By Denis Jjuuko
A few weeks ago, I met somebody I will call Sam for purposes of this article. Sam who is in his early 30s had a hardware shop which was doing very well that he had managed to buy two plots of land (each 50×100 feet) and built a house for his family.
As his business blossomed, he started buying more land, which he would sell at a profit. Then one day, he bought land and the sellers were fraudulent and he lost all the money.
His hardware business started limping and he eventually closed it. He became unemployed and struggled to feed his wife and three kids. One of his friends with who they studied at university and runs a consultancy business gave him a job that pays him Shs500,000 a month.
Even with this salary, Sam says he struggles to pay fees and make ends meet. He feels his life is not cut out for this little salary and wants to go back to business but he doesn’t know how. So he looked for me to see if I can give him advice on how to start again. He told me, he thinks he needs about Shs10m to start again.
A 50x100ft plot in his neighborhood goes for about Shs25-30m. I told him to sell off one of the plots so that he remains with one, where his house is. On mentioning this, he became uncomfortable in his chair. He struggled for breath, blinked, and swallowed some saliva! He looked at me as if I had said uncharitable things about his mother. I didn’t even tell him to sell the damn house, rather the compound, which he must obviously be struggling to maintain. He said that will not happen, even his wife wouldn’t allow it. They must remain with a sizeable compound he said.
Sam just like a lot of Ugandans is asset rich and at the same time poor. It is not uncommon to find somebody with a house with a roof that is about to cave in but sitting on land worth a billion shillings. Why wouldn’t such a person cash in, buy somewhere else and build a much more decent house? Because the neighbours might laugh at them or this land is for the children. Yet as funeral arrangements are being made, the kids are on the side looking for buyers to cash in.
Why would somebody who built a business before fear to sell off one plot to start again? Why would somebody with assets worth so much money struggle to feed his family and pay school fees in a relatively good school? This could be because we have been trained to fear failure. We think of failure every time we want to start something. We look at negatives more than positives. Sam I think fears that if he sells off one plot and things don’t work well then he would be considered a failure in life.
And perhaps he also wants to remain with bragging rights in his community — as a man who lives on a house with a spacious compound. His extended family perhaps looks at him as a guy who came to the city and built a fortune and doesn’t want to lose any of that. There is no need to sit on an asset that brings you no money when you can use it to make much more and live a comfortable life.
I am always reminded by people who claim not to be renting when they are actually very poor. I meet people who won’t sell land to live their lives because they must live something for the kids. Somebody once told me that it makes zero sense to prepare for kids. What is important is to prepare the kids. If you prepare for them, they will not value any properties you bequeath them. If they are prepared, they will keep your assets and actually make much more.
The majority of people who live in Kampala today were born outside the city. They migrated to Kampala and established themselves. However, Kampala wasn’t a desert. There were people who were born in Kampala. Those who were prepared for sold. Those who were prepared still have the assets and even have more, so his argument posits. So are you asset rich and cash poor? Maybe something needs to give!
The writer is a Communication and Visibility consultant. email@example.com