Last Saturday, February 3, as we appeared on #KFM radio to talk about Uganda today, Dr. Ian Clarke could not stop talking about what he saw in Kapeeka at Namunkekeera Rural Industrial Centre. He kept referring to it as the only serious thing going on in the country. I silently felt proud.
Seven years ago, one of my former students sat attentively in my lectures of Ugandan Economy. She heard me talk about things that sounded impossible for Uganda but music to her ears. She went and told Gen. Salim Saleh about it. The Gen invited me for a chat at his then palatial home in Garuga, off Entebbe Road.
He said, “Mwalim, I need help and your students have told me you are the person who can offer the help.” Before I could say anything he asked, “Why have Ugandans failed to take advantage of the numerous Government programs intended to help them?”
I asked the good General, “What do you think is the reason?” He said he would put together his answer and send it for me to mark. To cut the long story short, I convinced him to start Rural Agricultural Industrial Centres as a practical way of helping the peasants to: 1) have a reliable market for their produce, 2) stabilize and raise farm-gate prices, 3) add value to their produce, 4) create jobs for the landless & non-farming rural youth & women, 5) create industrial inertia to attract other investors, and 6) transform rural areas into peri-urban cities.
Generations of my students, and other Ugandans whom I have addressed in hundreds of public lectures I’ve given, know how long and religiously I’ve sang this song. It sounded nonsensical because a French economist, Jean-Baptiste Say, had stated (back in 1814) thus, “Supply creates its own demand.” This is the theory I asked Gen. Saleh to challenge.
I told him Ugandan farmers will not increase supply when they are earning low prices from their produce & when they are losing half of their harvest due to poor post-harvest handling facilities. I told him that what Uganda/Africa needs today is to reverse that old theory. “Ceteris paribus, demand creates own supply,” I advised, adding, “As government, set up rural agricultural industrial centres to create the demand that farmers need.”
When Gen. Saleh failed to convince his colleagues in government to buy into the idea, he sold his Garuga property to some Kenyan investor. He raised the money to pilot the idea. Seven years later, the results are on the ground in Kapeeka. A revolution is silently happening there. A serious industrial park (not your Namanve) is taking shape at Chinese speed. When I saw Dr. Clarke not wanting to stop talking about what he saw in Kapeeka, I felt good. Good for Gen. Saleh. Good that he listened (to a young economics theorist), took the risk perhaps no other Ugandan can ever dare take.
The Centre has a long way to go, but its future certainly looks bright. We need more of these centres around the country. Those are the big ideas I talk about. The money that Government is squandering on seedlings given to farmers can easily replicate Namunkekeera and forever change the odds in favour of the peasants it wants to help. Ironically Gen. Saleh is Chief Coordinator of giving out the seedlings. Very ironical. If I were him, I wouldn’t allow the same to happen next financial year.