Thought and Ideas
Economic patriotism is a key pillar to political patriotism
Posted Sunday, October 27 2013 at 01:00
In his latest addresses while opening factories and markets, President Museveni over-glorified investors, yet he is the champion of patriotism.
For this to have meaning, the State must champion and promote economic patriotism as the pillar and foundation of political patriotism. It gives one the reason to love their country, to have that intrinsic sense of belonging, which comes only when one has met the basic physiological needs.
Sentimental patriotism can only remain that. Think of the concessions doled out to investors, while Ugandan companies go under, reinforcing unemployment and pauperity.
One trait I admire about Kenyans, Indians and Rwandans is their economic patriotism.
In Kenya, this has seen the rise of such indigenous companies as Softa, which rivals Coca Cola; Keroche Breweries (versus East African Breweries, owned by Diageo, the European multinational), Equity Bank, and other numerous indigenous banks and companies.
A Kenyan will board another airline only when KQ has no seat or flight to his destination.
Rwandans sum it up thus: Duhe agacyiro iby’uwacu (we should value/prioritise our own).
The history of NIRMA, one of the Indian giants exporting boda bodas to Uganda, is very instructive. When Unilever entered India, the Indians saw an economic rival, not a saviour-investor. They waged a marketing guerrilla war - starting with soap - they manufactured double the size of Unilever’s soap tablets, selling at the same price.
Launching from the rural markets, they steadily encircled and eventually penetrated Unilever’s core urban markets, and the rest is history.
Today, NIRMA is a global phenomenon. One Asian Indian industrial complex in Uganda, would import TATA vehicles for its operations, when its sister company was an Isuzu franchise holder.
Whereas governments in Kenya, India and Rwanda play a pivotal role in this economic patriotism, our case is the extreme reverse. Harangued by the neo-liberals in the last days of his regime, President Moi stuck to his guns, insisting that “hatutabinafishisa haya makampuni, hadi Wakenya watapokuwa na uwezo wa ku ya miliki” privatisation must prioritise Kenyan-ownership, and this is the pattern that has informed the country’s privatisation strategy, seeing such venture capital firms as Centum and Transcentury acquiring stakes in such multinationals as General Motors, CMC Motors, Rift Valley Railways et al .
Africa’s great airlines - Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Rwandair - are all state-owned.
Uganda, blessed and rich as we are, is up for grabs by foreign multinationals in virtually every sector. It is time to ask ourselves every time we purchase a good or service: Where does my money end? How many jobs am I exporting?
The only way we can reclaim our wealth is either through labour laws that require top management and lower cadres in these companies to be Ugandans ( thus earning handsomely and investing a la Transcentury ama Centum in Kenya) , or to go the NIRMA, Softa way. And we are doing very poorly on both fronts.
We, therefore, must re-think this unbridled liberalisation, and privatisation, which has become synonymous with foreignisation.
For the umpteenth time, we insist that UDC must play the original role it was established to play. As one guru in the insurance industry recently argued, there is enough local capital here to be mobilised for government to do domestic borrowing, besides NSSF.
Can someone out there tell us how many billions of dollars we donate by having no re-insurance company in the country? Can the case Kenya-Re be a success story to benchmark? Perhaps the billions stashed away in Swiss banks would be ‘hidden’ in stocks and equity in locally-owned companies!
The author is a partner at Peers Consult Ltd, Kampala.