A literary and socio-political analyst
Driving in the outskirts of Metropolitan Kampala the other night, my fancy was swayed by the sight of the Kampala Hilton Hotel, now in advanced stages of construction on the site tha
A literary and socio-political analyst
Driving in the outskirts of Metropolitan Kampala the other night, my fancy was swayed by the sight of the Kampala Hilton Hotel, now in advanced stages of construction on the site that used to house Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) Television.
Like all Hiltons, this one is turning out magnificently and it is not too difficult to run out of superlatives when trying to describe it at night, as it is a world of lights on its own. You want to think that for a beauty of this magnitude, acquiring this prime land was worth it.
But beyond the sheer beauty and splendour that this wonderful structure affords Kampala, one thing that came to my mind is what magnitude of opportunity it represented: How many Ugandans stood to benefit in terms of employment?
I must have been thinking aloud because the person next to me â€“ far more informed than I am in these matters â€“ promptly told me that more than 2,000 jobs were up for grabs. At a time when the global economy is at a low and employment remains the catchword of the day, this is clearly an excellent opportunity for Ugandans, whichever way you argue it.
When you broaden the picture to consider how many prime plots of land in Kampala have been allocated to investors for the purpose of development on a commercial basis, the significance of this becomes clearer. The plots adjacent to the Kampala Golf Course â€“ which were a subject of immense ruckus when they were allocated to investors â€“ have yielded several mega investments. Look at the Golf Course Hotel, which employs hundreds of Ugandans. Then there is Garden City, a major shopping centre which also employs hundreds of Ugandans in the various enterprises that are housed therein.
The new kid on the block is Nakumatt; another huge shopping centre that has come up with a unique policy of employing only Ugandans â€“ and so far has more than 1,000 of them. Move further down Jinja Road and you will find the mega stores Shoprite and Game which replaced a couple of football fields; something that was also made an issue which if you ask me, was simply brewing a storm in a teacup.
You want to think the fact that thousands of Ugandans are employed in the Shoprite and Game complex is well worth every inch of ground whose land use was changed. It is at such a time as this that you wonder what the people who were opposing allocation of land to investors were up to; to the extent that they derogatorily labelled the policy and exercise â€œland bonanzaâ€.
In strict English terms you want to think the word â€˜bonanzaâ€™ was a little grammatically offsideâ€”out of place given the several dictionary definitions of bonanza: 1: an exceptionally large and rich mineral deposit (as of an ore, precious metal, or petroleum) 2 a: something that is very valuable, profitable, or rewarding b: a very large amount. Semantics aside, what they were trying to mean was that the land was being given away freely to anyone who wished; apparently without any clear policy, aim or benefit to the country. What the critics of this policy did not consider was the obvious fact that one of Ugandaâ€™s biggest problems is unemployment; with about two out of every five Ugandans jobless.
Out of Ugandaâ€™s 21 public and private universities plus the scores of lesser tertiary institutions, graduates are churned out by the thousands every year.
This clearly is a rate that is not easily matched in terms of how many jobs are created every single year. That means that a government worth its salt will want to take urgent measures to ensure that there is a balance between the graduates leaving the production lines and the jobs being created in the market that these graduates are entering.
So if we are to oppose investors at every opportunity, where should we expect the jobs to come from?
Where do we get the moral authority to cry about unemployment and blame it on Government inefficiency?
If we are to create a desirable equilibrium â€“ a balance between the job creation and rate of graduation from education institutions â€“ investment by both local and foreign investors is the answer.
There is no country which can develop without foreign direct investment. The United States â€“ the worldâ€™s richest country â€“ has an economy that is sustained in a huge part by huge multi-national corporations, but many of these are owned wholly or in part by foreigners, especially the Arabs who are rich in petrol dollars. The English Premier League, which just happens to be the worldâ€™s richest football domain, is actually sustained in a large part by foreign money.
Manchester United the biggest club in England is owned by Americans. Its neighbour Manchester City is owned by Arab tycoons. Liverpool is owned by Americans; Chelsea by a Russian. Leeds a few years ago was almost bought by a Ugandan â€“ our very own Michael Ezra. This is the power of investment. You wonder how many jobs would be being enjoyed by now, if the Bujagali Hydro-electric power project had not been opposed by some people a few years ago. More electricity would have meant more factories and more jobs!
In fact if I had my way, there would be no school at all in the city centre â€“ we would allocate all this land to investors both local and foreign and see job opportunities being enhanced. Somebody might scream here about Shimoni Primary School land â€“ but that is no big deal because it is being handled and soon we shall see the fruit of this investment being made plain.
Even the various police and military barracks should be relocated to the suburbs. Nsambya Police Barracks and Makindye Military Police Barracks should be moved elsewhere. Naguru Police Barracks should have gone yesterday.
We must, therefore, begin to look at foreign direct investment while also encouraging local investors as Ugandaâ€™s answer to unemployment.
Prime land in Kampala is creating employment