President Yoweri Museveni during this week’s state of the nation address exhorted Ugandans to buy local over imported products.
For starters he pledged that uniforms for the security forces and health workers will be sourced locally, barring any quality issues.
The call could not have come too soon, in fact it should have been a mantra for a country looking to ensure that the economic growth of the last three decades is spread more equitably.
This directive it is expected will have the knock on effect of increasing demand on our local textile industries, forcing them to invest more and hire more labour.
The industries will develop capacity. Then the next directive should be for a public service uniform to be supplied by our local textile industry. Imagine if we had all our 300,000 public servants dressed in kaunda suits or kanzus to work, how many jobs that would create.
By the time our local industries are supplying the army, nurses and public servants they will have proven their capacity and their ability to scale up that capacity to then make clothing for the general public.
"Some preferential treatment can then be given to locally produced textiles over imported ones – banning second hand clothing for one, preferential tarrifs are another....
We might have to get drastic.
There is a reason why the Indians wear the khadi – a long sleeved collarless shirt and pants and saris and the Chinese have their Chinese collar suits. The long and short of it is that in an effort to boost their respective local textile industry, a simple uniform was designed that would not over tax the nascient textile industries of that country. People were encouraged or compelled to wear the uniform in order to create the demand for local industry.
I can just hear the human rights activists jumping up and down at this proposition.
In order to spark transformation sacrifices have to be made --- in this case we might be forced to be a colourless, dour society, dressed in earthy colours, as our textile industry develops the capacity to provide the variety we are accustomed to.
Interestingly Chinese collar suits, the Indian Khadi and Sari are considered fashionable around the world.
And that’s only in clothing.
In the Kenya in the 1980s the government started providing milk free to all primary school going kids as a way to increase the protein in their diets, spurring a dairy industry that is second to none in the region. Our eastern neighbours produce at least 5 billion liters of milk a year and are exporters of UHT milk, milk powder, butter and ice cream. And we haven’t even started to talking about beef production.
We produce less than half the Kenyan output at about two billion liters a year.
"The challenge of course is how to do this in an orderly fashion, which will not benefit just a few Ugandans but will benefit everybody up and down the value chains in whatever sectors we seek to promote...
Agriculture is the obvious starting point as at least seven in every ten Ugandans derive their livelihood from the sector.
The knee jerk reaction when it was announced a ban on second hand clothes was announced or when the president directed that the army’s uniforms be done locally is that we don’t have capacity to meet our needs and that we would be depriving hundreds of traders of a livelihood.
The answer to that is in the question, how do you develop capacity if you have no demand? And secondly, won’t the hawkers of second hand clothes find a place in selling locally made clothes?
But as they say every one want to go to heaven but no one wants to die.
We yap a lot about building a self-sustaining economy without wanting to pay the price. When we say our industrialisation is not taking off we need to know it’s unrealistic to develop industry without springing off robust local demand.