there is one thing that defines old students of the traditional high performing schools, it’s the pride we exude as having been part of an elite class as well as littering the professions that are deemed to matter in the world of employment. While I am proud of the fact that I can walk into any office in this land and find someone I know as an OB or OG of sorts, I must say, the writing is on the wall for the traditional schools. Having taken for granted this superiority, they gave room to the minnows to work their way upwards and eclipse them.

I did come across an argument on Facebook where those allied to the traditional schools were busy bashing old students from St Mary’s Kitende claiming that the best they can do is to operate photocopiers in the various city shopping arcades. The results I just shared should be a wake up call, the Kitendes you have been underlooking are annexing every inch of land that you had been taking for granted as a birth right for over a century. First they swept the arts courses, now they are on an onslaught for sciences.

Traditional schools have always given their students this aura of invincibility and entitlement making them feel like royals of sorts. Unfortunately, in reality, like the luganda saying I quoted earlier, apart from the structures and historical legacies they have, these traditional schools seem to have nothing to offer lately. Lubaale Mubbe !!!!! Wake up guys.

I consider this a critical moment for the traditional schools. Over the past twenty something years, they have digressed from working towards the set founding goals of their institutions and instead opted to play to the gallery. By abandoning the core values they represented including sticking to the recommended admission procedures, they fell into the trap of populism. Matters were worsened when bribery became the norm. I know of someone whose son was not certain of getting to Kings College Buddo for Senior One and this led him to execute plan B which was SMACK where he got a place after parting with UGX 4 Million. Today he is happy and chest thumping that he has a child at SMACK but I want to remind him that, Lubaale Mubbe.

At A-Level, these traditional schools admit star studded students who do not even need the slightest push to excel. How the hell can you tell me that they can fail to convert them into nationwide leading performers at the University entry exams? It means that either the children that are admitted have falsified results or the teachers responsible for teaching them are sleeping on duty. Lubaale Mubbe.

The traditional schools in a bid to play to the gallery have opted to compete on the same terms as the private schools that are fast rising. They forget that what they were set out to offer is more than just good grades in class. They fail to impress this need upon the aspiring students or parents and instead lure them with the promise of high grades. If it is grades that one is pursuing solely, then they can no longer compete with many private schools that seem to have mastered the art of churning out good grades. However, if they can look inwardly and come up with a revised offer which has a linkage with the vision of the founders, they will retain a lot of relevance despite not churning out high grades academically. After all, we all know that success in life is not necessarily directly proportional to the grades scored in school.

As for King’s College Buddo and St. Mary’s Namagunga, with 4 a piece heading for the Medicine class, I don’t encourage you to chest thump. It is a sign that you too are slowly descending to the place where Namilyango and SMACK have already bought plots of land, Zero (0) contribution.

Time for change. To effect this change, there is going to have to be a total overhaul of the mindsets starting right from the Board Members of the Schools, School Administrations, Old Students Associations, Students and Parents. Otherwise, Bye Bye SMACK, Namilyango, Gayaza; Welcome St. Mary’s Kitende and Uganda Martyrs Namugongo.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

Other Articles of Interest:

DOTT Services and the rot it represents in Uganda’s Road Sector

In 2011 and 2012, I was engaged in a number of duties that saw me traverse the Eastern region frequently from Busia all the way to Lira via Soroti. On my first trip, I used my private car to carry out the duties and to-date, I regret that decision.

mbale_kumi

Mbale – Kumi road, 2012

I journeyed to Soroti via Mbale and the road was being worked upon by DOTT Services. It had been in a dilapidated state with the company always promising to get things better. Work which should have been completed much earlier was still pending. Potholes had been amplified by the company’s work and many cursed why they had even begun working on the road in the first case. Upon return to Kampala, I had to overhaul the shock absorbers of the car including serious repairs on other related parts of the car. The money spent on these repairs meant that I had made a total loss on the job that took me there.

Since that time, I took keen interest in the various projects the company was handling and that is when I also got a chance to check out the Tororo to Mbale Road, Kamuli, Tirinyi roads among others. For civility’s sake, all I can say, DOTT Services is a &%^*&^%$#@)(*&@!$%&* company and can at best be defined as a ČąóɎɮɸɶɱώϑЖЂ service provider (excuse the incomprehensible text, it saves me from falling victim of the cyber harassment clause in the law).

dott_services

DOTT Services Head office in Naguru, Kampala. (I was threatened by the guards for taking this photograph)

I understand when our fountain of honour (President Museveni) visited Pallisa district recently, he got a first hand taste of the rot on our roads. I am glad he did taste the experience.

The president has always wondered why there is a lot of vitriol poured upon him by those that get a chance to talk about service delivery in his Government. So much is rotten that today I want to restrict my discussion to the road sector. With all your good intentions Mr President, even a Primary School graduate could tell as far back as 2011 the incompetence that DOTT Services represented. It was so obvious that when I later traversed Western Uganda by road, driving to Fort Portal via Mubende and later going all the way to Kasese, Ibanda back to Mbarara, I was in awe with the great work done there by SBI International. Why, if indeed these guys were doing a good job in Western Uganda should the Eastern part be subjected to pedestrian contractors like DOTT Services? It is observations like these that make people complain about sectarianism in your Government.

How is it possible that the rubbish that this company has been engaged in all along has kept rewarding them with more business? What message is being sent across to the general public? Each time I interact with other Ugandans, I get the message form them loud and clear that in this country, only thieves and crooks prosper. Is this really what we want our children and grand children to believe?

I thank you for coming out and reprimanding DOTT Services through the executive order you issued. You have done #WhatMagufuliWouldDo and I am very happy. However, as someone who thinks longterm, I believe that these knee jerk reactions, while serving the purpose of waking up the service providers from the slumber also need to be followed up by proper processes and procedures to guarantee continuity.

Mr President, you are not in position to visit all places in the country where road construction is taking place, hence making this act appear to be a one off. You need to reduce on the over centralisation of decision making that has become characteristic of your leadership style. Many civil servants fear to make decisions (even when they are in the interest of the nation) until they know what you think about the matter. This has bred a scenario where quacks pretending to be sent by you are breeding corruption and poor service delivery. I have experienced such loose talk in my home district of Butaleja where the LCV Chairman at one time wanted to sell off the Doho irrigation Scheme to an investor claiming you had sent emissaries indicating that he does so.

You have the power Mr President to break up these cocoons of thugs that are undermining your good intentions of prosperity for all. Behind DOTT Services is a cabal of termites that you need to expose and do away with otherwise you will only be treating wounds on the skin without handling the underlying infection.

I hope you now realise why the general populace seems not to appreciate most of what you are doing. The answer is simple, service delivery is rotten, not only in the road sector but across the board. So rotten that even the well intentioned civil servants can’t do much to make right what they clearly see is wrong.

For God and My Country”

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

Other Articles of Interest:

Good African Coffee Closure. Is Uganda’s economy on Auto Pilot?

Andrew Rugasira is no saint, however one thing I can authoritatively say about him is that he is a resilient entrepreneur who always turns ashes into beauty. Many years back, I recall him running a prominent promotions company called VR Promotions which bit the dust. He was humble enough to go into hibernation only to re-emerge a couple of years later with Good African Coffee.

When I bought the newspapers of the 25th of April 2017, I was taken back upon reading a story about how the tax man had closed down his business for tax arrears of UGX 1.2 Billion.

On the 23rd of April 2017, Ian Ortega posted a mind opening article on Facebook in which among others he stated, “… We pride in building mansions in our villages in a sea of mud and wattle houses. And in the end we pay for it with insecurity, with deaths. It makes no sense to have majority poor and few rich. It always backfires… Start doing something to make sure the economy works for everyone regardless of their field. Let it work for a musician, for an artist, for an engineer, for the teacher etc. That is how you build sustainable societies.

Having interacted one on one with Mr Rugasira a year back, I got to know quite abit about his ethos. While he is a hard nosed businessman, his passion for equitable growth and development is worth admiring.

Businesses close for various reasons and their closure has varying impacts on the economy. There are businesses whose closure will largely cause ripples among a few selected elites (who tend to be the noise makers) while others have the Fall Army Worm effect of distorting the bottom of the pyramid poor.

According to the New Vision, Good African Coffee has a network of more than 14,000 coffee farmers and has facilitated the set up of 17 (Seventeen savings and credit organisations) for these farming communities. The average household in Uganda has 5 members. This implies that if each coffee farmer is equivalent to one household, then the direct impact of his investment at this micro level has a reach of at least 70,000 people. Considering that in Uganda, it’s part of our culture for a household head to help various extended family members especially economically, we can safely assume that each farmer has an impact on 10 (ten) people in the extended family bracket. This implies that upto 140,000 people indirectly benefit from Good African as a result. On average we can safely state that at least 200,000 people from the coffee growing region are beneficiaries.

The New Vision further stated that the Good African products are available in over 700 UK Supermarkets as well as 500 stores in Africa. As a supermarket patron, I have come to learn that products on those shelves serve not only the purpose of consumer consumption but also national branding. How many people today in the UK swear by Good African Coffee? Judging by the inquisitive nature of today’s shopper, chances are high many have got to learn more about Uganda in the process. What better marketing for our nation?

While I am inclined to believe that management issues have definitely contributed to the status-quo, it’s quite sad that the tax man would be left to execute such a closure without proper appreciation of its wider implications. The Uganda Revenue Authority is not to blame since it is merely an execution agency tasked with collecting revenue for the Government. However, with all the tax breaks we keep hearing being directed to questionable foreign investors, why would a legitimately Ugandan owned and home grown business fail to be extended help? We just heard about the planned UGX 77 Billion tax relief that a number of companies whose list is led by the Sudanese owned AYA Group of Companies are likely to get. In my view, the footprint Good African Coffee has is much wider than AYA and any of those companies on the bail out list yet above all it impacts the lowly farmer whose sole hope for survival is farming.

We always hear of decisions being made in National Interest and this is what Hon. David Bahati, the State Minister of Finance for Planning emphasised while meeting Parliamentarians over the AYA bail out. Why was Good African overlooked?

  • Is it because the latter promotes the well being of peasants and there is this general fear among the political elite of genuinely empowering them?

  • Could it be that Rugasira doesn’t have the right brokers to argue out his case before the high and mighty in the Ministry of Finance?

We have been led to believe that overnight business moguls who set up with Shopping malls out of the blue are the ones that deserve respect and propping in order to keep our economy afloat but if we do not babysit the Rugasiras of Uganda and ensure that their businesses succeed at all costs, we shall continue in the cyclic rat race characterised by chronic poverty. Government should sit down Andrew Rugasira, make it clear to him that the success of his business is a national priority and could even have security implications considering that a large section of the farmers are from the already troubled Rwenzori region who might perceive matters differently. The riot act should be read out to him before working out bail out terms and conditions.

PS: In case you are comfortably employed with a regular salary and high flying MBA, you might have a problem appreciating the challenges genuine entrepreneurs go through in this Ugandan economy of ours. One day though, I hope you will be around long enough to appreciate what goes on the other side of the bridge.

I say, Bail Out the Brother !!!!!!

[UPDATE: Two days after publishing this aricle, Good African Coffee was reopened. I thank the authorities for having exercised a sense of sobriety. Now the ball is in Rugasira’s court to ensure he complies as required. ]

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

Other Articles of Interest:

HOW TO – Start a Mobile Money Business

Mobile Money (MM) is a form of electronic money service that enables phone owners send, receive and store money. The relative safety, ease of mobility and convenient nature of this service has endeared it to all sections of the society from the rich to the poor.

Before we proceed, it is important that we familiarise ourselves with some terminologies.

Agent: A person or business that is contracted to facilitate transactions for users. The most important of these are cash-in and cash-out (i.e loading and withdrawing money onto/from the MM system). They sometimes register new users, a service that earns them extra commission. As front line personnel, they also teach users how to best use the service.

mobile_money_agent

A Mobile Money agent in Kyebando, Kampala, Uganda

Aggregator: A person or business that is responsible for recruiting new MM agents. This role is sometimes combined with that of a Master Agent.

E-Money: Known as Electronic money in full. It is stored value held in the accounts of users, agents and the provider of the MM service.

Cash In: The process by which a customer credits their account with cash. This is done usually via an Agent who receives the cash and proceeds to credit the customer’s MM account.

Cash Out: The process by which a customer withdraws cash from their MM account. It is done usually by an Agent who gives the customer cash equivalent to a transfer the customer makes to the Agent’s MM line.

Float: The balance of e-money or physical cash that an agent can immediately access to meet customer demands to purchase or sell e-money.

Liquidity: The ability of an agent to meet customers’ demands to purchase (cash-in) or sell (cash-out) e-money.

MasterAgent: A person or business that purchases e-money from a Mobile Network Operator wholesale and then resells it to agents who in turn resell it to users. They usually manage the cash and e-money liquidity of their agents.

Mobile Money Transfer: A movement of value that is made from a mobile money account to another through the use of a mobile phone.

Platform: The hardware and software that enables the provision of a mobile money service.

In Uganda, the Mobile Money system works as follows;

The Mobile Network Operator (MNO) like MTN, Africell and Airtel sets up a platform that offers a service for phone owners to be able to “store and transfer” e-money using their phones.

A phone owner registers for the mobile money service with the telecommunications provider who creates the mobile money account associated with that particular registered phone number.

The customer then proceeds to cach-in onto their mobile money account by using a Mobile Money agent whom they give cash in exchange for e-money on the Mobile Money account.

This customer can through the execution of some commands send e-money to another mobile money account holder anytime they so wish. The recipient is at liberty to cash-out as and when they desire.

Just to show you how Mobile Money services have permeated our economy and become an integral part of our operations, picture the following scenarios;

  • Oloya works in Kampala and is constructing a house in the village. Every two days he is expected to pay for the services of the builders. By using MM, he is able to pay each builder directly onto their phone hence being assured of their commitment.

  • Nankabirwa is a produce dealer who has a network of buyers traversing numerous villages in Rakai, Masaka and other outlying districts. Their role is to identify produce for purchase and acquire it. By using MM, she is able to send money to these buyers of hers in the nick of time. She makes at least eight transfers daily during the peak harvesting season.

  • Pabire a rice farmer in Doho rice scheme by virtue of his mobility utilises MM transfers to pay for his workers’ services. These workers engage in activities like planting and weeding rice, land preparation, harvesting among others. This allows work to flow smoothly even in his absence.

  • Bakka leaves home for work fully knowing that there is no money for food that day. When he reaches his workplace (a washing bay), he transfers his income from washing the first three cars of the day to his wife at home using MM. Come evening, he is assured of finding food at home.

  • Sangalo is organising a wedding and she has reached out to relatives and friends to fundraise. The mode of pledge fulfillment being used is MM. Those contributing are sending their cash pledges directly onto her Mobile Money account.

  • Mugerwa, a parent at one of the boarding secondary schools is called by his son who reminds him about the study tour they are supposed to go for requiring a contribution of UGX 50,000/= per student. Instead of driving there to make payment, he simply sends th money via MM to the concerned teacher who then registers his son for the trip.

  • One can also pay for electricity, water, television and other services using Mobile Money.

So, how does one start this business as an Agent?

You need to have the following basics:

  • Two sim cards (Airtel and MTN). They are the biggest networks and handle at least 98% of the transactions. Others like Africell are still insignificant players.

  • Display Table. You need to have a display table that will not only store the tools of your trade but it can be stocked with other complementary products like mobile phones, accessories like phone jackets, screen protectors among others.

  • A dual sim card phone

  • A chair

  • Transaction books

  • Location

There are three approaches one can use to kick off. They are;

  1. Hiring a Transaction Line: This one involves hiring an already registered Mobile Money transaction line from someone or a company. With this line, you simply start off business without going through any registration hurdles. The things to note about this option include among others:

    • Paying a monthly rental fee of at least UGX 50,000/= for the MM line.

    • Income is in the form of a percentage commission earned on each transaction and is paid at the end of the month.

  1. Acquiring a Transaction Line through an Aggregator or Master Agent: Aggregators or Master Agents are companies that control specific territory on behalf of the Mobile Network Operators. Territories could include places like Kyebando, Kanyanya, Nakawa, Seeta, Bweyogerere e.t.c. These Master Agents get agency tenders through some bidding process and thereafter become responsible for licensing MM agents in their territories. For one to be licensed as an agent, you need to:

    • Present an Identity Card

    • Present a letter of introduction/recommendation from the Local Council

    • Have a deposit of UGX 80,000/= (Eighty Thousand Shillings) to purchase the kit

    • Fill in an application form

    • Have starting Float of UGX 2,000,000/= (Two Million shillings)

Income earned here is in form of commission on transactions. An additional surcharge of upto 10% (depending on the Master Agent) of your income is deducted for tax to the Uganda Revenue Authority.

  1. Direct Registration with a Mobile Network Operator (MNO): One is at liberty to register as an agent directly with an MNO like MTN or Airtel. Its requirements are more than the previous two options and they include:

    • Business Registration

    • Introduction/Recommendation letter from the Local Council

    • Functional bank account (for at least three months)

    • Filled application forms

    • An 80,000/= (Eighty Thousand Shillings) charge for the kit

    • Initial Float of UGX 2,000,000/= (Two Million Shillings) only.

Like the rest, income earned is in form of commission made on the transactions carried out. Unlike option 2 (two) above, with this form of registration, you are only charged the tax levy for Uganda Revenue Authority when your commission earnings exceed the UGX 1 Million Shillings threshold. The MNO then proceeds to deduct 4% which it channels to the tax man as opposed to the 10% deduction by Master Agents. This is definitely a better deal.

Option 1 is as instant as they get. If you want to hit the ground running, you may opt for this one. However, the margins are greatly reduced by the fact that you hire a Transaction line at a fixed monthly sum and because you are operating under another Agent, your margins are lower.

In the case of Options 2 and 3, After application and paying the UGX 80,000/= for the kit, you have to wait for two to three months prior to being approved as an agent. Once that is done, an Agent kit is availed and it consists of; three (3) phone lines, a phone handset, transaction books and other branding material like an apron.

Upon collection of this kit, you’re expected to deposit a float of UGX 2,000,000/= (two million shillings) on your Mobile Money line. Do I see you getting disheartened? True, raising this two million shillings lumpsome is a daunting task to many but there is always a way out. One trick is to borrow that money for a day, place it onto the MM line as float subject to approval and collection of your business material from the Master Agent or MNO. Once you have all that you need, proceed to cash out the borrowed money and return it to the lender.

How do you earn commission?

There is a well established commission structure clearly outlined by each MNO.

Airtel Agent’s Commission Guide (Extract)

Transaction Tiers

Cash In

Cash Out

Min

Max

500

2,500

150

100

2,501

5,000

150

125

5,001

15,000

285

450

125,001

250,000

520

1,300

1,000,001

2,000,000

4500

7,500

When a customer walks in and requests to deposit e-money onto their MM account, depending on the amount, you earn the commensurate Cash-In amount. If it is UGX 10,000/= they are depositing, then the agent will receive a cash-in of UGX 285/= on that transaction. Similarly, the Cash-Out commission applies to money withdrawals from the MM account.

Airtel does allow agents to check their commission status on a daily basis via the phone. However, the same does not seem to be true with MTN Uganda.

Success Factors for the Moble Money Agent business

  1. Trustworthiness: If you have to employ someone to operate this business on your behalf, you need to be able to trust them Anything short of that, you’re setting yourself up for failure. There are very many opportunities that these workers get to collude with crooks.

  2. Location: It is crucial to choose a location that is good. Since the commission on individual transactions looks small, the trick lies in volumes. How many transactions can you notch up a day? Ideal locations are corners of buildings or roads, boda-boda stages, busy trading centres, low cost residential suburbs, shopping arcades, taxi parks/stages among others.

    mm_corner

    A corner location like this one is very conducive for the Mobile Money business

  3. Customer Care: Many customers are ignorant about the operation of the Mobile Money services. They tend to ask questions one may consider dumb hence the need for any agent to have very good customer care skills. While researching for this article, I found agents being swamped by customers who wanted help with Sim Card verification. Imagine!!! Do not compromise on this particular issue when recruiting someone for your business.

    mm_operator

    Good customer care is dependent on the Mobile Money operator

  4. Mathematical Knowledge: The operator needs to have good mental maths skills. Customers come with all manner of requests and you need to be quick to mentally calculate and determine how much to transfer as requested. I witnessed a case where a lady came and requested the operator to cash out money from her account which has UGX 15,000/= (fifteen thousand) and ensure that it remains with only UGX 6,000/= (six thousand). He had to ensure that the transaction fees were factored in too. The operator had to first engage in some quick mental math before eventually fulfilling her request.

  5. Float Availability: How much do you have as e-money or cash? Customers keep walking in and out either cashing in or cashing out. You need to be in position to meet their needs most of the times otherwise they are likely to resort to the competition. I once had a need to cash-out UGX 300,000/=. I walked to three different MM agents in Wandegeya and none could meet my need. Out of frustration, I settled for partial cash-outs based on the float each agent had and this saw me use four different agents to meet my need. Since then, I never go to Wandegeya for MM cash-outs. Remember, if you set a reputation of always having adequate float, more customers patronise your services thereby enriching you commission-wise.

What are some of the notable challenges of this lucrative business?

  • Conmen: There are many conmen on the loose who target MM agents. Any form of sloppiness can lead to severe punishment. There was a case of a man who pulled up his sleek car infront of the agent’s display table, requested her to transfer UGX 450,000/=. She faithfully yielded as he pretended to count some money. The minute he confirmed reception of the money, he simply drove off leaving her stranded.

Most sophisticated conmen have been observed to operate from the city centre locations. So, in case you’re starting out, as you gain the experience, try to operate from the suburbs first.

  • Theft: Due to the carelessness of some agents, there cases of customers whose sole intention of patronising your service is to get to know the PIN number used to access the MM line. Most times agents type in the PIN number in full view of the customers. What the crooks then do is to later return and find a way of stealing the phone handset. Within minutes, they have withdrawn all the money and discarded the phone.

  • Cash Robbery: There are cases where an Agent has to bank the money earned. Sometimes due to late business closure, they might have to go home with the earned cash. Depending on how secretively one handles their operations, thugs tend to get wind of your earnings and simply way lay you.

  • Attention to detail: A customer once walked to an agent and requested to cash-in UGX 99,000/= (Ninety Nine thousand shillings). The agent instead punched UGX 990,000/= (Nine hundred and ninety thousand shillings). The customer paid up and left. During the evening reconciliation, she realised there was a massive shortfall and upon close scrutiny, the anomaly was discovered. It took a week of negotiations and a 100km journey to Masaka from Kampala for the money to be recovered.

  • Collusion: Some staff running the MM outlets have a tendency of conniving with other people to defraud their employer. They then feign ignorance or put the blame on mistakes.

Just to give you an idea, earnings can start from as low as UGX 50,000/= (fifty thousand shillings) per line per month with start-up Float of UGX 500,000/= (Five hundred thousand shillings) reaching an average of UGX 1,000,000/= (one million shillings) with a float of UGX 3,000,000/= (Three Million shillings).

The monthly pay for Mobile Money Operators ranges between UGX 100,000/= and UGX 150,000/=.

While offering the MM services, always consider selling complimentary products like Airtime, Flash disks, Memory cards among others. Airtime commissions can very easily supplement your income too. The current commission structure on airtime of UGX 10,000/= (ten thousand shillings) is as follows:

MNO

% Commission

MTN Uganda

4%

Airtel

5%

Africell

7%

Welcome to the Mobile Money Business.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

Other Articles of Interest:

Additional information from GSMA – Mobile Money for the unbanked.