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COMMENT: Why ‘Buy Uganda’ is bad deal

By eyeing government contracts, potentially game-changing policy locks out general public solidarity with business

I have a confession to make. I love mangoes. They are as sweet to look at as they are sweet to taste. Whether arranged in the cool aisles of supermarkets, on neat stalls of town markets, or on the dirty ground in village markets, the yellow, red, and green hues of mangoes are simply intoxicating.

But my excitement is dying down because, strange as it sounds at first; the reality is a lot of the most attractive mangoes (and other citrus fruits) sold in Uganda are imported; from Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and even Dubai.

Therefore, instead of seeing tasty mangoes, whenever I look at these fruits these days, I only see Ugandan money going out to South African farmers, Kenyan farm workers, Tanzania transporters, accountants, marketers, and Dubai investors.

I was shocked to hear that some traders in Uganda even import cabbages, bread, cakes, eggs, and meat from as far as South Africa.

I see lost jobs and wages to Ugandans workers, lost taxes to the government, and lost opportunities for local manufacturers.

Therefore, I am a staunch supporter of `Buy Uganda, Build Uganda (BUBU)’, the government policy being pushed by the Ministry of Trade to promote consumption of locally produced goods and services.

Unfortunately, although I like BUBU’s intention, I cannot ignore the emptiness in its implementation.

BUBU could learn a lot from one of the greatest marketing events by a government agency in recent times; the promotion of energy saving bulbs by the Ministry of Energy through Umeme. Just a few years ago, energy saving bulbs and other electrical appliances were unknown. Then Umeme came along with them, and now – nobody wants anything else. So how did Umeme do it?

To describe a complex project in simple terms; Umeme marketed. It carried out extensive information campaigns, targeted consumers with incentives (including free bulbs to replace old types), persuaded ministry of Finance to offer tax incentives, and the Environment ministry to ban old technologies. It worked with measurable targets and more.

By contrast, from a marketing perspective, it appears to me that the BUBU policy is duck-footed; with each of its feet pointing in a different direction to where it is actually should be headed.

This is evident when the only law cited as the basis for BUBU is the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) law.

Targeting government

Citing this law as the central basis for BUBU implies that the objective of BUBU is to secure government contracts, as opposed to rallying the general public to buy Ugandan goods and services.

In the BUBU policy document (if we can call it that), the Ministry of Trade presents a market survey of the performance of Ugandan-made products in local supermarkets. Unfortunately, the Ministry picks the wrong lessons from the survey. It notes that Ugandan-made products are not given vantage display, are not well packaged, are in some cases highly priced compared to the imported similar products, and are not consistently supplied.

These observations are correct. But they are not the important observations that should be focused on.

First, the focus should have been on the diary, detergent, and juice aisles where Ugandan products rule with great packaging, fair prices, and aggressive marketing. In marketing it is critical to focus on successes rather than failure. The BUBU policy needs to support what is working.

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