Tt seems that a combination of the disastrous political history and the manner of recent chaotic political transitions creates a sense of mistrust
By Deo Sselwanga
One of the daily experiences of living and working abroad is that almost on a regular basis, you are going to be contacted by someone who wants to join you abroad.
Given the high rates of unemployment and underemployment in Uganda, it is not difficult to understand why most people would be keen on any opportunity to go abroad. Given my background and a keen interest in Diaspora issues, I always make an effort to engage potential migrants so as to find out their motivations for considering moving abroad.
A very important discovery I have established is that while many people would want to leave because of poverty, there is also a huge category of those who are super rich and have more wealth than they will ever need to live a luxurious life for another three hundred years but still want to move abroad.
I have always held the view that most people living in “developing countries” have overrated and uninformed opinions about the economic situation and the quality of life in Western Europe and North America. A common question I have always asked the seemingly wealthy people who want to migrate is, “Given what you are doing and what you have, why would you want to go abroad? Also for all Africans that I have met abroad, I have always solicited for their views on investing and returning to Africa
Apparently, it seems that a combination of the disastrous political history and the manner of recent chaotic political transitions creates a sense of mistrust regarding future stability and some people have justified fears of losing their wealth in case of a negative political outcome. In Uganda for instance, there are not so many prominent families that have been able to steadily transfer wealth from one generation to the other.
It is common to find children and grandchildren of families that were super wealthy in the 1970s and early 1980s who are currently too poor to even afford the luxury of School fees in a decent school and other basic necessities to sustain life.
The only traces of wealth in such families is seen in the form of a huge and dilapidated house with old model cars such as a Fiat, Peugeot 504, Renault, a mini minor or a Volkswagen Beetle which hasn't been driven for over three decades, turned into a breeding place for rodents and half of its body is already submerged into the ground.
While there are other factors that could have led to the failure of such families to transfer wealth to the next generation, it is common to learn that the fortunes of most families suddenly crumbled on the day there was a change in Government. The fact that wealth and financial stability is largely tied to a political regime is, therefore, a genuine cause for some Diaspora and locals to invest elsewhere.
Additionally, one benefit of living abroad is that you constantly meet and interact with Ugandans who hail from the former ruling class. From the widows of Idi Amin to children of previous Governments' ministers who do odd jobs for a living, you are constantly humbled by the stories of how people’s economic fortunes in African Countries can disappear in a split of a second. For instance, during a conversation with the son to a minister of one of the former Governments, I was humbled to learn that his family had the biggest herd of cattle in the entire
Eastern Uganda. However, due to an unfavourable change of Government, they one day woke up to see that all the cows had died due to poisoning in what was believed to be an act of malicious revenge for the loyalty of his father to the former Government and his refusal to work for the Government that had just taken over power. I also know and happened to meet a former vice president of one of the East African countries who miserably thrives on Welfare in a Canadian City!
Therefore, whilst we spend billions of shillings in trying to woo foreign investors, we have to be mindful of a huge section of Ugandan Diaspora and locals who would rather invest elsewhere due to uncertainty over the political future. It, therefore, follows that the biggest contribution any leader can contribute to the investment climate is fostering political certainty. Among the ways of fostering that certainty entails ensuring the rule of law as well as real signs and measures for the possibility of a peaceful transition of power from one regime to another.
Otherwise, we might have to contend with pseudo foreign investors whom we will give excessive incentives such as interest- free Capital, free land, permanent tax waivers and cheap labour yet we will never be able to prevent them from repatriating the profits to their countries of origin.
The writer is a social worker in Alberta-Canada