By George Okello in London
Ben Kiwanuka’s family is not an exception. My own mum also had her house mortgaged by a relative, and I only knew about it when the relative failed to keep up with the repayments and the bank began proceedings to repossess.To avoid any unnecessary bad blood, we just had to pay off the mortgage and transfer the title of the house to a sister.
Sad to say, but I don’t actually blame the relative. If I was living in Uganda, and caught up in the crushing poverty- with children going to university, but with no job, no income, not even knowing how the next meal will come, I would probably also do the same. I cant see my children starving when there is an asset that I can use to avoid such a catastrophe.
The problem with Ugandans is that they don’t have a business sense or culture- we will mortgage a house or land for shs.5 billion and then “invest” it in a monkey business. The state of the Ugandan economy now is such that it is only speculative investments- the ones made for quick profit- but carrying very high risks that most Ugandans go for. Our people will not go for investments where growth is slow, and it may take 3 or even 5 years just to break even before you begin to realise any profits. Our people do not separate capital and outgoings from free or disposable income that you can use as you wish. A person will import shoes for £5,000 and then begin to use up the sales coming in, not knowing that he first has to break even- the £5,000 has to be recovered first – before he can even begin to spend a single cent on himself.
In this respect, Filipinos are very different from Ugandans, in that they have a business sense. When you lend them money, they know it is a loan that has to be repaid. The same with the Indians. The family member they employ in their corner shop knows the shop runs on credit, so will be careful not to steal the money in the till, thinking that the owner of the business is very “rich”, which is what Ugandans often do. They see shs 500,000 in the till and they immediately think you are very rich- not knowing the bank will be demanding shs 3 million at the end of the month.
I once lent my Filipino in laws £10,000 to buy a Jeepney- Matatu in Uganda. In my mind, I did not think I would get it back- but thought that was the less painful way of putting them off from making constant demands for money. To my surprise my brother in law paid me back in less than two years, and even within those two years, he had bought 2 jeepneys of his own and was now employing other members of the family. Such a thing would never happen in Uganda!
At about the same time that I lent my in laws money, my own cousin here in London,bought a tractor for his parents to use for hire back home. But within three months, he was still getting letters from them saying they needed money for fuel, that the tractor had broken down and they needed money for spares, blah, blah blah. He got fed up and told them to sell the tractor and never to bother him again.
That’s Uganda for you. A country where no one wants to help himself or herself. A country god forgot.