Opinion: No economic patriotism today

We should honour our local investors
We should honour our local investors

During the colonial era and the regimes which followed, the central government promoted many public enterprises on behalf of Ugandans. Consequently, companies such as Nyanza Textile Industries, Uganda Cement Industries, National Insurance Corporation, Uganda Commercial Bank and many others were created. The money for investment in these enterprises was obtained from public funds which meant that the enterprises belonged to the people of Uganda.

At the time of making these investments, Ugandans did not have much money. That is why the government did the investment on their behalf. It was hoped then that when Ugandans get enough money they will buy the government out of these enterprises so that their ownership is turned over to Ugandans.

Any subsequent government was supposed to follow this principle in order to make the Ugandan the owner of major production units in his country. This principle embodied economic patriotism of the first order. If all subsequent governments had continued to be that patriotic towards their citizens, we would have had economic emancipation by now.

However, when the NRM government came to power, the issue of economic patriotism was relegated to the back seat. The enterprises which used to belong to Ugandans through the central government were all sold to foreigners. For example, National Insurance Corporation was sold to Nigerians, Uganda Commercial Bank to South Africans, National Housing Corporation to Libyans, Lake Victoria Hotel to Libyans and so on. Some Corporations as well as their valuable assets just disappeared without a trace. The examples of such enterprises are Coffee Marketing Board, Lint Marketing Board, Transocean (U) Ltd, Uganda Airlines and many others.

It would have been patriotic if, when considering the sale of these enterprises, the NRM Government thought about the Ugandans who owned them. By the time NRM came, some private Ugandans were in a position to buy some of these enterprises. But were they ever considered? No. Instead, trips were made abroad by top government officials to entice foreigners so that they come and invest in Uganda, in readymade enterprises, at give away prices.

There is a law in our books where anyone causing financial loss to the public should be prosecuted. The officials who sold or who gave away these public enterprises should have been prosecuted and convicted, but were they? No. Those who caused such losses were very unpatriotic, to say the least.

Uganda is the only country in the world where a foreigner arrives today and starts work tomorrow without any work permit whatsoever. Some of these foreigners engage in simple activities which any patriotic government should reserve for its citizens. I have the example of Chinese in retail shops, Indians baking pancakes, Europeans running butcheries and Kenyans selling tomatoes in local markets. Besides, the immigration authorities allow foreigners to enter the country just simply and without justifying why they should come here.

A country attracts foreign investors in order to assist in the creation of jobs for its citizens. From time to time, the Uganda Investment Authority publishes figures of foreign investment attracted to the country bragging that Uganda is a very attractive destination to foreign investors. However, how many jobs are created? How many senior jobs are occupied by Ugandans? In this country, we have many banks. All of them, except one, are foreign owned. They make exorbitant profits, which, because of foreign exchange liberalization, are remitted to their shareholders abroad. The top, most executive positions of these banks are filled by foreigners. The same is true of insurance companies. All foreign insurers are led by foreigners. Do Ugandans not have enough education and experience to run these organizations? Is it too much to ask government to fend for the hapless Ugandans who look for jobs only to see that the top jobs are a reserve for foreigners?

Governments in many countries assist their citizens with seed capital to start money generating enterprises. Here, our NRM government just looks on, when citizens are being cheated by financial institutions. For example, all banks in this country proudly announce the huge profits they make year in year out whereas all they do is to get deposits cheaply from one group of people and to lend them to another group at very high interest rates. From their reports, it is clear that they could still make profits even if they reduced their interest charges. But the government cannot intervene on behalf of the borrower. What is bank supervision in the Bank of Uganda all about?

It appears that the NRM government has exhibited little economic patriotism to the native citizens. Foreigners get better treatment. There are many examples which even the reader himself can cite. Therefore the government should change its attitude towards its own people. It should exhibit economic patriotism by promoting the interest of Ugandans and by making the Ugandan the dominant factor in our country’s economic development.

John Ssebana Kizito is a practical Economist