A recent research survey, conducted by UK-based business-networking group, Approved Index, ranked Uganda as first in the world for having the most entrepreneurs per capita. This is shocking because for a country that has the highest number of entrepreneurs in the world, we have one of the weakest economies in the world albeit having had a more or less stable political situation for the past 29 years. Right now the shilling is plummeting to the ground, I left the country when it was trading at 3200 against the dollar. It is now breaching the 3500 mark! All in a manner of weeks. The Central Bank Governor has come out to say that there should be no reactionary interventions to be expected from them anymore so essentially, we’re on our own. We are screwed. Woe unto you if you earn in shillings.
But this should not be. It makes no sense at all. Uganda has substantial natural resources; fertile soils, regular rainfall, deposits of copper, gold, and other minerals, and recently discovered oil. We are populous; with a growth rate of 3.03% and a population size of 35 million that is expected to reach 47 million in 2025. And finally, we are young. More than half of the population is under 15. This is a recipe for success. We should be the production and consumption capital of the world. Alas, we are not. Production at least. But we are heavily competing for that consumption title. Last year, we imported $5.71B worth of goods and exported a measly $2.68B. What did we import you may ask. Fuel(21%), Medicine (3.8%), Palm oil (3.6%), TV’s (3.1%). TV’s?! Yes, really.I kid you not. I double checked. We spent $0.17B on TV’s. What is wrong with us? And these are the top 5 imports. We import everything from toilet paper to hoes. For a country whose backbone is agriculture, the bare minimum we should be doing is making these hoes already dammit! At the very least but no, we want to get hoes from China.
The only way that our economy will be resuscitated is if we start to produce. So I asked myself, why don’t we produce? Why aren’t more Ugandans throwing themselves into manufacturing. We are after all the most entrepreneurial people on the planet and there is clearly a gap. Then I remembered my own foray into manufacturing. A while back, I debuted a line of onesies. Made from 100% organic cotton grown here in Uganda and tailored in Ugandan. It was a flop. Not because people didnot like the designs, they loved them. Not because of the quality (100% cotton, perfect for babies) but essentially because they were made here. I had to remove the tags that had the label made in Uganda for the sales of that line to pick up. And I went back to selling the onesies imported from China after that because it made business sense. They were cheaper to source and even though they were of a poorer quality (only 80% cotton) and priced at the same price as the ones made in Uganda, they flew off the shelves. But what is it about us that makes us not want to buy our own. Why do we think things made by people just like us are not good enough. Because this means that indirectly we think we ourselves are not good enough. What is this self-hate? I need someone to explain it to me.
This past weekend, I was privileged to volunteer at the peach tree marathon here in Atlanta. It is the largest 10k marathon in the world attracting over 60,000 participants. It is held on the 4th of July and it was a sight to behold. The most intriguing thing about it, was the participants. Young , old, pregnant everyone character you can imagine was there. I saw a couple dressed up in silver body paint to celebrate 25 years of marriage! But what struck me most was the love Americans have for their country. It was raining cats and dogs but everyone turned up, running in their flag themed outfits. The 4th is celebrated like Christmas. These people revere their country.
I am ashamed to say that I have never owned a Ugandan flag prior to having to come for the Mandela Washington Fellowship. And yet I claim to be an avid lover of my country! My love is a lie. Here I was surrounded by the American flag in all forms and sizes; shorts, dresses, hats, body paint. Every house that we went passed had the flag raised outside. Here were people who truly,madly and deeply love their nation. And then it hit me, this is why the economy of the U.S is strong and now China and India are following suit. What is unique about them is that even before they export, they have a large home based market for their produce. Simple as that. This is what we lack. We are busy looking to export instead of starting to first consume what we produce ourselves. How do we expect people to consume things that we ourselves do not? If we want to scale our economies,this must change. And this must change for every single African country. I have been asked by several people if I’m looking to set up shop here in Atlanta. My answer has been and remains a firm NO. Until I am done spreading the gospel of Zimba Women to the 1 billion people on my continent, I will not look elsewhere. The only way to show that we love this continent is to put our money where our mouths are.
Africa, we must get high off our own supply.