By Amon B. Mbekiza
Parliament is in a tag-of war with the Foreign Affairs Ministry over Shs 17 billion the ministry needs to build a market for Uganda traders in Juba, Southern Sudan.
Whatever reasons parliament has, this money should not be passed. For starters, this is the wrong ministry doing the wrong thing. The docket falls under the directorate of external trade or COMESA Desk at the Ministry of Trade, Tourism, and Industry (MTTI). Two, constructing a market in Juba will not render us more competitive than Kenyans, the main players in the market. It is high time we started doing things the proper and professional way or resigned ourselves to losing out as usual.
All the trouble Ugandans have gone through in Juba has its genesis in our informality and lone-ranger modus operandi. And what makes Kenyans tick?
I. In the case of Southern Sudan, when it became clear that peace was on the horizon, following the CPA between Khartoum and SPLM, KAM, the umbrella association of Kenyan manufacturers, spearheaded the Opportunity Juba’ exercise to ensure the following:
ll. all intending businesses, individual or corporate, registered and organised under KAM.
III. Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) came in next and opened a branch in Juba.
IV. Support services; transport, insurance, medical cover, camping tents, all registered under KAM.
V. all manufacturers and their distributors, regardless of location, were given Export Promotion Zones (EPZ) export terms of trade, all demanded by KAM.
diplomatic and consular matters relating to travel and residence had a coordinating focal person in KAM.
And so the Kenyans went, pitched and conquered. Then in came Ugandans, in our usual ‘Park-Yard’ style.
How will a Ugandan carrying a few cartons of Royco from Kikuubo, with all costs and profits loaded onto his purchasing price, compete with the Kenyan who sources the same product ex-factory, under EPZ terms, with an export credit line, and all other aids to smoothen his trade? Outcompeted, Ugandans did what we know best: ferry in juju men to ward off kenyan competition. Juju men were chased out. Trump Card? Government to build a market. It won’t work.
It is time for us to either learn and do things professionally or keep losing out even where we as a country invested heavily as we did in SPLA/M. A similar scenario was seen in Rwanda, where the Rwanda Patriotic Front army war was literally a Ugandan war. After the liberation, however, who got the juicy spoils?
At the time I registered my ‘ex-officio’ membership 10 years ago, there were 1,241 Kenyans working in Rwanda, all professionals, in different sectors: private, government, NGO, UN, name it. And Ugandans? Running ‘kifuufu’ garages in Gatsata, ‘tonninyira’ in Nyamirambo and Kicukiro! Ask the ambassador who would lose his mobile phones to his countrymen during Ugandan National Day Celebrations at his residence!
We shouldered the ANC struggle more than Kenya did. But who reaps? Kenyans need no visas to S. Africa, despite their business rivalry bordering on hostility with South African companies in the East African region.
Uganda widely opened doors to South African capital, including erstwhile ‘hard tools’ of apartheid, but we have no visa waiver to South Africa.
Fellows at the Directorate of External Trade of MTTI, Uganda Export Promotion Board, Uganda Manufacturers Association, Private Sector Foundation, Chamber of Commerce, this is what branding is all about. This is what we mean when we talk of carving a niche. This is the meaning of positioning. As Ugandans, we have carved out our own niche in the perception of our neighboring markets! We cannot keep exporting witchdoctors, hawkers, et al and think that building another Mbizzinnya or Park Yard in Juba is the solution. Not even the billions squandered on CNN or Rosa Whitaker! Let’s learn the basics, shape up or ship out!.