By Warren Nyamugasira
As Uganda was still in shock at the passing of Professor Dr James Mulwana, one of the greatest industrialists of our time, the media was awash with stories of the demise of Uganda’s flower industry to falling sales, high costs of doing business, lack of government support and above all, the effects of the Eurozone financial crisis.
A good number of companies such as Victoria, Melisa, Sayifa and even Magic and Expression have closed.
The latest to join the demise is Elma Roses in Mukono district. Their closure means loss of jobs in thousands, loss of revenue to the Government and loss of foreign currency to support imports and shore up the shilling from depreciation.
We should not forget that Europe is the biggest market for Ugandan cut flowers as the local market is insignificant.
My attention was first drawn to Dr Mulwana at the beginning of the 1990s when my former lecturer and then a colleague at World Vision, Dr Joe Muwonge told me that Mulwana was perhaps the richest Ugandan at the time, who had earned this status through genuine hard work and who should have been running the ministry of finance.
It is interesting that when eulogising Mulwana, one of the tabloids indicated that in fact President Museveni had on more than one occasion approached Mulwana to consider a ministerial post, which he respectfully declined each time.
During the preparations for CHOGM, I got to rub shoulders with the late Mulwana. It is then that I realised indeed he was a ‘genuine article’. He was completely down to earth and outright practical. At one stage I discussed with him a young graduate’s internship scheme that I was so passionate about and of all those I approached he was the one that made the most practical suggestions of how it could be executed.
But I was also struck by how patriotic he was. When planning for the Commonwealth business forum, he complained how a neighbouring country’s business council had undermined and frustrated him and the Uganda business council when trying to prepare a distinctively East African Business Forum, because the neighbours always wanted to be in the lead, even when Uganda was the host.
Now, unlike the Ugandan flower industry that produces mainly for the European market, Mulwana produced dairy products for the Ugandan market. He produced pens and plastics for Ugandan schools and households and for the sub-region.
For that reason, in my family, we drink Mulwana’s Jessa products because I believe that to build a strong foundation for our economy we all must support our ‘genuine article’ industrialists by buying Ugandan first and feeling proud about it.
I grew up with the mentality, which I am sure still prevails, that imported goods were superior in quality to homemade ones.
Likewise, policy makers still give the impression that those who produce for export are more important to the economy than those produce for the domestic market.
Let us honour our fallen ‘genuine articles’ by revisiting our mentality and consumption habits to support our local industrialists.
This way we can give hope even to the flower growers that they can diversify to what can be consumed locally and a market shall be available within Uganda and the sub-region while Europe recovers.
The writer is an Economist and a development activist