Monday, October 4, 2010


It came around the corner to face us head on. There was no room on the road for both of us, so one of us had to give way. Our guide was very helpful, providing the detail that in the Murchison Falls National park, the biggest elephants weigh up to 10 tonnes!

My natural instinct was to shift the mini-van into reverse and move as far away from the lumbering hulk as I could.

Our guide and driver counseled that it would be suicide and proceeded to stop the van and rev the engine. After about a minute or two, which seemed like hours, the elephant stopped in its tracks and veered off into the bush.

At some point in the 60s and 70s, there were more than 16,000 elephants in the Murchison Falls National Park alone. The instability of the last 30 years, however, saw that figure fall to below half - but is now recovering.

Hippo, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and a variety of other game abound. The Madhvani Group is looking to take advantage of this revitalisation of Uganda’s largest national park with the opening of their new Chobe Safari Lodge, a $13m investment along the River Nile. It joins Para Lodge and Mweya in Queen Elizabeth as part of the group’s portfolio.

“A fusion of local materials blended with modernity has created a signature luxury safari style that is unique to Chobe Lodge. We are confident this will become the gem in Uganda’s tourism crown and one of East Africa’s top holiday destinations,” said the group’s director of tourism operations, Mani Khan.

On a boat ride up the Murchison falls, one could not help but wonder at how under-exploited our natural resources are. The Government’s role in the realisation of our full potential needs to be re-examined.

Through the privatisation of state enterprises and liberalisation of the economy, it was hoped we would be able to attract private capital and unlock local entrepreneurship.

The policy has worked in the context of the circumstances in which it was applied, but given that we continue to sleep on billions of dollars of unexploited natural potential, one has to wonder whether we have not hit a ceiling with that policy.

A U-turn to the day when the Government was involved in business in ways we knew should be discouraged.

That leaves us with the challenge of understanding the investor mind and providing the enabling environment that will attract them.

Nirvana for the businessman is a low cost environment with a growing market for their products and services.
By keeping costs low, profitability is almost certain an ever-increasing demand coming with the promise of business growth. The Government has a critical role in making both these conditions come through.

Lowering costs would involve guaranteeing safety of life and property, eliminating corruption, improving transport, energy, education and health infrastructure.

There also has to be extra efforts to market the country beyond sending delegations abroad and hoping for good press.

The quality of the people will increase their capacity to earn, and therefore, improve the effective demand of our market.

By focusing on lowering the cost of doing business, enterprises will thrive, jobs will be created, taxes collected and these, directed back into lowering the cost of doing business. All very obvious textbook stuff, you say.

The development of nations follows a simple formula: that your expenditure should shift increasingly towards investment and away from consumption.

It cost us sh500b at last count, to host CHOGM, a four-day event that benefited a small group of people and therefore a loss to the nation. That same money would have had wide reaching benefits if we had for instance, offered to carry the exchange risk of our industries and service providers.

As a country, we are not unlike the poor man who sleeps on a chest of gold, refusing or unwilling to open it because of some strange fixation with it remaining closed.

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