Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Renowned management scholar, Prof. Allan Katwalo Mulengani, says Ugandans have to up their competitiveness in the marketplace or else they will be overrun by foreign interests.
Mulengani, the Director of Nairobi-based Abacus Business School, was speaking at a business banking breakfast meeting organized by Standard Chartered Bank Uganda for its clients, particularly small and medium enterprises (SMEs) on Thursday.
In his keynote speech titled “Competing across the region: routes, markets and drivers”, Mulengani, said Ugandans should spend more time on increasing their competitiveness, especially in areas where they have comparative and competitive advantages, instead of things that don’t matter.
He observed that in products and services where Uganda has an edge, you still find foreigners outcompeting local providers.
Uganda is the 114 most competitive nations in the world out of 137 countries ranked in the 2017-2018 edition of the Global Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum.
Mulengani wondered how a Pakistani or Chinese business person can produce a product like cement and ship it thousands of miles to Uganda and still sell it much cheaper than Ugandan cement, adding that something must be wrong.
According to Mulengani, such a scenario is indicative of something fundamentally wrong with the way Ugandans do things, warning that such a situation will be exploited by foreigners, starting with fellow east Africans.
Mulengani said the claim that a Kenyan’s productivity is four times that of a Ugandan is not true, only that while Kenyans trumpet their successes, Ugandans tend to keep mild.
He said there are many great things coming out of Uganda which don’t get amplified hence portraying the country as lagging behind.
Mulengain said four areas Ugandans must improve in are efficient use of resources, quality production of goods and services, innovation and customer responsiveness.
He said many Ugandan business people think they are doing a favour to their customers, that is why many foreigners are setting shop and beating them at their own game in their own home.
According to Mulengani, Ugandans also need to improve on their distribution channels. He said the Chinese and Indians are opening supermarkets throughout the country not just to trade but extend distribution channels for their products.
He added that collaboration along the entire value chain of a product is another area Ugandans must work on, short of which they will have hiccups in taking products whether they have competitive and comparative advantages to scale.
Mulengani said how to become productive and competitive is a debate that must be held, short of which the country should forget scoring successes in the market place, local and global.
In her message to the meeting, Olive Kigongo, the President of Uganda Chambre of Commerce and Industry, the challenges SMEs in Uganda face like inadequate knowledge of business processes, and lack of professionalism need to be addressed if they are to become competitive.
Robert Wanok, Standard Chartered Bank Uganda’s Head of Business Clients, said the bank already has a number of valuable products that SMEs should take advantage of, including digital banking, adding that their outlook suggest a healthy business environment for SMEs.
Albert Saltson, the chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank Uganda said focusing on SMEs is the right thing to do because they contribute to 70 percent of GDP and source of livelihood for two-thirds of the population.