Don’t blame the president. Blame the CEO.

Corporate giants in Uganda and Africa at large are normally portrayed as being focused in developing services or products geared towards the local markets. The reality of this facade is a murky world of kickbacks and strangled ideas. Companies such as some of the telecommunication company giants have created a market presence that could be compared to the scope of international fast food retail conglomerates such as McDonald’s.

This means that such companies tend to place considerable attention towards supposedly providing platforms, services and products that are geared towards the youth demographic segment. With the growth of social media as a medium for improved and dynamic engagement for customers, trend based campaigns have been growing as a major marketing approach. This means the brand could reach the masses using content that is tailored to appeal to a more youthful audience with characteristics that can be best described as being ardent users of social media. In which case, this translates into the “urbanite”, probably aged between 15 to 26 years.

It seems to make sense that the customer of a product falling within this segment would have a better understanding g of how such a company’s products and services are received or perceived. In the case of Uganda and its largely youthful population, such insights would be better highlighted or even discovered by its young professionals. These are drive to make an impact in their lives and possibly the lives of others.

Uganda’s middle class is growing, its rise can only help propel the nation to a much faster pace of development in the sense that this social class holds with it the best ability of understanding the desires, needs, mentalities, aspirations and purchasing decisions of the nation’s largely uneducated population. The middle class lives in Uganda and understands what drives its youth and what the nation’s young population needs and thinks. Such insights can only be translated by Uganda’s youth which provokes memories of the phrase, “the future leaders of tomorrow,” as we were repeatedly told growing up.

However, the reality of this understanding is either oblivious to some or of no relevance. This statement comes from personal experiences and narrated accounts that have made me question who the “real” agents of stagnated development in the nation are. Take the reality of a group of energetic and enterprising university graduates that set out to possibly create an impact on the nation’s digital media industry by creating solutions that are geared towards the youth. So they present their ideas to Uganda’s corporate “giants” with the hope that their proposed concepts will promote an appealing youthful “vibe” to the business operations of these companies.

I share this account because it is a reality that I have been privy to witness. Our aspiring young Ugandans set out to pitch their ideas to companies that claim to be part of the movement of helping Africans create for Africa. To any Ugandan with a knack for modern, upbeat and relevant content, such concepts make for good consumption. So why shouldn’t a company pay attention to such a message if indeed its recipients agree in being able to resonate with it?

However, these concepts get lost within the echelons of bureaucratic departments. Not because it was a bad idea but because it was a good idea and so it is strangled by some “arm chair” manager who thinks someone “more affiliated” deserves it. This system of kickbacks and mindset of “backdoor brown envelopes” thrives not only in government but sadly in the private sector as well. From NGOs to private schools, to succeed in Uganda’s business landscape requires that one must know someone who knows someone. This has turned Uganda‘s seemingly capitalistic market into an environment that is harsh to good ideas. Survival or making a good concept into a business success is a reality that is almost laughable in Uganda. Despite calls from the government and private sector for value addition and the drive for self started investment, the reality not told to Uganda’s youth at the pakasa forums is that your ideas are going nowhere unless you went to the same university with Samuel the CEO.



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