Ugandans need money in pockets post-2016

My sister’s phone was stolen last week! It is the second one she has lost this year, but she also lost a couple in 2014.

She was in a taxi at Usafi car park and had just completed a call. The thief walked up to the window, snatched the phone and calmly walked off.

Of course she screamed but that is all she could do. Fellow matatu passengers calmed her down but none offered to jump out of the stationary vehicle to chase after the thief. The thief knew no one would be coming after him, because he was not in any hurry as he left!

There are many petty thieves in that area from Kalitunsi, Usafi and all the way up Queen’s way to Kibuye. I have personally seen them in action when they snatch property from unsuspecting drivers in traffic jam. Many people must know them because these thieves are there all the time, but it seems that no one cares.

From about 7pm to 9pm, Queen’s way is loaded with human traffic; thousands walk back home after work. It costs Shs 1,000 to Kibuye and Shs 1,500 to Najjanankumbi by taxi. A boda boda charges anything between Shs 3,000 and Shs 5,000 or higher at peak times. Bicycle riders charge about Shs 2,000, but not many use them at night.

When one chooses to walk, it means that they either do not have the Shs 1,000 transport fare or that they are saving that money for some other priority purpose. So, we have thousands leaving the capital city at the end of a working day that cannot afford a taxi fare. No wonder they do not seem to care about the petty thieves along the way!

Coincidentally, I have been to three different banks recently. Initially, I was happily surprised by the lack of queues and hence quick service in the banking halls. However, on reflection, I realised that something must be amiss. This is Christmas time and a high-expenditure season.

Are banks pleased that there are no crowds of people manually crediting or withdrawing funds? Was this planned? Or has everyone switched to telephone banking where funds can be remitted to anywhere in Uganda swiftly and immediately?

In truth, banks would like some more people in banking halls and that is why they pride themselves in the number of branches they have. However, they have lost ground to mobile telephone banking where no ID is required to deposit or withdraw money.

Note that all the mobile telephone banking platforms are far more expensive than banks; but because there is no bureaucracy involved, most people prefer them to banks.

There is also another reason why the banks are empty; we just do not have the money! A banker friend of mine told me that financial challenges are brewing.

Usually around this time, many employees would be getting December salaries ahead of the festive season, but some employees have not been paid for months now.

In addition, individuals’ deposits on accounts have fallen – previously, people that used to deposit Shs 10m now bank half or less. Those that deposited Shs 5m are down to Shs 2m and many who used to deposit Shs 200,000 are no longer going to banks.

Another friend, who refers to her self-employment work in real estate as ‘China Town’, says no one is buying. Developers are unwilling to purchase land even for speculation purposes; meaning that capital is tied up in plots of land.

So, what do we do? David Nyende, an auditor and economist, argues in The Independent of November 22, 2015 that we now need economic pragmatism.

His view is that whereas government has made commendable investment in the country’s infrastructure in the transport and energy sector, this does not necessarily result in economic growth.

Indeed, government’s current heavy investment has not translated into cash for my sister to promptly acquire a new replacement phone, or school fees, or transport fares for walkers every evening. Nor will it stop the petty thieves who grab phones for instant cash on the black market.

Nyende asserts that in order to ensure worthwhile job creation, we must bite the bullet and develop government-owned companies, especially in manufacturing. It is this kind of secondary investment that will put money in our pockets and spur economic growth.

What we need from wannabe leaders are strategies for ensuring that we have cash in our pockets post-2016. Nyende’s ideas are worth our attention, because the oil dream seems far-off, seeing how market prices are in free fall currently.

The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers.

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