How ordinary wananchi, their leaders are responding to economic crisis

Thursday July 4 2019


By Karoli Ssemogerere

Many little and big things are happening after the East African Community member states read their national budgets. Uganda’s Parliament quickly wrapped up debate on the Landlords and Tenants Bill, 2019. The Bill introduces protection for tenants from being summarily evicted by landlords.

It also attacks a dubious payment provision in many leases exaggerated by city landlords to require payment from small shopkeepers and kiosk operators in US dollars. On the negative side, the law is likely to create a layer of “tenants” who have capacity to deal directly with the landlord encouraging even more oppressive relationships at the grassroots.

Whereas a tenant in Makindye Kizungu has one long-term agreement with a landlord, a matooke vendor in Usafi Market may have five different overlords. If they are in a market operated by the Buganda government, they may also have an independent relationship with Obwakabaka bwa Buganda.

A market stall in Zana, a busy traffic interchange just off the main roundabout leading to Entebbe, for example, market stalls are manned 24 hours by two or more tenants to capture each possible revenue.

When rogues shot dead two mobile money agents in Zana, it was well past midnight, a time when most people are safely tucked away in bed contemplating the day’s events. The police blotter report indicated that the agent’s mobile money balances were intact, but their lives had been lost forever.

Next door in Kenya where a Jubilee Member of Parliament from Nairobi was arrested by police for use of inflammatory language against foreigners, the Majority Leader of the National Assembly Aden Duale, used toned down but serious language noting that a sense of grievance was legitimate. Kenya has been in the throes of a nearly full blown trade war with Tanzania. Uganda and Rwanda’s border spat have squeezed cross border trade to a trickle.


Kenya, the most outward looking of the East African economies and by far the largest, has a long capitalist (also colonialist) history.

But there is a consensus that the armies of the poor are rising even while the rich are enjoying record riches under Uhuru. But Kenya for one has had a long string of domestic economic breakthroughs, the CKD motor vehicle revolution of 1988 that produced the Nyayo Car, a strong run for Kenya Airways into the continent’s third largest carrier although KQ is now a mostly spent force. A fairly vibrant stock market heralded by the likes of Safaricom.

Ironically, Safaricom the great fire engine for the Kenyan Treasury, contributing $500 million per annum to the Kenyan Treasury [MTN next door has been fighting over a smaller bill of $150 million for a full 10 year licence renewal, has been run by foreigners.

When Bob Collymore, the Safaricom CEO, a Guyanese Briton died on Monday, the Kenyan behemoth listed on the exchange quickly replaced him with his predecessor Michael Joseph, a signal of how Duale’s country of managers and competent people had lost a few notches in credible people to “run things”.

In one of Uganda’s poorly kept secrets to borrow Charles Onyango Obbo’s catchphrase in the 1990s, it is well known that President Museveni has a mistrust of civilian law enforcement. Whenever faced with an intractable problem, he leans over to UPDF.

In 2018, he uncharacteristically promoted former DIGP Okoth-Ochola to IGP. Mr Ochola was beefed up with an army officer Maj Gen Sabiiti Muzeeyi. Faced with a new crime wave ahead of campaigns, he felt he hadn’t reached deep enough and set a fresh platoon of army officers to Police to run its headquarters.

Justice Irene Mulyagonja, IGG, the official corruption watchdog, has had to contend with the same. She was handed a pistol in her purse in the form of another army officer Lt Col Edith Nakalema to physically attack the problem at the grassroots. So it is not an expatriate problem, it is a crisis of leadership.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate