Some have labeled them casual labourers, others— their own bosses, yet they are fighting the same battle: making ends meet. Metal fabricators— a thriving class of artisans who operate in makeshift workshops could boost Uganda’s economy if they are strengthened. With about 800,000 micro, small and medium sized enterprises in Uganda the informal economy growing at about 25 per cent annually employs about 2.5 million people.
Using recycled materials- everything from old aluminum car parts, these artisans contribute 25 per cent to this country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)- a measure of the economy’s performance. This section of the informal sector captures more than half of this country’s population that scrambles for a significant percentage of the wealth yet they still feel left out in enjoying a share of the national cake.
But with few local artisans dotted on the international market, there is still so much the government could do to boost such innovators.
Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde, believes that industrialising an economy starts by boosting small scale artisans. “Without innovations, we are not going anywhere. But when I hear a car engine made by a Ugandan running, my heart leaps with joy,” said Ms Kyambadde while handing over a 4.5 acre plot of land in Makindye along Salama road to Katwe small scale artisans.
Katwe Metal Fabricators Cluster (FMFC) chairman, Mulangira Juma Kayima asks government to include them in the next financial year’s budget (2012/2013) if the country is to produce more local investors compared to the foreign ones who repatriate the profits back to their countries. “The government should commend us to be our own investors because we are passionate about improving this country,” Mr Kayima says.
Private Sector Foundation Executive Director, Gideon Badagawa, says that these entities are choked by low financial literacy causing some to enthusiastically spring up while others start and die out mid-way.
“Without well thought out business plans and financial projections many have embraced the entrepreneurial attitude but we don’t know how many are flourishing,” Mr Badagawa says.
In a country widowed by economic uncertainty, where high interest rates are taking on a new name –our tradition, it is clear that small scale artisans are navigating through difficult waters.
Characterised by low credit access, dilapidated structures, poor market and low adaptation of advanced technology fabricators’ cry is one: poor working conditions.
“I now look 50 yet I’m only 29 because the nature of this work has forced me to look that way,” distressed Mohammed Ssansa, a metal fabricator in Katwe says.
This has forced the fabricators to push rusted metal prices up by Shs60,000 to Shs80,000 up from Shs20,000. And the flipside is this: “consumers are now complaining that we are cheating them with rusted window frames. Yet we purchase the scrap at exorbitant prices and later sell at a lower price,” Huzairu Lukenge, another metal fabricator in Katwe explains.
The time taken to pull off, say a gate is close to one week and yet these dealers are pushed to ask for less money than they had anticipated for one reason— to survive.
“Sometimes people bring me work that I ought to charge much higher. But what happens is that I end up stating a lower price and I take home what—nothing. It’s like I’m working hard just to eat,” a frustrated Dennis Manyengo says.
At times, there are no customers. “Our window frames rust from here and when buyers come, they complain that we are giving them poor quality products. And now that everything is expensive, we can’t take home more than Shs250,000 in profit monthly,” says Mr Manyengo who could previously bag about Shs450,000 in a good month.
By all accounts, the bank does what it says – it lends to people. Yet interest rates banks give today are not exactly a gift to them. “If you decide to run to the bank for capital, you end up servicing a loan for years yet that money would have helped you develop your business,” Mr Lukenge complains.