By Dr. Robert Rutaagi
The end of local marketing and the eternity of global marketing
Sometime last year, the Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) and other stakeholders, organised a splendid Industrial and Trade Exhibition whose theme was “Buy Local”. As I listened to and read through the local electronic and print media, I got interested but I was also baffled by the intriguing theme.
As a fastidious and lifelong student of Business Management, with a special bias in Marketing and, having done some detailed research on ‘Uganda’s Competitiveness in the Domestic, Regional and Global Markets’ which is on my shelf and with 32 years of managerial experience, 26 of which as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of various Public and Private Enterprises, in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, I was qualified enough to ‘participate’ in the ‘Buy Local Exhibition Debate’. So I headed for Lugogo Show Grounds where I spent a day, talking to exhibitors.
My academic and experiential hormones served me well. I made sure that the day coincided with my fasting day so that I would not lose valuable time trying to have any meals. I had an ineffable experience walking around the whole exhibition area, displaying a beautiful array of merchandise from every sector of Uganda’s economy.
There were small, medium and large exhibitors. The throngs of people coming to buy, window [read: stall] shop, or, simply, pass time, were quite impressive, as they crises-crossed the Lugogo Show Grounds. Life was made more interesting by disco and other melodious music from various corners. It was difficult to get tired because of the good music that vibrated energy and morale as I walked around. I noticed people, especially the young, walking dance-fully, some even gyrating their biology to express their joy. Some were even eating snacks like New Yorkers, as they walked along.
By the time the day ended, I had visited many stalls and talked to many friendly stall-managers, mainly ladies who appeared better managers and marketers than their male counterparts. Time and space will not allow me to discuss finer details of what I experienced that day but I shall, largely, discuss, generally, and draw up some humble but integrated conclusions about what I saw and experienced that memorable day.
Days of plenty
Before I do that, I want to state, quite categorically, a strong and heart-felt disclaimer: Uganda’s Economy has done inordinately well under the NRA (UPDF)/NRM regime. There is no better witness than this columnist who was Sales and Distribution Manager and, later, General Manager of the same defunct Foods & Beverages [RIP], General Manager of Uganda Baati ltd (Long Live) and the first Executive Secretary of Uganda Export Promotion Council (Predecessor of the present UEPB) [LL], all during the days of extreme scarcities of essential goods and services. Today’s Ugandan economy, which is over-flowing with goods and services, is enough testimony to silence opposition politicians and all critics whose cryptic agenda is known – abhorrence to carry out any gratuitous PR campaigns for the very Government they are desperately wishing to replace.One may ask a poignant but rhetorical question– “What was the purpose of the ‘Buy Local Exhibition?’ Was it to sensitise Ugandans to, simply, behave like Ugandans? Was it to persuade foreigners to support local industry? After all, why are all these foreigners in Uganda if they cannot support our local economy? Don’t they come to support Ugandans through foreign direct investments (FDIs), expertise, evangelism, trade etc, as they enjoy her good climate and make profits from their investments? If an American or Briton has come to serve or invest in Uganda, why should such good guests prefer to buy American or English cooking oil or soap to Mukwano equivalents?
The purpose of the UMA’s ‘Buy Local Exhibition Campaign’ was to promote demand and supply for local products as opposed to imports which are liberally flooding the local market from corners of the globe. In marketing, we talk of the 4 Ps (Product, Price, Place and Promotion) of the Marketing Mix. These days, the traditional 4Ps have increased to People, Purchasing Power, Policy, Process, Purchasing Power, Propensity to Purchase, Poverty, Political Power, Potential Probability…, suggesting that our Marketing Gurus were, after all, not so smart to declare the limited 4Ps while more keep showing up from the horizons. In the current era, the “buy local” campaign does make sense. The campaign and our other policy pursuits like liberisation, regionalization, and globalization cannot be good bed-fellows for a long time. In fact they cannot see eye to eye. Was the purpose of the ‘Buy Local Exhibition Campaign’ to discourage imports from Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Europe, India, China and United States of America (USA) etc? Was it to increase domestic capacity utilisation, promote employment, increase sales, improve profitability and market share and encourage exploitation of local natural resources? All these purposes are good and noble but serious Stakeholders need to consider the following imponderables:In early 1990s, Uganda, under the aegis and auspices of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) and its associate, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Development Association (IDA), launched some macroeconomic policies of Liberalisation, Privatisation, Decentralisation, Regionalisation and Globalisation. Another ‘sation’sister was ‘Democratisation’. Therefore, these ‘…Sation Policies’ have not only liberalised the thinking, in terms of personalism (read: individualism), tribalism, nationalism, regionalism and globalism, but have also dismantled the archaic laws and national boundaries when it comes to economic operations such as: imports, exports, investments and human thinking and mobility.Given the above scenario and the experience on the ground, a few questions emerge: Why were these policies adopted in Uganda? What are the implications of these macro-economic policies and how will they affect micro-economic operations and the ‘Buy Local’ evangelism by UMA and her stakeholders?
The marketing reality
According to Marketing Principles and empirical research, Uganda is not yet competitive for many services and products in terms of quantity, quality, price, place (distribution) and promotional initiatives and technologies. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO) criteria of competitiveness, for a product [or service] to be considered competitive in the global market [or any market], such a product or service must, inter alia, be able to command a global market share of at least 3.25% for two consecutive years. Obviously, there are other tests (quality, quantity, price, delivery time etc). On the basis of the market share alone, not even our legendary export leader, for years (Coffee), consistently meets that technical criterion and, hence, may not be considered competitive in most of the years since the early 1950s! All our agricultural products are not competitive. Only roses and cobalt met the market share competitiveness litmus test for a few years before losing it (1998/2000).What many Ugandans mistake for competitiveness is, by chance, being able to sell a product or service quite easily i.e. any quantity, of any quality, in any market, and at any time. That is called temporary niche- market competitiveness (TNMC) which may not be sustainable for a long time, should macro and micro economics change. Niche marketing and technicalities will be discussed another time. By Uganda selling a few foodstuffs or some re-exports to the Southern Sudan market, does not, necessarily, mean that Uganda is competitive in Southern Sudan market. Likewise, by Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) selling some modest quantities of coffee in Chinese Market does not mean that UCDA has established a competitive market in China. Nescafe and Starbucks are more competitive in the China market, and for that matter, UCDA is uncompetitively competing with them at their whims (and that of the Chinese). Uganda only has a niche market for Uganda coffee in Chinese market because of a few Chinese who fancy Uganda’s organic coffee. I am not in anyway, saying that Uganda should not export agricultural produce to Southern Sudan or coffee to China. We should aggressively exploit those niche opportunities and try to develop them into respectable levels of competitive markets share and consolidate them. Then we can celebrate. Before that, we should know our shaky position and endeavour to do more homework.Back to UMA’s “BLE” campaign. It was good local sales promotion. But insisting on ‘Buy Local,’ was bad ‘regional’ and ‘global’ marketing in this era of regional and global integration and marketing. In terms of ‘Place,’ there was no added advantage. What matters most is ‘Product quality’, and ‘Price’ of the product. Any consumer that visits supermarkets does not care where the groceries come from. They look at good package, brand name, quality, price, and customer service, not buy local harassment. In this dynamic era of regional, continental and global integration, liberalisation and democratisation, it is dangerous, in terms of marketing and good international diplomacy, to keep entertaining local sentiments such ‘buy local’(medicine, clothes, books, religion, music, mobile phones, shoes, tonto, grass-thatched houses etc). I rest my case.