By Our Reporters
President Museveni two weeks ago went downtown and moved around the different working places for the different trader groups. He addressed rallies explaining economic transformation. In the end, he gave out about Shs3bn to boost the different groups, according to conservative estimates. Many have continued wondering how the whole thing, largely perceived as an effort to counter Bobi Wine’s People Power tide, was conceptualized.
As she intensifies her efforts to neutralize opposition groups in urban centers, State House Comptroller Lucy Nakyobe sent her blue eyed boy Dr. Hillary Musoke to research on how the Kampala Central Business District (CBD) could be penetrated. The Nakyobe caravan had earlier been to the ghettoes were the urban poor live. Appalled by the squalid conditions in which she found them, Nakyobe secured the Principal’s nod and began pouring money in them as part of the broader strategy to integrate them into the Museveni wealth creation strategy. Whereas the ghetto boys live in extreme poverty and are easy to penetrate and cajole, strategy had to be different with the traders in the CBD. Why? They have some money, drive good cars and own decent houses in suburbs like Kiira, Nansana, Seeta etc. Much as they have problems like banks imposing high interest rates, the CBD working class guys are more sophisticated because they are widely travelled and therefore more exposed than the typical ghetto youth. On average such businesspeople, travel abroad for trade at least four times a year. But they have one thing in common with the ghetto-and that is being youthful because the average age of today’s arcade trader is 30-35 years. Determined as usual, Musoke embarked on the Nakyobe assignment with enthusiasm. He reached out to mostly traders who have self-help associations and was able to learn the problems they face as they bring imported merchandize into the Country. These include high taxes by URA and high quality standards imposed by UNBS which quite often impounds their merchandize and even prosecutes some at the new utility court based at Buganda road.
Musoke listened to female youthful traders mostly because in most cases these tend to be more truthful than male counterparts who are always manipulative, hostile and self-seeking. The individual female traders kept referring to Kampala Women Traders Development Association (KAWOTDA) whose chairperson Hajara Akankwatsa he finally got to meet. State House was astonished to learn that under KAWOTDA, over 3,000 female traders are registered and all of them operate in the Kampala CBD-and all are wholesalers. The other fascination was that the Association members have a network of large scale retailers from all Uganda’s major towns upcountry who buy stuff from them for resale in their shops upcountry. The membership register was scrutinized and it was confirmed the Association indeed exists. As he interacted with KAWOTDA executives, Musoke reported back to his boss Nakyobe who became excited and proposed that Musoke works with Akankwatsa and get the young women to Kololo where the President would meet and interact with them the way he has been doing with the younger girls training under his Kampala-wide Skilling the Girl Child initiative. Akankwatsa objected saying the best way the President would get firsthand experience is by travelling to the ground and interact with them at the respective work places. It was also agreed that the program be broadened so that the big man meets traders in other business clusters that same day since they all operate in the same CBD. Majority of Akankwatsa’s KAWOTDA members are into garments and textiles products-mostly clothes imported from Turkey, Europe and China. They are based at Nabugabo which alone has 700 garments importers. Nakyobe accepted to broaden the program and that’s how the big man ended up going to the taxi park, Nakasero, Owino and Kisekka markets. In all these places he sat down and listened to traders’ problems and responded to them. Because Nakyobe insists on promptness to avoid long standing undelivered pledges, the big man offered cash (not promises) that same day.
Museveni, who sources say was pleasantly surprised by the large crowds that came to see him at the respective meetings, had Nabugabo as his 2nd last stop. Here vision bearer and idea-originator Hajara Akankwatsa spoke on behalf of her KAWOTDA members. She told Museveni about the UNBS and URA-inflicted problems but it was her group members’ desire to build capacity to begin manufacturing garments here locally that excited Museveni most. As she spoke he kept stopping her asking for clarification as he noted down some points. She told the President they aren’t interested in being given cash (the Shs100m each group got) but rather they want institutional support to work with Turkish partners to effect knowledge transfers so that they are able to manufacture all the lady garments, cotton and linen shirts locally here so that forex is saved. “Mr. President we don’t enjoy travelling to Turkey or even China anymore because it’s a cost to us. Each time I travel I’m spending money which eats into my profits. Our dream is to be supported to have a factory here so that our Turkish friends come and help us start off with the relevant technologies so that those job opportunities are created here and we also save that money lost in travel and accommodation while there,” she told Museveni as her members clapped in approval. “We have actually started on that already in our own way because next week, 10 of us are travelling to Turkey for a benchmarking trip on how we can start doing this in our own way. We want to understand what it takes for us to have those specifications manufactured here and once we know what it takes we can go into the financials to see how to go about it.” Museveni in his subsequent speech praised Akankwatsa for her insightfulness and ordered Nakyobe to financially support the benchmarking trip so that a larger number travels and benefits. Nakyobe did as instructed and 20 young female traders indeed made the Turkish trip and on the delegation was Hillary Musoke who remains the State House contact person. President Museveni is ready to work with Akankwatsa’s group to intensify his wealth creation gospel using the KAWOTDA network.