Tuesday, July 13, 2010

TOGETHER WE STAND, DIVIDED WE WALLOW IN POVERTY

Uganda’s problem is a lack of management or leadership or whatever you may call it. We are poor because our managerial capacity is non-existent.

I am not just talking about politicians, our bureaucrats and company managers even at family and personal levels.

In business they say that money follows good management. We can therefore conclude that we are poor – at personal and national levels, for lack of good management.

On Thursday evening I hosted Major General Benon Biraro on Vision Voice 94.8 and he drove this point home in very vivid terms.

Biraro has since the beginning of this year, been selling his Local Investment for Transformation (LIFT) project to anyone who gave him half a chance. The underlying principle of the project is that we have enough resources among ourselves as Ugandans to transform ourselves into a first world economy.

He proposes that if money is pooled from the six million Ugandans --- the number he estimates, do not live below the poverty line, are not peasants or children, we can marshall $2b annually.

And from everyone according to his means. The highest contributors at the Platinum level will pay out sh4m a year and the lowest, the marble contributor, will contribute sh100,000 a year.

This is not a charity. The project will be run for profit so all contributors will be shareholders and who should expect a return on their capital.

This sum, which is a quarter of Uganda’s $8b GDP, can then be invested in a number of activities that Biraro thinks can generate at least 50,000 jobs a year.

The project will be administered as a trust fund with the money held by a bank and day-to-day operations manned by professionals.

Since the beginning of the year the Major General has been evangelising on the subject and fleshing out the details at open meetings every Friday evening at the Protea Hotel. He has reached out to Ugandans in the diaspora as well.

I have always argued that we have enough money among ourselves to create meaningful change without recourse to donor funding. That up to 60% of money in circulation is not in the formal financial sector is proof enough for me. But the figures that Biraro has been able to conjure through mathematical induction while credible are mind boggling.

If you collect $2b a year that is more than NSSF’s asset base, an asset base that has taken more than 20 years of work to build. By Biraro’s estimation this is enough money to build 200 factories.

Reality of course has a way scuttling the best laid plans but even if LIFT can marshall one percent of this sum or $20m in its first year, Uganda will be on its way.

But beyond money these Friday meetings have become an aggregation of various talents and expertise and I think that this meeting of minds more than the money eventually collected will be the greater transformative force for this country.

Biraro and LIFT are not reinventing the wheel. During the cold war the west demonized collectivism as a communist tool that should be resisted but the history of their development process shows that pooling of resources has been at the heart of their progress. What are banks, insurance companies, the stock exchange and think tanks if not mechanisms for pooling resources?

I have my doubts about our local capacity to manage such huge sums, but the General pointed out that we can not shirk our responsibility by throwing up such shortcomings. These he said are temporary inadequacies that can be bridged by foreign managers until local expertise catches up.

I like too, that the project does not look to government for handouts, government involvement will be mainly in regulation and creating enabling policy if the need arose. For too long we have folded our arms and waited for government to provide and if they did not we blamed it on them and continued to grovel in the mud. This attitude has been extended to government which has institionalised the belief that if there are no donors we are dead.

Biraro’s major challenge will be weaning us away from our dependency mentality, a psyche that has made us roll over and prepare to die.

He has faced mortal danger in his career, so we do not doubt his will to soldier on, he however can not do this alone.


Published September 2009, New Vision

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