I am in my hotel room in Nairobi at the moment and all I see is Chinese stuff all around. The TV set is from China and so is the kettle, the fridge, the bags, sheets, glass, bulbs, tiles, curtains. China makes almost everything in the world. It’s for this reason that China has been able to lift millions out of poverty.
We need our own version of an industrial revolution back at home. First, you need an enterprising spirit among the people. Luckily Uganda is one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. People are willing to try and create businesses to improve their livelihoods. We need to recognize and celebrate the business owners who are making a difference.
This enterprising spirit needs to be harnessed and guided with the right policy and incentives. Simple things like light-handed regulations for small enterprises can help. A dedicated agency to support small businesses can be set up to coordinate efforts.
A skilled workforce is essential to making things. You need people who can work with their hands. We need more people who can convert raw materials into beautiful and useful products. You need to nurture artists, creatives, technicians, engineers, designers, etc. You need hundreds of vocational schools across the country to nurture these hands-on skills.
These creative people will need tools and machines to make them more productive. A skilled worker with the right tools can churn out more products in a given time period. This means you need a good number of people to have access to electricity and water.
These enterprising people need raw materials which they can convert into finished products. A resilient supply chain is needed to supply raw materials to thousands of cottage businesses. The cottage industries can be clustered by village with each specializing in a specific trade. For instance, you may have Jinja town specializing in making shoes, while Mukono district focuses on making handkerchiefs.
You will also need access to cheap capital. Village banks can be supported to provide microcredit to enterprises. Village SACCOs can be formed to encourage savings and financial literacy. With cheap capital, the budding entrepreneurs can be supported to scale up their ventures.
Finally, you need access to markets both global and local. Marketing companies can be established for each cluster of products. Online shops can be set up to target international customers.
If all this is well established and coordinated you can have millions of Ugandans making things. In turn, these people will develop skills, earn an income, and lift themselves out of poverty. People don’t need handouts. They just need an opportunity to contribute.