For the past two years, my landlord has never had full occupancy on his apartments. When the vacant houses get filled, another tenant leaves because they can no longer keep up with the rent.
Not much has changed in the country. But all of a sudden, we feel poorer. The money is not flowing as often as it did. The deals are not forth-coming. It is now common to hear that people have gone months without pay. Not because their companies are not profitable but because their companies have the money locked up in credit somewhere.
had a chat with a wonderful friend and he told me why he thinks we feel poorer;
1. All the generous thieves are in jail. As we fought corruption, by arresting the obvious thieves, the ones who were amateurs at the game, we left behind the sophisticated thieves. Chinua Achebe once wrote about Eneke the bird. Eneke said that since man had learned to shoot without failing, he had learned to fly without perching.
We now have the type of thieves you will never detect. They are so great at the game that not in a million years can one detect anything. The problem with these kind of thieves, they don’t invest the money here. It is in some off-shore account somewhere. This is the form of corruption that we should fight. At the end of the day, if someone stole 100 million, and did not hide it under the bed or take it out of the country, at some point, that money will find itself in the hands of the individuals. It could be in the hands of the mechanic who repairs his cars, the people he employs, or the side dishes he sponsors. As such, I have come to the agreement that corruption in itself may have no effect on the economy, it all boils down to which form of corruption. Right now we have the sophisticated one. You no longer hear of any big scandal. But well, do you think money is not being stolen?
An economy is driven by consumption. When you closed these money taps. Everything came to a standstill.
2. We have once again sold the economy into foreign hands
I previously wrote that you can’t build an economy by borrowing money from Chinese banks, to contract chinese companies who use chinese labour and chinese equipment to construct roads that will later on help transport chinese products. These theories of competitive bidding hurt the locals more than they help them. The best Museveni had done was get a company as average as Zzimwe was and entrust it with road projects. But you have constructed these great projects using foreign skills. The only Ugandan manpower on these major projects is the manual labour.
about Crane Bank? Bank of Uganda (the irony) since there is nothing Ugandan about it successfully killed Crane Bank. Whatever its short-comings, Crane Bank was a bank that understood the local context. Today even if you won a 50m bid to supply an organisation, you could lose the bid because most banks are not willing to finance your LPO. I want to ask once again, if Stanbic Bank was to collapse today, what would BOU attach? Nothing. Because they don’t own a single building here, they don’t own a car, a laptop or even an office desk. These are the kind of topics that should form the basis of our debates. We argue about bread crumbs while someone steals the loaf. A study done sometime back showed that Africa is actually a donor to the world. There was more money than left Africa in form of (transfer pricing, profit repatriation) than what came in the form of aid. We are illusioned about foreign direct investment instead of fighting to build strong local bourgeoisie.
3. We are a service driven economy
Although the economy has grown over the years, it has been driven by services. The service sector will never create as much jobs as a sector such as manufacturing. One industry has the ability to employ over 5000 people directly. How many people can one boutique employ? If you want evidence, walk around Namanve or the Darling factory in the evening or morning hours. That is the power of manufacturing. As long as we don’t find a way to move from services to manufacturing, it doesn’t matter who is president, unemployment will be the order of the day. As it stands now, the service sector has hit its limits. With no one to consume, with a very limited value chain, there’s so little you can do with a service. However skilled you are as a barber, you can’t work on two heads at once. There’s a limit to what you will eventually earn as a barber.
4. The dying NGO story
The taps of many NGOs have closed over the years. This is largely because the two selling factors; war in the North and HIV/AIDS don’t sell as much. The only other selling point is political activism, which is sensitive. This was another way in which money found itself in the economy. It explains why our real estate prices sky-rocketed more than their actual value growth. On these add on the oil that has delayed, and the South Sudanese money that doesn’t come as often as it did.
It is a fact that we feel poorer, that money is not changing hands as often as it did. And that everyone’s daily reality forms part of the narrative. So we have been victims of our own fights. Why is it that in the same years we had the most corruption scandals, we also had the highest economic growth rates? Now we go months without a scandal and we are growing below 4%?
May be we need to rethink the things that we take as gospel truths on the growth and transformation of a country. May be after all, we are chasing over shadows. May be when Bobi Wine finally becomes President it will hit us that we fought over the wrong things.
As Chinua said; “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”