Ugandan graphic designers and printeries are reaping millions from the ongoing campaigns and incoming election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Several traders operating along Nasser road in the capital Kampala have been working almost day and night due to numerous orders from DRC politicians in the run up to the election scheduled for Sunday, December 30 2018.
The election is to determine a successor to incumbent President Joseph Kabila whose second and final term expired on December 20 2016. They will also be voting for parliamentary and local council candidates. While DRC nationals are going through a heated election period, Ugandan traders have to put in extra hours to handle the huge workload of printing campaign materials such as banners, flyers, stickers, T-shirts and posters, among others.
Fred Ssekitoleko, a general manager at Malusekabi Enterprises Limited, a printing firm in Kampala said that the Congolese election was a major boost to their business. Sekitoleko says sometimes they have been forced to work in shifts, and longer hours to ensure that the job is done.
He says one of his contemporaries got an order to print one million posters for one of the presidential candidates. He did not divulge details of the candidate, but he said that majority of the prints have been banners for operators with four-colour machines.
His colleague was reportedly paid Shs 3 billion for the work. According to Ssekitoleko, most of the towns in Eastern DRC do not have the three-phase power lines to support high-powered machines, making it more expensive to print from Kinshasa than in Kampala.
He observes that while Rwanda would be a likely competitor in the regional market, its restrictive laws together with high costs of printing limit businessmen who seek Kampala as an alternative.
“The bad governance of Mobutu Sesseko left the country without any meaningful infrastructure. It’s only Kinshasa which has some infrastructure yet it is extremely very expensive. For example to photocopy a single page in Kinshasa costs Shs 500 yet in Kampala it is just Shs 100. Now, if you’re photocopying hundreds and thousands of photocopies, your better off coming to Uganda.”
Hamis Mohammed, a graphics designer at Mirembe arcade said it was a big deal for them, especially having run throughout a year without much business. Mohammed says for one month, Nasser road has been a bee hive of activity.
Mohammed says he has designed posters and banners for all levels of candidates in DR Congo. He appeals to the government to create an enabling environment with convenient taxes to enable the printing business to flourish with such opportunities.
“Every sub-sector has made money from the Congolese campaigns. From the importers of paper, banners, ink, designs everybody has made money. All our supplies were depleted in the first weeks of December. We had to go China to import more supplies. People have made a lot of money.” he said.
Richard Lubega, a machine operator at Nasser road says he has printed posters for close to 200 people from DRC.
“There was a time this month when every printery in this town was working on posters for the Congolese elections. I have seen people’s fortunes transformed because the Congolese pay in dollars. They have given us work. I have personally worked on over 200 different people. Some come and order for 20,000 posters, 50,000 posters. Such orders bring in a lot of money. Personally, I have been able to achieve whatever I’ve always wanted.” said Lubega.
Another graphics designer, Ronnie Einstein Obwoya says that at some point they had to stop orders from Uganda because Congolese were offering relatively “good and quick cash”. Obwoya adds that they were doing poster production on a daily basis.
“We have benefited so much. We got a lot of money, for us who do colour separation, in a day you can do extra sales than the usual. In terms of demand for material, they took most of the materials. Their sales were more than that of Ugandans. You know Congo is bigger than Uganda, so the quantity of production they were doing like posters, flyers different sizes non stop because we almost worked trans night on Nasser road. In other words, we stopped Ugandan work and did Congolese work. Their cash is quick cash, they’re not like Ugandans who come and say I have this work, do it, I will come back and bring money. They present cash, quick cash.” said Obwoya.
Meanwhile, the DRC electoral commission is battling to deal with problems caused by a recent fire that destroyed 80 per cent of the 7,000 touchscreen voting machines in the capital, Kinshasa. The commission said the fire was one of the reasons the poll, initially scheduled for December 23 was postponed to December 30.
Corneille Nangaa, the head of the DRC electoral commission, said they were technically unable to hold the polls on the planned date because they need to get 5 million new ballots printed.
The delay threatens to aggravate an already tense situation in the country where voters suspect that the government intends to rig the poll in favour of Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the former minister of the Interior who was endorsed by Kabila’s party, The People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy.
The other candidates in the race include, among others, the joint opposition candidate Martin Fayulu and independent candidate Felix Tshisekedi.