Promoting entrepreneurs requires more than just finances

The drumbeat over the last decade- for entrepreneurship in Uganda sounds louder each year. With youths as a prime target, Uganda has financed the Youth Enterprise Scheme, Youth Venture Capital Fund and the Youth Livelihood Program to nurture entrepreneurial dreams.

The Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Program, akin to Kenya’s Women Enterprise Fund established in 2007, is in the offing in response to women’s needs for affordable credit.

Whereas pecuniary input is incontestable, sustaining an economy that thrives on entrepreneurs will require government to empower all stakes that reinforce entrepreneurship.

To drive interstate trade, 95 per cent of whose goods are transported by road, government has invested in roads connecting major border points. With access to Elegu and Juba eased, the volume of trade with Congo and Sudan respectively is certainly higher.

However, the farmer in Koch Lamina or on the banks of River Agago who supplies tomatoes in South Sudan remains underserved if, after rains, his truck cannot navigate the murram access to his farm every fortnight to load 70 to 80 boxes of Assila tomatoes.

The country’s over 20,000kms of community roads which link production zones, is where districts need to invest if they are to deliver the local level impetus for wealth creation.

Whereas access to the national grid is way below the 80 per cent target, sights of 108 electrified district headquarters are evidence of work in progress. In Butaleja district, where rice growing dominates livelihoods, value-addition, until recently, was hampered by low voltage from Tororo Rock sub-station. With Nagongera sub-station completed, cottage industries in Butaleja will be set for a boundless course.

Value-addition, as the country’s thrust for industrialization, will cling on nothing other than entrepreneurs’ ease of access to electricity. A vast part of Uganda still lags behind in Information and Communication Technology infrastructure in an age when technology is increasingly-defining how business is conducted.

Budding tech-entrepreneurs like Rodgers Ahabwe who developed E-Shule, an app that manages school tasks, including monitoring fees payment, will find themselves less competitive if they are weakly connected to internet. With investments in broadband infrastructure, we can begin to sow seeds for Uganda’s Silicon Valley that we envision by 2040.

To choose Hazel Namuwaya’s Zaft juice, which hit the market from Ttulain 2013 over South Africa’s Ceres, preference leans on quality. When farmers in Nakaseke, eager to trade with Kenya, dry maize on mats and it gets discolored, falling below EAC standards which regard discoloration as an indicator of mycotoxin, it is quality on trial.

Tanzania, which pegged its Youth Fund to agricultural ventures, rejected a consignment of 15,000 tonnes of maize from Uganda in 2013 citing quality concerns. By 2002, lamentably, Kenya had 17 laboratories for testing products while Uganda and Tanzania had none.

For entrepreneurs such as Namuwaya, perhaps the strategic question to weigh is: how can government match investments for effective monitoring of standards of imports with controlling quality of domestic products?

Inadequate warehousing infrastructure also continues to eat into the worth of Uganda’s agricultural yield. Reliance on private storage facilities that are hardly standardized not only puff up producers’ overheads but also risk compromising quality.

Barley farmers in the Bukwo-Kapchorwa grain belt have for- tunes of their grain fields eroded as costs of storing, cleaning, sorting and re-bagging their produce undercut their comparative advantage over Kenya’s grain producers.

Advances in knowledge creation endorse the need to protect indigenous know-how. How can promising entrepreneurs like Geoffrey Munyegera in Mayuge who, without formal education, fabricated a tractor, which ploughs, threshes maize and irrigates, safe-guard privately-produced knowledge? In Uganda’s creative economy, incessant wars among youthful artistes are fueled by copyright-related weak spots.

The decisive question that will exercise policy minds is “what level of intellectual property protection is needed to balance between incentives for innovation and avenues for competition?” Government’s explicit responsibility in raising awareness about the link between innovation and the need to protect knowledge creation is particularly imperative to emerging entrepreneurs.

Making entrepreneurship East Africa’s next frontier will require governments’ commitment to various pledges that incentivize business. The Luo agripreneur who, out of the abundance of sugarcane, is producing bio-ethanol from molasses in Kisumu needs motorable roads to his farm to reap from Kenya’s energy demand.

The curio art pieces by gifted youth, sought after by tourists visiting Amboni caves and Tongoni ruins in Tanga, are now imitated as lack of a trade mark hurts their sales.

In Turkana and Isiolo are households that thrive on apiculture whose honey can compete for shelves in regional supermarkets if supported to meet standards. Not that finances matter less, but the broader obligation to quality, intellectual property, market access, infrastructure as some of the nodes that constitute an enabling ecosystem for entrepreneurs to thrive, is paramount.

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