Two weeks ago Forbes Magazine highlighted five Ugandan businessmen -- Patrick Bitature, Amiral Karmali, Charles Mbire, Amos Nzeyi and Sudhir Ruparelia,
who they were able to make out were the richest men in the land.
None of the five however made it on Forbes’ list of 40 richest Africans, which should be cause for pause. More on that later.
The Forbes list is an annual list of the America’s wealthiest individuals that has been running for 30 years now. The list was initiated by publisher Malcolm Forbes who believed that it represented the spirit of enterprise, whose inductees create the jobs, energy and ideas needed to propel economies for the benefit of all.
They say what is celebrated is repeated. In inaugural list in 1982 there were 13 billionaires on the list, for the last two years all the 400 members have been dollar billionaires.
From a purely mathematical standpoint for every $100 billion of GDP in the US there are about three billionaires. It’s a stretch I know, but given that our economy only amounts to $16b it comes as no surprise that we don’t have dollar billionaires here.
That being as it is, a mention by Forbes as a creator of wealth is not something to be laughed at.
The most marketable skill in the world, is the ability to make money. The more money one can make, the more money one can earn.
But to make more and more money entrepreneurs need larger doses of labour, capital, oftentimes land and entrepreneurial skills.
Our top five businessmen make more money than they consume. So why we mere mortals ask, do they need to make more and more money?
For mere mortals money is made to be eaten – to service lifestyle needs, for the rich money is for making more money.
There are only two ways to use money either you cosume it or you invest it. The wealthy invest more than they consume and that is why they are where they are.
So it therefore follows that while need a lot more consumers we need a lot more wealthy people in our midst to keep the economy ticking.
A friend of mine never ceases to say that the challenge for Uganda and many of our poor African countries is that we don’t have enough wealthy individuals.
And he is not talking about the corrupt officials who pilfer tax payers money for their own self-aggrandizement but the captains of industry and leaders of commerce who create genuine economic activity.
When wealth has been created it has to be protected. And by paying taxes they pay for the institutions that stabilize the nation and in so doing protect their property and their workers.
That is why the viability of a nation depends on the strength of its private sector.
So the challenge as a nation is to create an enabling environment so more like the Forbes-5 can emerge.
Fortunately for Uganda we are the one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. The desire to start businesses is not alien to us, a hangover from a time when one job was not enough to survive let alone thrive.
That is where the challenge is. In starting businesses we are often looking for more money to eat. Very few of us make the mental leap needed to see money as a tool for making more money and not just for eating, limiting the potential of our businesses.
A related reason for our businesses being stymied is our insistence on remaining informal – not registering, paying taxes and even not using bank accounts. You can make enough money to sustain yourself this way. But to think like this is to ignore the fact that in business you have to keep growing just to stay in the same place. IF you are not growing you are falling behind.
Growth comes with greater formalization of processes so you can not only benefit from bigger deals but can have access to more financing options.
There is no getting around it. It starts with a mental shift in how you view money. Once that shift is done formalization comes out of necessity.
To return to the issue of why they should be cause for pause that none of our businessmen is in the top 40 wealthiest Africans.
The wealthiest Africans while opereatin out of larger economies are almost all more formalized than our own king pins allowing them the ability to take advantage of more opportunities and be more attractive to foreign partners.
The writing is on the wall – or is it Forbes magazine we need to step up our game to play at a higher level.