Sunday January 5 2014

Beti Kamya versus Ali Mufuruki: Which way?

By Matsiko Kahunga

In the heat of the job and employment debate raised last week by the World Bank Country Report on Uganda’s unemployment, two interesting ‘schools’ stand out. The first is one we shall call the improvisation school, and the other, we shall call the developmental state school. The former has become the pet subject for virtually every Ugandan.

Its microcosm is the favourite case oft- quoted by Ms Beti Kamya. I have heard and watched her narrate this on three occasions at the minimum, the latest being Saturday August 17 on the Capital Gang talk show of Capital FM. Ms Kamya’s case of ‘creativity’, ‘innovation’ and ‘entrepreneurship’, is a young lady who trims the eyes brows of the Uganda Federo Alliance president.

To Ms Kamya, this is an excellent example of job creation, which young people should emulate and learn from. This school is right and wrong. It is right in the narrow sense of looking at jobs and employment as an end in and of itself: individual income and survival. And strange as it sounds, this is the universally accepted and recommended solution to unemployment by virtually everybody in Uganda, including policy makers.

Listen to any speech on graduations, school open days, or the condemnation of ‘theoretical subjects’. Even the market-place side of education has caught into this, with … ‘producing job creators’… now a popular marketing tagline for schools and educational institutions. Innocent and harmless, this narrow perspective of education, jobs and employment is a non-starter.

It is merely what my ancestors in Bulemeezi call okuyiiya embeera. Seeking means of survival. In old England, this is called improvisation.

Within the same spate of time, an anti-thesis to the improvisation school came from Mr Ali Mufuruki, the Chairman of Infotech Investment Group, Tanzania. Hosted by Citizen TV’s Julie Gichuru for the Monday August 19 edition of African Leadership Dialogues, he refers to the outputs of the improvisation school as nano-economies. Nano in ordinary English means very small, very minute…almost invisible. And not only are they nano, but they are disparate, disjointed with an abnormally high mortality rate.

Exceptions granted, the general truth is that these survival improvisations cannot transform Africa nor empower us to own and claim the 21st Century. In the next 87 years, therefore, if we are to be what we are supposed to be, Mr Mufuruki roots for large factories, which besides creating jobs and employment, have a transformative multiplier impact on the economies.

The way out
Writing some months back, veteran King of Satire, Joachim Buwembo, summarises our entanglement thus: fifty thousand reasons why Ugandan ladies love Museveni. His plot: thanks to the current liberal economy, Uganda [and East Africa] has such affordable garments that a lady needs only Shs50,000 (about $ 20), to ‘design’ and look elegant, courtesy of Chinese and other eastern Asian textiles, footwear, jewellery and accessories. And herein lies the way out: arresting the donation of jobs, innovation, creativity and skill development to foreign countries. This is the central argument of Mr Mufuruki, namely that these garments and other related products, can be easily produced here.

The improvisation school is not only used as an escape for those on whose heads lies the crown, but it equally will lead us into a generation of mediocrity, a generation where the primary pre-occupation is only seeking survival. The debate needs a total refocusing. This is Mr Mufuruki’s argument. The improvisation school is only a palliation and perpetuation of poverty. We only need the humility and courage to reflect and soul-search on Timothy Kalyegira’s bitter truths, and we shall take charge, determine our destiny.