My friend Abednegor, is mostly depressed these days. Way more intelligent than his peers, with a mind like a trap while capable of incredible intellectual flexibility. His mind’s ability to cut away the fluff and zero in on the crux of a problem or idea means he has often left us lesser mortals in the dust since our school days.
Anyway Negor (pronounced nigger) has come up against the effects of the global financial crisis and his business while not suffering is not leaving up to his lofty expectations.
A man of his mental agility is hard to pigeon hole and so is his business. He has dabbled in event management, business consultancy, asset management and money lending and, that we suspect, is not even the half of it.
At the peak of his business’ vibrancy Negor was collecting checks on a weekly basis for jobs he had done, jobs he was doing and jobs he was about to do.
That has changed now, the flow of checks remains more or less the same but Negor is getting increasingly irritated at how much more effort it is taking to collect, effort he knows will be better spent nurturing current contracts and winning new business.
In his daily interaction with all shades of businesses, Negor has come to the conclusion that the Ugandan businessman in his current shape and form is an extinct species.
He has it all worked out. If he is to be believed, Ugandan businesses are too small and unwilling to cooperate, operate on the old Asian duka owner principle for who it was enough to open his shop doors and the shoppers would appear and all this because the Ugandan businessman’s ambition does not go beyond feeding his family, driving the latest car model and featuring in the society pages.
Negor considers himself the anti-thesis of the Ugandan businessman, he is a creatively aggressive marketer, not averse to partnerships and his ambition is to grow his business to the point where he can sell shares on the stock exchange to finance a push into the region.
He does not hang on to narrow allegiances and is smart enough to know he does not know everything, so he is ever anxious to collaborate with foreign partners in bidding for jobs or win sub-contracting work. He understands their emphasis on credibility and reliability. In this game reputation – the personal brand as he likes to call it, is everything, without it you are nothing.
Beyond his criticism of his local colleagues he feels that government has let business down.
In showing his foreign partners around he is often embarrassed at the anti-business attitude displayed by government and utility officials, the endemic corruption and the sheer incompetence of the system.
Negor is a very focused character who sees things as they are not as he wishes they could be or how they used to be. This attitude allows him to remain cool under the most frustrating of conditions but even he admits to tearing his hair out at the inadequacy of the transport network, power grid and the slowness of the justice system.
Negor thinks he has got it worked out, he deals in what he calls the “soft, soft” side of the economy, he has no factories or fleet and even his real estate investments are held in partnerships, he thinks having capital tied up in fixed assets is just not practical in the hostile business environment that is Uganda.
He thinks he will survive the current economic downturn because he is more savvy, more flexible and willing to jettison old models at a moment’s notice, something he cannot say for his contemporaries.
What about the push towards industrialization, “Unless you are in agriculture you are wasting time and besides why follow the traditional path from industrialization to the information age when you can leapfrog straight into the conception age?”
He always was way ahead of the field, my friend Abednegor.
Published May 2009, New Vision