Uganda should invest more in employment than in entrepreneurship.

Uganda government is investing heavily in poverty eradication initiatives like NARDS, The Youth fund, among others. In a nutshell, these programs are built around a generalized schema of creating a source of revenue from scratch for Ugandans with any background. It is a very non-isolate approach. And since it is designed to appeal to those with or below the least acceptable source of income, it is meets the least privileged among Ugandans. The only problem with the government's implementation of this approach is that it might have been based on assumptions that are not only fundamentally wrong but also gravely misleading — the one step forward two steps back kind;

I am not going to get into the whole corruption is killing our country and that the same people who are milking the government are the ones benefiting from the war against poverty. It is all true. But it has been said very many times that no matter how important it is to say and no matter how important it is that you actually know and understand it as a problem, it is boring to repeat.

You do not have to be an entrepreneur to not be poor.

Uganda which prides itself as most known for entrepreneurship may soon get trapped in the same illusion that it is trying to sale to the rest of the world.

Firstly, entrepreneurship is great. It is very expressive. It encourages creativity. It creates jobs. And if done right, it actually solves the world’s problems. But there is a difference between what the government reports are trying to sell as entrepreneurship in Uganda vs What the state of entrepreneurship in the country actually is. While your imagining the solar cars from Kiira Motors, or transport on demand from safeboda, or the free Mobile Health services from The Medical Concierge Group — The actual Ugandan entrepreneur who is making those numbers in government reports is; Bukelele, at Kafenne bodaboda stage along Kigowa Valley Curve Road and fellow bodaboda owners in the country. Frank, at Kiwatule Stage and fellow rolex business owners, who for the record do not make a rolex as good as Frank does. Bosco, of Joggo, Sseta, who sold me my first Tanulu, and fellow brick layers in the country. The similarity between the businesses run by these entrepreneurs are; 1) Any Uganda with some seed capital can kick it off and run it as a business without much formal training. 2) Many Ugandans are already doing that. 3) Most Ugandans doing this are not yet above the poverty line.

Bukelele, Frank and Bosco are not poor; Not only because they chose to become entrepreneurs, but also because they are quite good businessmen. Bukelele has his informal reward system where he gives you a free random ride as a way of encouraging you to keep using his services or a way of giving back, I’ve never bothered to ask. Frank simply has the best rolex I’ve ever eaten. I am not even sure if it is his business or kitchen skills that have kept his business flourishing. I bought Bosco’s bricks at twenty shillings more than the average brick price in the same kilombe because he some how convinced me that even if all the other bricks met the minimum standards, I should choose his which were of best quality in the area — some bullshit philosophy about how building a house is a big achievement that deserves the best brick even if they came at an extra price. All three of these guys have the one natural thing about their person that they bring along in their business. That is why they are good at what they do.

The government is refusing to notice this. It is trying to convince people that the distance between them and poverty is that capital to start a new business. Whether it is cash from the youth fund or Seedlings from the NARDS program. This is not only simplistic and extremely ineffective, it is hurting the economy and increasing poverty. Now Frank has to compete with another guy across the road, whose name I refused to learn because of how terrible his chapatis taste, because the rolex business is the easiest to get into. This will in return force Frank to either invest more into his business which means making it a higher end restaurant which means charging new prices which means targeting a new client base which means attracting new competition which ideally means starting an entirely new business. Else, he relies on his quality and talent and reputation to help him beat his competition. But then another rolex guy is going to appear around the street and another and another… And eventually Frank will become the one good tomato in a basket of very bad ones and we shall start to notice him less.

Employment is the only way out — No shortcuts

A Business can make person rich but it is only a job that can take a man out of poverty. Employment is one of the only opportunities that help you grow professionally or even creatively. It presents challenges that are very similar to business ownership and consequences that have more impact than school but are more manageable than in a business. For a Ugandan trying to get out of poverty, it is the best place to start.

Give him a fish and he will feed today but if you teach him how to fish, he will eat whenever he wants.

Giving people free things; either food, shelter, seed capital, etc can only help poor Ugandans eat or sleep or start a business at that moment. But what happens when the business returns it’s first losses? Because it will.

Why isn’t the government directly encouraging businesses to higher more people by giving them tax incentives instead of those that donate more? Instead of encouraging entrepreneurs in Owino, shouldn’t the government invest in local manufacturing instead? Shouldn’t it encourage protectionism of already locally manufactured products rather than encouraging Ugandans to make more not very useful products?

Everything in Uganda is made in China or India. Yes, everything. Including toilet paper, toothpicks and hoes — in fact, it is highly likely that farmers in China don’t even use hoes. The entrepreneurs in Uganda that make the country so entrepreneurial are the guys who import the hoes and sell them to farmer. They are so many of them. More than 50% of Kampalans either own a bodaboda or ride one. Why isn’t Uganda encouraging Bajaj to assemble their bikes here?

Although, I personally believe that entrepreneurship is great. It unfortunately is not the way out of poverty. It requires a lot of hard work, commitment, talent, creativity, risk management and luck before it can produce any actual value. These are factors that are not readily found in most people currently living below the poverty line.