By Denis Jjuuko
Many years ago, Jinja was one of Uganda’s most important towns as the country’s industrial hub. Many factories were set up there due mainly to access to electricity (the only electricity dam at the time was at the boarder of the town), the railway line to Kampala cut through Jinja, and a well developed port on the shores of Lake Victoria for easy movement of goods. Then government decided that it was bad for them to do business and factories were sold on the cheap — some to middle men who had no idea of running them and others to metal scrap dealers. When the engines were switched off as one would have expected, Jinja went into a slumber remaining only with some of the widest streets you will ever find anywhere in Uganda.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Busoga is now one of the poorest regions in the country, at least, according to the Uganda National Household Survey 2016/2017. Yet a town with so much potential shouldn’t be the capital of poverty in Uganda. Jinja can attract industries again and much more. The port at Masese can be redeveloped, the railway line though old now could be rehabilitated (the standard gauge one may take a century or so) and the dams still exist in Jinja. I was in Busoga recently and around Jinja, I saw lots of empty land where factories could easily be set up. Admittedly, there are some factories that have been built of recent. Also Kiira Motors has started constructing its much-awaited car assembling plant.
However, I read something disturbing where some leaders in the area were saying that the factories being set up in Busoga should not employ the Basoga in lowly positions — that they are tired of their kids being casual labourers. They want top jobs like CEO, chief commercial manager and such other titles. It is the wrong thing to ask. Let me think of Kiira Motors. It will have one CEO and a few other people in key positions. If they are to provide 2,000 direct jobs, the majority of them will be in smaller positions so asking factories for top jobs is the wrong thing. Nobody is going to set up their factory and then look for a local to give a job. Locals start in other positions as capacity is built. Look at the banking industry — there was a time all bank CEOs in Uganda were foreign. All of them including the likes of Centenary that were locally owned. And that is less than 15 years ago. Today, I think there is only one bank with a foreign CEO. Ugandans are in charge. They have built their capacity and now occupy these key positions.
And even then, a bank needs one CEO. Ugandans who were in lower positions are now at the high table. If we castigated banks for not employing Ugandans into top jobs then, maybe the sector wouldn’t have grown. If we are to go to Kiira Motors, they will need less engineers when they start production just like any factory. They will need more people working in areas that may not be glamorous. What regions and countries need are the majority of people working not having one engineer or CEO. That is how poverty is fought. So the people of Busoga should concentrate less on who leads the factories at this time and have as many people as possible working in these factories. However, to start with Busoga leaders should lobby and support whoever is setting up a factory or business there.
Then they need programmes that empower these people with the right skills to work in these industries and factories. A good welder, for example, may be needed and it is easier to employ one than a CEO. Somebody artistic to make car accessories such as car seat covers, or mud flaps and such other parts is easier to find than the head of engineering division. Artisanal skills will be important in getting as many people as possible into these factories not just for the automotive industry but for others as well.
There is also need for leaders to encourage entrepreneurs to look at the value chain and identify opportunities of what they can supply. It could be nuts that keep everything together, welding rods or something else. And most of these factories can supply many other factories in diverse sectors. That is one way Busoga will get itself out of poverty.
The writer is a Communication and Visibility Consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org