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This is not about politics. It is about the politics of business. 

If you have been following parliamentary proceedings closely, you understand the real and potential business opportunities this country has missed as result of indecision by some of our MPs.

Most just don’t have the business IQ. They need serious training in basic investment and finance.

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The Post-Meles Zenawi Ethiopia presents the United States with a significant opportunity to encourage Ethiopia to improve its human rights record, liberalize its economy, and provide increased space for opposition parties and civil society organizations. Post-Meles Ethiopia also presents a significant challenge since Ethiopia plays an important role in advancing regional integration and mitigating regional conflict in Somalia and Sudan. Our partnership with Ethiopia balances these interests by focusing on democracy, governance, and human rights; economic growth and development; and regional peace and security.

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June 4th 2013. Women leaders from the East African Community (EAC) holding national, regional and international offices as well as selected male political leaders are in Kigali attending the 3rd EAC Dialogue on Political Integration will address the question whether women leaders fit the description as driver of the EAC political integration agenda.

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The difference between a gorgeous wretched girl and an unattractive poor one is that the former can easily land a very liquid suitor to change her destiny. That is precisely what happened to UTL last month when it signed a ‘code sharing agreement’ with telecom giant Vodafone.

Under the agreement, it is expected that the two telecoms will merge synergies to provide customer enhanced services. UTL is said to have a ‘Museum’ of all kinds of telecom equipment ranging from the most archaic to state of the art models. On the other hand, Vodafone is very liquid. Vodafone will tap onto UTL’s infrastructure as it seeks to gain inroads in Uganda’s telecom industry especially through data services to Uganda’s high volume users. In return, Vodafone is expected to upgrade UTL’s old infrastructure.

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In 2010, when Airtel announced entry in the Uganda’s Telecom market, MTN sent their then Marketing Manager, Isaac Nsereko, to India on a fact finding mission. His role was to undertake a competitiveness analysis on Airtel – especially their unique way of doing business and how the market appreciated their products and services. Upon his return, MTN convened a meeting with all distributors at the former Ranch on the lake Hotel to discuss strategies for handling the new entrant.

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Emerging from the muddled Celtel brand, Airtel continues to dream big with long-term vision of being a market leader in at least one East African country. With Safaricom in free rise in Kenya, their best bet would be Uganda. The question is: can Airtel really pull it off? 

Airtel’s acquisition of Warid in early 2013 was one such attempt to getting closer to the market leader’s MTN. Unfortunately, a series of bumps along the way in terms of changes in Airtel’s top leadership, poor execution of the Warid consolidation exercise, inconsistency in the implementation of the marketing and promotion strategy, and failure to leverage from Airtel money has failed the telecom to perform optimally.

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The ability to keep operating costs below the belt is critical to the success of financial institutions. The cost to income ratio is such critical measure in assessing profitability. Being a listed company, Stanbic is under pressure to perform. While Stanbic Bank remains the biggest bank, it is struggling with high opex (operating costs) which are eating into their profits. For example, cost to income ratio hit an all-time high 67% in 2010, 47.2% in 2011 and 40% in 2012.

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Crane bank has got into partnership with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to make accessibility for affordable credit for expansion available to the small and medium sized firms. Through this partnership, the EIB released Euros 28m (Shs 94bn) to Crane bank for onward lending to local businesses.

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Japheth Katto is the new Chairman of the Board of Stanbic Bank Uganda Limited. Mr. Katto is a consultant in corporate governance, capital markets, pensions and leadership development. He was until the end of 2013 the CEO of Capital Markets Authority (CMA) Uganda for 16 years.

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Fast growing British-American Investments Company (Britam), has brought majority shares in, Real Insurance with operations in Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique for $15.74 million.

Britam has grown tremendously from a small home based service insurance company to the leading diversified financial services provider in the region, with an asset base of over Kshs 55 billion, as at June 30, 2014.

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In the words of John Robert Wooden, the famous former American basketball player and coach, “Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to stay there.” It certainly is not by mistake but by certain intricate design that Jubilee insurance has topped the insurance charts yet again.

The Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) has released results for the year 2013 showing higher-than-projected sector growth due to impressive economic growth and declining lending rates.

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The insurance sector saw great success in 2013 as more Ugandans began appreciating their need. Insurance premiums hit Ugx 435bn in the year 2013, a growth of 24% largely attributed to improved economic conditions with lower inflation and commercial bank interest rates.

The average lending rates declined to 22.7% at the end of September 2013 from highs of 27% in March 2012, boosting trade, investment and spending power during the year. The sector benefited from this growth.

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We are now past the last month of the first half of the year. I guess majority of you reading this article have hardly ticked any of your 2012 resolutions. That basically indicates little change in your life.

Still having the same routine events, cash in-inflow, mode of transport, apartment you are renting and probably the list of debts has not changed to better. Taking an initia­tive to move forward in your life is never easy. You are unique. Avoid being comfortable in the state you are in, yet dream of a better life. To move ahead, you must let go of something. Here are ideas to move ahead. 

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Telecom giant MTN Uganda is set to award fully paid scholarships to twenty one student’s around the country. The announcement was made during the launch of the annual 21 days of Y’ello Care staff initiative.

The 21 days of Y’ello Care is an annual MTN staff volunteerism initiative in which employees across MTN’s international footprint take time off to physically get involved in activities that uplift communities around them through financial, physical and emotional contributions of staff and MTN as a corporate citizen.

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It is a deal that was expected. Doing telecom business in Uganda against opponents like MTN Uganda requires combined strengths. How else can you compete against a giant?

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Barbara Ofwono Buyondo, the proprietor of Victorious Schools is overall winner of MTN Women in Business SME CEO of the year 2015. The judges were impressed by her prepositions to grow her business from one small outfit to the current chain of Victorious schools.

Ms Barbara together with Lindsay Handler, the owner of Fenix International and Kainembabazi Sabiiti the Country manager of Amadeus Travel Company received  a work trip to South Africa to meet the biggest SME and learn from them, MTN office Wi-Fi for six months, $10,000 from the Y’ello Rose program, CUG activation and free subscription for six months, five MTN Fixed lines ,and one year hosting at Mutundwe data center from MTN Uganda.

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You are an entrepreneur and make your first million within the first eight months of operation.  After running your company for four years, you call it quit and seek a government job [not because business is bad]. You work for the government for one year and then you get back to your company and restart it. Within six years of your second attempt at business, your company is voted as the best managed mid-sized business in the country. This is Joanne Mwangi’s entrepreneurial story, the marketing genius fondly referred to as a lady who  ‘makes products move.’

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In Uganda, private and public organizations don’t take people with innovations seriously. In the process the economy loses billions of shillings in form of entrepreneurial excellence and employment opportunities. 
Bureaucracy, jealousy, pride and general lack of respect for local people has made it impossible for folks with great ideas to secure that much needed business lifeline to get their business going.  
We explore how some people in positions of authority have made it their job to frustrate local Ugandans with good ideas.

There are a number of good and talented brains out there who would change the way businesses is done but these are never given an opportunity.

Many times people with inno­vative ideas are seen as a threat. Many a CEO and heads of departments fear to lose their jobs and livelihood if they let brilliant people closer. Such executives and managers often suffer from a deadly disease of inferiority complex which is of­ten caused by obtaining a senior job based on know who rather than know how. Senior government jobs especially in the ministries, public entities and to some extent big businessesin the private sector are at a high risk of suffering from the disease.

Uganda government is the biggest single business partner for any business in the country. It is easy to influence a decision in any business as long as they need to get business opportunities. The corporate ‘mafia’ has penetrated all the circles. The wife is in the ministry, the husband in the bank and the daughter in the investigation department. You will find the relatives of the executives in deep circles in all businesses – private or public. The problem is big. Dealing with a person without the skills and faculties to handle a senior position they hold is the worst punishment business people have been subjected to. Someone sup­posed to have been a plumber (with due respect to the profession) is in charge of approving your Ugx. 400+ million projects. Such people suffer from indeci­sion and technical limitations. They just cannot comprehend as are lazy readers. And of course, all their thinking is about travelling abroad just to get hold of that small per diem.

For how long can the public portend with this mess? How much does the country lose for having a wrong person in a critical position? How come such positions are never made competitive?

Unfortunately this is the new reality. Enter the game of corporate politics and systematic failure.

A leadership dilemma?

The biggest challenge to business in Uganda is the tendency of senior managers to want to do the day-to-day work. This is not attention to detail. It is micromanaging. In the process, this ob­scures the big picture -- furthering their mandate to think long-term by focusing on technology and the customer.

As a managing director of say Mulago hospital, your work is not to perform operations in the theater and or to of­fer prescription or receive and register patients. There must be processes and proper role allocation based on experi­ence, skill and training. As a manager, your role is to ensure that things are done the right way, patients are treated and that everything is in order.

In Uganda, when most people get into positions of authority, they try to use their positions to let down others instead of creating an environment where everyone can thrive. And thus creativity and innovation are constrained because everyone looks to the boss with fear for their job. If the other person is seen as intelligent, the boss becomes insecure. That would be a reason to terminate their services. A leader is supposed to help people do things not doing the things?

This is causing a lot of problems, in­novative Ugandan’s are frustrated when they propose projects that would benefit the organizations and country as whole. They are never given the audience. It is a painful experience. The so called personal assistants (PAs) are so power­ful that they can find all the reason as to why you should not see the executive director or permanent secretary. Why should public offices not be open to the public for business?

Who knows you?

If you have not been disappointed you probably have not yet tried. One of the local entrepreneurs who spoke to SBR on anonymity explained how his business has hit a snag because executives just don’t have time to listen. After failing to meet government executives, he made a visit to the Private Sector Founda­tion and Uganda Investment Authority. These too, turned cold feet.

Never mind these are top organiza­tions whose mandate is to contribute and foster investment and economic growth of the country. “I was told by the receptionist that the CEO could not see me. Not even his assistant had time to meet me. At Private Sector Founda­tion, after several attempts to see the CEO, I was asked to meet an officer who initially liked my business. He asked for a proposal which I immediately submit­ted. Unfortunately it stopped at that. Two years later, I am yet to hear from them.”

Lessons from elsewhere

Safaricom is arguably one of the best companies in East Africa. Its success is attributed to the open hand approach to receiving and nurturing business ideas from all and sundry. The company has a department responsible for innovations, welcoming ideas from any individual in or outside the country. Anyone who has an idea is free to walk in and meet the head of department for innovations. Such a platform has helped to keep the company as a leader in telecommunica­tions ahead of the competition.

In Europe, it is the children who invent most of the technology we use today. Companies like Nokia give op­portunities to outside knowledge and indeed they have seen their performance improve greatly.

The lack of accountability and good business has made it difficult for people to do business. Take a case of telecom­munication companies. The head of marketing has a private PR firm or bulk SMS business. How can such people do the right thing when they are faced with a conflict of interest situation? On one hand s/he has to evaluate your busi­ness proposal and on the other hand he needs the project to be handled by his private company. The same reason is said to be respon­sible to for poor service delivery. Ap­parently government encourages public servants to operate private businesses so as to augment their revenues. When it comes to awarding a tender should I mind about merit or I should award it to my own firm? What if my firm lacks the capacity to deliver? Who cares whether the contract is not performed?

Here is one man’s disappointment

Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) runs a directory – in print and online. However, considering the rate of Internet penetration and the user unfriendliness of a print directory, I proposed to PSFU to have their direc­tory on mobile whereby users could access it anytime on any mobile gadget whether smart phone or not. Being a national wide organization, I proposed a mobile profile that would change cur­rent directory and carrying all business in Uganda. After implementation, the mobile system would easily pick any data changes like names, addresses or business type. With over 16 million Ugandans with mobile phones, it would be easy for every phone holder to look up any business of interest and contact them. There are so many farmers out there who would like to know the near­est NAADS extension offices in their districts but have no way of finding out. The mobile directory I proposed to PSFU would have made it easy. And it does not require a lot of initial capital, as I have already made the investment in the system. All I needed was their buy-in and obtaining their directory details and logistical support.

I talked to the PSFU chairman and all the relevant individuals in vain. This project would have among others brought a positive development and reputation to the entity and the coun­try at large. But it was frustrated. It is painful to be denied the opportunity to showcase your ideas. I’ve tried to talk to everyone including the officer (name withheld) responsible for projects like this one at PSFU to no avail. What causes such behavior?

Uganda Investment Authority is no different. I talked to the receptionist and explained about my mobile project to undertake and therefore I needed to meet the relevant person preferably the ED. Again, I was told I could not meet them but instead asked to write I pro­posal which I submitted. Twelve months later, I have never received feedback.

There are very many Ugandans in the diaspora wanting to come back and invest in the country but are not given the opportunity. People in the diaspora contribute a lot to the development of the economy as such people have been exposed and therefore knowledgeable about what good looks like. Majority have access to cheap financing. I had project that would link Ugandans in the diaspora to the local investment oppor­tunities, but I was blocked. All I needed was their assistance to let the other people know that am doing this business in Uganda and the money would flow. SBR could not obtain comments from UIA on this issue, as the public relations officer could not meet us but preferred to respond to our enquiries via email.

Local vs. foreign investment

There is a mentality that foreign inves­tors are better than local ones. With rampant corruption, most officers prefer to work with ‘foreign’ companies for a number of reasons. They get the op­portunity to travel abroad (to the offices of the foreign companies) to ‘confirm’ a few things. This has a lot of benefits to them including travel allowances and kick backs. For example, there a number of good companies that offer transla­tion services. However, what happens is that Ugandans prefer to go for foreign companies who in most cases outsource the services to the local firms at very low cost which is exploitative. Who is accountable for the costs of the resulting losses to the economy? Where did the value for money auditors go?

The cost of delaying decisions

The cost of blocking projects and inno­vations is about ¾ of the total revenue of the company. You see business is about timing, it’s not so much about good solu­tions and products. It is about timing. If you don’t act now, you risk losing billions. When people fail to adopt new projects and innovations and keeping people with innovative ideas waiting, telling people to write proposals, you are delaying business. What if you just give a person say two to five minutes. If it’s interesting, you may consider investing more time.

The five minutes you give to person could change your business by big margin or else competitor may take over that op­portunity. Businesses succeed as a result of good ideas.

It does not matter whether you are mak­ing profits. You lose something whenever you deny listening to great ideas. For government employees, this cost is cov­ered by the tax payer and that is the most frustrating part. No wonder H.E. Presi­dent Museveni also gets frustrated. The president has been talking about officers who block opportunities -- Bujagali project would have taken two years, but will now take more years. By the time it is complete then, the demand will be five times higher. That is the cost of a delayed decision mak­ing.

Finland decided long ago that since they were behind other countries, they cut all red tape. Thus all decisions are made in parliament, so are most treaties. They had no time to waste in referendum and consultations.Get the information you need, take the decision and when there is a mistake, review and make good.

Are you there?

As a CEO or senior executive, you need to make it easy for people to access your of­fice. These days it is even much easy with social media. Pass on your twitter account to people. It is unfortunate that for most CEOs in Uganda, when you ask them ques­tions on twitter, they don’t answer.

However, people like Richard Branson, when you ask them something on twitter, he answers as long as it concerns his busi­ness or if it makes sense. You should not think of a position as bigger than everything. You must know that if you open a twitter account, you do it for a purpose - to interact and it is not to show how bigger you are. There is always a bigger boat.

Technology makes it so open, that an office becomes a virtual office. Listen to everyone, and get sense out of what they say. You can pick out what you want and ignore the rest.

Take an example of standard chartered bank. They put up the contact number of the MD on all their ATM cards. Even when you go to the ATM, CEO’s number is there to contact him any time. This has created confidence to the customers. And indeed their profits have increased over time. They changed their way of doing business. When you get into bank, you know you are in a bank. These are small things but very impor­tant.

Listen to everyone and make difference.

Don’t frustrate people. Sometimes just lis­tening to what one has to say is what matters.

May God bless our country.

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