Times have downsized Christmas to a realistic human celebration

Thursday January 2 2020

 

By Karoli Ssemogerere

Tight economic times have reduced the commercial allure of Christmas, the biggest annual holiday in Uganda. Offices and banks, among others were open through 6pm on December 24.

The exodus to Western Uganda revealed a few things but nothing new as the “Kampala” class actually is very different from the ordinary folks manning the frontlines at home producing food, exportable products like coffee and who in 2018 and early 2019 bore the brunt of failing rain.

The taxman was the first to complain how they had failed to clear their projections based on Christmas-related imports. Uganda Revenue Authority enjoys the highest leverage on targeted imports where its word is law. After a bumper year in tax collections, the year closed on a deficit of Shs230 billion, forcing government to borrow from commercial banks to pay bills in December.

Early in December, the National Meteorological Authority announced a high rainfall system above the East African highlands and lake region. After a few hot and dry Christmas seasons with soaring temperatures, the weather has shifted back to near normal crispy breezes and light rainfall.

In 2020, this rain will translate into higher production of foodstuffs, meat, dairy products, coffee, cocoa, grains, tea which rely on the rain to increase foliage. Government has so far still failed to translate this surplus into a fiscal surplus unlike fish exports which have recovered from overfishing. Merchandising in the agricultural sector is very poor. Farmers don’t have access to basic infrastructure to merchandise like weighing scales, drying sheds that can only be constructed communally.

This week, government as it prepares for polls next year announced construction of 117 secondary schools in 2020 and 115 in 2021. This step requires more discussion as enrolment in government schools is falling outside the first class schools.

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An 800-student school may be carrying a payroll of 80 staff, many underutilised, a situation which requires audit and rationalisation. Enrolment in technical schools constructed using loans is worse as government hasn’t established standards to ensure security of pay, security of tenure for the technical professions and is yet to fully put in place the National Construction Standards Authority. The gift of Christmas is a final breather before year end activities and socialisation.

Tough economic times have de-escalated the excitement of the day and returned in many parts of the country a chance for families to celebrate the day, attend prayers and fellowship with their fellow countrymen and women.
Countrywide, major monuments in the form of Houses of Worship are coming up. Centres of learning and cafés are quickly catching up as those of entertainment potentially replicating the Ethiopian café success story.

In 2019, Endiro café a Christian-themed café broke out with a traditional thatched concept in Muyenga, Kampala while opening another major fare in Champagna Urbana, Illinois. Domestic mainstay Javas entered the Nairobi market to go toe to toe with Kenyan fast food behemoth Java House. There is optimism that an automotive industry may take off after government switched the mission of the new cars from gasoline to electric engines. MV Kayoola, Kiira were lucky to jump off the dreaded internal combustion engine to add to Uganda’s dreaded pollution problem.

In higher education, flagship Makerere University ended the year in a lot of employment disputes, registering no change from 2018. The appointment of independent minded Justice Patrick Tabaro may yet have the desired effect in cooling down the costly breakdown in industrial relations at Uganda’s oldest university. Makerere turns 100 in 2022 but it is still run like a fiefdom with competing power centres.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law
and an Advocate. kssemoge@gmail.com