How to kill a business the Ugandan way

We complain a lot about foreigners taking away our jobs and businesses and at times we fail to realize that we are our own enemies.
I was at Village Mall in Bugolobi for a meeting over  cup of tea and I went to the food court at the first floor. The Village mall is a beautiful place. It is one of those places where you feel you are in an exclusive mall in the developed countries. Whoever is the owner, the idea was wonderful and I am sure he is making lots of money. But he should be worried by my story, it could affect him in the long run. I went to the food court and it has various food stalls which is both an advantage and also a problem. I have been there before and on some occasion you may sit there and nobody comes to you and other occasions, several waiters from the different stalls all come to you at once. 

On this fateful day a waitress came and I ordered for English tea (the more reason why we are dominated by the foreigners because I am  talking about English tea and yet this tea is grown here in Nakigala farm on Entebbe road and the water is from Lake Victoria, the sugar from Kakira and the milk from the late Mulwan’s farm). The tea was served and I enjoyed it. The person I was meeting arrived and asked for spiced black tea. As we finished the meeting, we requested for the bill. Two bills were brought and it was clear that both had been tampered with. One from Ugx 6,000 to 10,000 and another from Ugx 5,000 to 8,000. My instinct told me there was a problem with the bill. I was in a hurry so I left the challenge to the friend I was meeting. My friend does not take things lying down.

 He took up matters with the authorities and actually found out that it was true the bills had been changed. The owner of the business was very apologetic about this type of conduct and even remarked that her business was going down but she could not get an explanation for this(if her business goes down, she will leave and the owner of the mall will also lose business). This type of behavior is characteristic of many of our businesses. You employ people and they cut the branch on which they are sitting. They steal goods from the business and the business collapses and in the long run lose their jobs.

One of the Ugandan local industrialists Mr.William Sembuya/a friend, the onetime owner of the powerful Sembule Steel Mills, Pan World Insurance and Sembule Bank lost his businesses primarily due to theft. The press has been reporting a case of fraud in MTN (Uganda’s business company) and last week some people were sent to jail for this. Because it is not so big, it may not feel the problem at the moment. Many people complain about losing money in big banks, of course I should not talk about Government!! The pension scandal, bicycles, the PM’s office, the road saga, the Karuma dams problem, the new railway challenge, because this is government, government cannot run out of business but of course, it means government does not give services to its people because the money goes elsewhere.  
However the consequences of our actions of the waiter on our businesses and the country’s management are multifold;

One: We cannot run businesses successfully if our stock is being stolen and therefore we give opportunity to foreigners to run businesses. After that we complain when foreigners are running businesses. Of course there are issues with that.

Two:  Ugandans get into problems because business is being run by foreigners. Like it or not, attitude of many foreigners towards Ugandans regarding their work culture and ethic is negative. Many foreigners think Ugandans do not want to work and are thieves (deal with that). For this reason, foreign owned companies are managed by foreigners even those owned by Ugandans  of Asian or European origin still bring foreigners rather than Ugandans. Most unfortunate that the gates of Munyonyo Commonwealth resort are managed by Indians. The reading is on the wall, you cannot trust a Ugandan to keep that gate. What is interesting that even we Ugandans do not trust ourselves. Many of us have invited Europeans or Indians and in the recent years Chinese our partners in our own businesses. This enables us create confidence and legitimacy in our business and we also think that the business will be managed well. The theft culture creates all this attendant problem for the country.

Three: When Foreigners run businesses successfully, we complain about it. Of course there is need to have some control over the type of business foreigners should have. Generally, foreigners owning small businesses which are the type that the Ugandans could own creates anger among local people. This is the challenge in South Africa today.

Four: how Ugandans are treated by foreigners own businesses in Uganda.  Knowing our work attitude and ethic, we do not get the best treatment in most of the foreign owned companies especially for low level staff. It is common that Ugandans are shouted and in some cases even physically abused. In many cases Ugandans are underpaid. In some factories, workers do not have rights despite the Employment Act. In other factories, people die and there is no police report and no compensation to the families.

With all these, it is no surprise therefore that poverty will stay with us for a long time. We cannot run businesses on our own to create incomes and wealth and where we work for others we are exploited.

Ugandans please style up! Nobody owes you a living and we have to work hard

Professor and Principal at Makerere University Business School (MUBS)