We still live in Uganda…

This post is also available in: German

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Joseph Ntensibe

Friends are enquiring, “why is it so quiet on your blog..?” Herewith an article in response…

While it’s snowing in Germany and the cold spell lingers in Europe, I’m sitting, as usual, in thin clothing on my terrace in the new house glad that it’s finally evening and the heat of the day has passed.

I must admit that at the moment I really don’t know what to write. When I worked for the development services there were more than plenty of hot and controversial topics which I was discussing on the blog. Unfortunately I have not yet found the time to translate these many articles into English so that the reader cannot see them on the English version of this blog. However, should somebody be interested in these articles please access the German version of this blog and use the automatic translation button on the right for a rough translation. Hier a link to the Category “Development” which contains probably the most interesting articles. An automatic translation will be not beautiful or literal but should give you a good idea of the contents.

There are quite a number of articles which caused hot discussion and probably even contributed to my departure from the beautifully (cynically) marketed, professional aid world which attracts billions in funds and an uncountable number of NGO’s and organisations. Many of them making their living and super profits (at the expense of the people they claim to be helping) using the guilt complexes of people living in developed countries by pretending to ‘help’ developing countries but sadly often exploiting them instead.

Some of my best articles (in my personal opinion) are:
Rights of a Free Opinion in Development Services
Self Censorship and Anticipatory Obedience
What Developes Aid Services?
The Life of an Expatriate

However, since the end of April I am out of ‘developing Uganda’ and now working in the free economy, far away from development assistance. My life now exists in a parallel world to volunteer services. And this really is a parallel world!

It has been refreshing to meet motivated and like-minded co-workers, see a focus towards profit orientation, use functioning computers, infrastructures and strategic management, all whilst rubbing shoulders with Uganda’s increasing middle class…

Uganda’s economy is mushrooming; the number of companies almost doubles every year; new office buildings shoot from the ground; the traffic system is collapsing because there are too many cars for the few poor roads; pollution is a problem.

Although there is probably more than one story from the economic sector to tell, I have to be careful. Already, the great world of `development assistance services’ showed me with my dismissal that transparency is not taken seriously: it’s just on paper, but now I face international profit-oriented conglomerates, and have to be a little more ‘diplomatic’ with the content of my blog.

However, the enterprises here function more or less like every other enterprise in Europe. The only difference is that these enterprises are active mainly in the African market and not in Europe, and that my colleagues are not Europeans but Africans. But otherwise everything is quite similar, except for the larger profit margins and smaller competition between industries or business sectors.

If in Europe a small or middle sized enterprise wishes to employ an additional worker, the management considers this decision perhaps 20 times. There are not only the enormously high wages and on-costs, but also things like legal protection against unfair dismissal, protection in case of a pregnancy, and many other workers’ protection laws.

Here in Uganda this is substantially simpler. All these protection laws are almost non-existent, and the few strict employee laws are straight forward and simple. In addition, labour costs do not really play a significant role in a company. One can employ a highly-qualified worker for 600,000 Ugandan Shillings per month (200 EUR). These people queue for a job and a wrong personnel decision does not necessarily mean a real monetary loss for the company and in case the new worker doesn’t fit in or perform the company can offload them fast and quickly (pay them off relatively cheaply).

On the other side there is the income, and at least for high-quality services and products, the income is quite comparable with Europe. If I sell a product in Europe for the sum X, in Uganda I can obtain nearly the same or even a higher price. This means if I set up my enterprise professionally, I can make similar income as in Europe, with employment costs at only a fraction of European costs, and effectively my profit margins are significantly higher than in Europe. On top of this I don’t have to bother too much with a proper management structure or try to be absolutely organised because I can still make enough money. And with the small labour costs I can employ five people and grow five times as fast if I’m not completely inept in running my company.

Therefore my husband and I decided to found a company in Uganda and give it a try; we found ourselves at the right place at the right time for once in our lives! However since I write this blog anonymously, unfortunately I cannot publish details of our planned ventures; but naturally the preparations mean a large quantity of work, and therefore the blog has become a little quieter than usual. I apologise!

Now a change of topic to African Art: recently we visited an exhibition of Ugandan modern art (paintings, drawings and sculptures) and took a few pictures which I have inserted into this article. I must admit that we were quite surprised with the high quality of some of the work. In particular, a couple of fantastic acrylic paintings in a unique style of short horizontal lines fetched $4,000 each. The pictures were hard to comprehend close-up, but from a distance they magically transmuted into beautiful and colourful scenes from Entebbe Botanical Gardens. Artists are only just becoming recognised in Uganda as meaningful members of society and were previously thought of as layabouts, wasters or just too lazy to get a proper job.

Interestingly, in most works one can see the influence of the teacher quite clearly. Thus the painter, who studied eight years in St. Petersburg and combines Russian icon painting with African motives. Or the artist who had an Italian teacher, or the one with a French mentor… The art is genuinely impressive and surely unique. African painting with French influence, or Russian, or Italian… Very interesting!

Unfortunately Uganda does not have an arts museum or even national gallery and therefore exhibitions of art are very, very rare. Most artists work somewhere in their tiny workshops, where one only passes by chance. I was told that Makerere university used to have an excellent collection of Ugandan art, but the paintings were sold as Makerere experienced serious funding problems and now the Ugandan art is found mainly abroad. The majority of art buyers still consist of foreigners, which leads to the art being exported and sold abroad. Art is produced and bought in Uganda and then sold abroad by foreigners.

There is so much to do in Uganda and as always, I’m really glad to be here and in the middle of it! I apologize for the long silence and promise that I will put myself out to publish more often.