Kwezi Tabaro: As we wait to start, I would like to play something.
Angelo Izama: Alright.
(Voice recording played): The contributors to the National Social Security Fund are about 600,000. In 22 years, that is the life span of the old sector, only 150,000 jobs will be created. So, it basically means people should stop talking about oil jobs and I think it’s a rouse being used by government to divert it from real, serious problems of unemployment and urban poverty right now which is skyrocketing.
Angelo Izama: Which year was that Kwezi?
Kwezi Tabaro: 2014.
Angelo Izama: (laughs)
Kwezi Tabaro: At the LéO Africa Economic Forum.
Angelo Izama: Amazing.
Kwezi Tabaro: So briefly, I will leave the rest of the introductions to Raymond, I just wanted to talk about this series of conversations that the LéO Africa Institute will be hosting under what we have called the “COVID-19 Reset” project. The “COVID-19 Reset” project is a response that we were tasked with at the institute by our head of faculty, Angelo and founder, Awel, to find ways of imagining how our fellows can respond to what has truly become a global pandemic and we came up with a two-pronged approach: one involving our fellows’ response and this takes on [several] forms.
We have had conversations in the past with frontline health workers in our network like Dr. Martin Balaba, Dr. Prosper Ahimbisibwe, and Joanne Nnvanungi. This was at the end of April, when we were starting to come to terms with COVID-19 and its effect.
Beyond that, we have also reached out to artists within our network to find artistic ways of imagining what we are going through beyond the statistics that we are getting from our health authorities, beyond the directives that we are getting from the government; we are interested in understanding, socially, how this pandemic has affected everyone, not just people in our network.
The other approach is mental health: the mental health aspect of this pandemic is quite serious. [Several] countries across the world, many organizations too, are grappling with this issue; how do you deal with this moment where, for the first time in the lives of many people, they have had to stay at home and re-imagine work differently and so life has to continue in some way; you still have to provide and for some essential workers, they are required to contribute even more, but you are doing this in a context that has changed.
So, at some point the institute will again engage mental health experts, psychiatrists within our network, and beyond to reflect more deeply on these issues and see how we can more effectively respond to this as individuals but also as communities.
Now, the conversation we are having today, which is focused on jobs and the future of work beyond COVID is the first of a four-part series that will focus on jobs and the future of work, industries and ideas for the future, leadership amid chaos, and then eventually the big pandemic that may still hit us, which is climate change.
So, with those few words from the LéO Africa Institute, we are excited to see this project get off the ground and we are excited to see some of the insights that came through this morning from Angelo [Izama] and Brenda [Katwesigye]. We hope this is the start of many such conversations that will hopefully drive us to a better world and better ways of managing this crisis. So, over to you Raymond.
Raymond Mujuni: Thank you so much Kwezi for that elaborate introduction. They weren’t a few words; they were quite a lot of words! (laughs) So we have Angelo (Izama) here and we have Brenda Katwesigye. I want to give them a minute each to introduce themselves.
Brenda Katwesigye: So, I am called Brenda Katwesigye, I am the co-founder of Wazi Vision. Wazi Vision makes eyewear and a lot of other products from plastic waste but also, I recently joined The Innovation Village as a consultant in their strategy and innovation department and some of the things that we are working on are [how to] support businesses to work [amidst] the challenges of COVID-19 and beyond. So it’s really exciting to be part of this conversation.
Angelo Izama: It’s very interesting that you are making glasses from recycled material. As you can notice, my glasses are rigged and this rigging was done by Bwiza, which is a small business somewhere in Kamwokya. My current practice is verification, registration services (VRS) which is a for-profit desk of our thinktank, Fanaka Kwa Wote; that particular organization has been around since 2008 and what [Fanaka] Kwa Wote was conceived as a domestic thinktank to support the efforts of mostly East Africans, to try and co-ordinate knowledge and to provide thought leadership. I must tell you by the way that I and my colleagues very early on realized that you can’t run a think tank without money and that since we couldn’t raise money abroad, because we are essentially a domestic organization, we decided from the start to volunteer and I am the volunteer in chief so I am now on assignment with the LéO Africa Institute volunteering my services as Head of Faculty, and this is what I do on a rolling basis [as] I take on consulting projects to keep the lights on.
Raymond Mujuni: Thank you so much Angelo for that. So, I had asked one of two [Angelo and Brenda] to be a prophet for good news, [but] both of them decided that there will be no good news and that later on we will find out why. Each of them thinks that COVID-19 is going to impact us drastically, very dangerously.
Maybe to start with: the United Nations just released a report about a day ago [May 13] saying that 1.6 billion people are going to be out of [work] because of COVID-19, most of them are in the informal sector, and [that] in Africa, about 430 million people would lose their jobs; that’s over half of the working population of Africa. When people mention words like that, it sounds like a broad thing but bringing it home, I know a lot of people who have lost their jobs, some of them even on this Zoom call with us. I know people who have taken pay cuts, including myself who is speaking. So, the anxieties are real and they are not imagined; they are not something [to talk] about in the future. So, I will start with you, Angelo, what do you think the [post-]COVID-19 workspace will look like?
Angelo Izama: Well, it’s a brave new world, right? You can say COVID-19 is not just a pandemic; it’s a global event now. Look, I think that certain approaches are consolidating now with regard to how governments and communities are responding to COVID-19, that will define the landscape. One is the rise of, I would say, to some extent, toxic nationalism. You are looking around the globe and you see news every day that many governments, especially those that have resources, are reserving those resources for their nationals; there is a tendency to keep out others, what you would call “othering”.
So, the effect is a piece by piece deconstruction of globalization as we know it and at the level of country to country co-operation you are going to see more bilateral deals; someone needs iron ore from country X, [so] they do it bilaterally. So, the international system is coming under extreme pressure and yet when we think about guaranteeing opportunities for all, dealing with global poverty especially here in Africa, [during] the last 20 years, the vision has been that we want to trade with the rest of the world, including trade internally, to trade ourselves out of aid and also to transfer the kind of skills for the 22nd, 23rd century that Africa needs.
So, the quick answer, Raymond, is that you will have islands of problems; if you bring it down to Uganda, it means that we are very likely going to be stuck with our East African neighbours, so we had better be nice to them and that we will have to deal with, as I said in my earlier article, reviving the domestic economy in more efficient ways [to] survive this.
Raymond Mujuni: Alright, that’s a really broad way to look at it, but again, as I said, Angelo and Brenda, both decided to be prophets of doom. (laughs) So, Brenda, what-
Angelo Izama: (interjecting) I will give you the good news later.
Raymond Mujuni: (laughs) Brenda, what does the workplace during COVID-19 look like because, and I think it’s something I raised with Kwezi, that we want to discuss post-COVID-19 but it may not come for a very long time, so what does the workplace during COVID-19 look like?
Brenda Katwesigye: I am very glad that you mentioned that because I was thinking, when someone says “post COVID”, what exactly do they mean by “post COVID”? I mean, to some people it’s when the lockdown is lifted, others, it’s going to go on for a couple of years, right? But I think to speak to what Angelo [Izama] said about the toxic nationalism, I think there is some positivity there and given that work is moving remote, it’s at home. Like I mentioned, the Twitter CEO [Jack Dorsey] said that his employees can work at home indefinitely and today [May 13] we just saw the Barclays Global CEO [Jes Staley] following suit and we are seeing a shift happening, and what that means is that when you see, for instance, the US closing its borders and saying no immigration, so you won’t have Ugandans or other nationalities moving to the US to work, there is also an opportunity for the same jobs that they would have otherwise gone to the US to do, now they can do it from here, I mean there is that opportunity.
I think for me, overall, what I see in the short term, it’s going to be difficult times; companies are cutting costs and they [doing so] aggressively, they are going to continue as they start to recover or as they start to find footing. So, we will see high competition for the jobs that will be available, and by extension we might see a shift in how people are paid. The workplace now is going to be very competitive; you have to move from precarious to prepared, you have to be fully prepared for the new normal, you have to upskill; the skills are going to be changing very rapidly so anyone that is not positioned to quickly learn the new way things are done; if you are a lawyer and there is something else that is on the horizon that you might want to do, there are so many opportunities to learn free and I think now is the time to get prepared.
So, I think everyone needs to prepare for the new workplace which is providing the opportunity for you to work for anyone in the world, but it is also making it more difficult because it is now more competitive. So, it is two things in one.
Raymond Mujuni: Brenda, I wanted to first stay with you. Before COVID, there were already not enough jobs for young people. So, with COVID, they will be even lesser jobs for young people to do. Many people were working within the “gig economy” and that the “gig economy” has also been disrupted heavily. What opportunities lie in the gig economy, but also what opportunities lie in this work-from-home that young people can explore?
Brenda Katwesigye: That’s a very good point. Previously, technology had already caused the shift in the way we were doing our work and it had replaced a lot of manual jobs with a lot of other computer-aided design jobs and other high-end jobs. So, I will give [you] an example of a local start-up, SafeBoda. You have riders [who] used to ride clients all over Kampala. What’s happening now is that SafeBoda quickly pivoted to include e-commerce on its platform. So, now, they have women [and] men in the markets selling on their platform. They are having small shops and roadside people selling on their platform. What I see is that we are going to have people innovating, especially within the gig economy, because now you have a high supply [ready-to-work people] and [they] can see the value in these kinds of platforms. If you ask someone in Naalya market what they were making before and what they are making when SafeBoda came on board, you can see a shift, a positive shift, so there is that direct impact and a lot of people are going to have to align with the opportunities that are being presented by such entrepreneurs very fast.
So, if I have a skill as a graphic designer or I can do some kind of work, there will be people that will need that kind of skill and I need to be alert to the opportunities that are being provided by those people—the entrepreneurs, the businesses that are innovating within that space. That is a great thing because working from home and working remotely also allows you to manage your time better; previously we were losing four hours a day in commutes from home to the office. Raymond, you know the kind of headache it presents. So, if you take those four hours and you put them to something else to bring in extra income, already I think we have a win. People generally have to be prepared and very cognizant of the fact that as much as its doom, there are so many opportunities that are being presented that we need to take advantage of.
Raymond Mujuni: You [hint on] opportunities being created, and it is something that I read in Angelo’s piece, something we talked about yesterday; the strategic shift from luxury products—we are now going to become local again: consuming from the local markets, going to markets that are closer to our homes and getting products from there. I wanted Angelo to come in here; the point that you were making on economies becoming local.
Angelo Izama: Luxury is going to be one of the big casualties of COVID because why would you wear a 12,000 [dollar] Louis Vuitton purse in [the] current circumstances. The virus has shown that these sorts of ideas about affluence don’t matter. The person who has a 12,000 [dollar] Louis Vuitton purse would have been better last month, if they were in Italy or Spain, with having the equivalent in masks and some other protective equipment. So I think that our idea of global luxury that has fueled the world we live in, where we think that certain types of consumerism represent the best quality of life; that will change and with that change, what I meant by “the global standards becoming local and the essential becoming luxury”, is that the things that do matter will now be cool to consume. I said cottage industries will be back and perhaps, if you need a purse, you might be able to get one from the leather production workshop of some guy from Busoga and that’s okay.
And this evacuation of the idea of luxury from the stage and the welcoming of basic but high-quality goods produced locally, I think, will improve the quality of life and the quality of what [a post-COVID world] is going to be like. I think that in some ways, if you are concerned with high global [income] inequality, reading the Forbes list of the 500 top [wealthiest people in the world], the 1%, who by the way have lost tonnes of money; if you think about how those being carved off the top and dropped to the bottom, then there is room for local people to grow. I notice though, that Brenda [Katwesigye] was trying to project what remoteness means in the context of this tea economy; people working in close spaces, it’s high traffic, all those things, [and] even there we are seeing some advantages brought about by COVID; one of our fellows was saying perhaps commuting by bicycle will help with clean air.
The point I would like to make about the spatial impact of COVID, this remoteness, is to do with the rest of the country. So, in Uganda, if you think about COVID-19 as an economic disruptor, we already lived through it. Our equivalent of COVID-19 was structural adjustment; it completely took away the 9[am]-5[pm] idea. Structural adjustment in the 90s, with privatization, meant that the state-managed economy that gave us the idea of dad working from 9[am] to 5[pm], died. Here in Uganda we talk about [how] every Ugandan has got three jobs; isn’t that the reality that we already have? That a Ugandan is already multi-skilled? He has his stall, he has the other thing he is doing with [the] SACCO, he has his main job, and then he is in school at night or he has a fellowship. That’s one; Ugandans, I think, are already primed for this kind of disruption.
The second is that the majority of workers were already working remotely in the sense that they are informal workers; they are kind of removed from the formal workspace, and for those, we have to reduce their remoteness; we have to bring them into formal spaces where they can contribute in a much more functional way and that there too we shall see a lot more opportunities. So, in short, I think that organized approaches to try and bring labour, and how I put it in my article, is to deal with the Ugandan crisis which has always been is that you have got these huge work plans; you are trying to build viable societies [like now we are trying to create nine new cities], you are trying to provide for those cities: roads, electricity, reservoirs, sewage systems, you want markets, you want schools, you want playgrounds, you want organized agriculture to deal with that, you want health centers; that is the amount of work. Then, you have got a very large youth population, multi-skilled, completely resilient (because they are already working and they are surviving under hard conditions), they are also trained because human capital is also very high in Uganda, you want a process of connecting the two to say that this workspace and these young people must come into some sort of fusion. Now that is the challenge–
Raymond Mujuni: (interjects) I want to interrupt you very briefly; I hear a lot about “remote work”, but what I want to hear is, what is the work? We can all be remote, but if Raymond has been working on TV as a journalist and is out of that job, him becoming a market vendor will require re-skilling, re-tooling but also, broadly, across the region, in Kenya for example, there is no lockdown, there are restrictions on movement from county to county but there is no lockdown, when you go to Rwanda for example, the lockdown has been lifted to allow people to go to work, and maybe the work culture there might show us how the region will behave, but what I want us to first answer is: what is this work that people are coming to? Even if they come to it remotely, what work will be there for them to do?
Angelo Izama: That’s what I was explaining. Of course, government policy right now could easily create work. On the back of this Raymond, I have been speaking to government ministers about their 13 industrial parks, which by and large, by the way, are still empty. There is a tonne of companies that ought to be moving to those parks; and those are just for industrial production. So there are jobs there; the question will be, are workers willing now to consider going to a factory floor, [and] leaving the comfort of their homes, wherever they are, and going to this new industrial reality because there are no other jobs, that is one.
Second, if you think about it, work is service; so the first thing you need to ask yourself, Raymond, if you lose your TV job, is who else has a service that I can offer, which they need and can pay for and who is near me? If people ask themselves those questions, it will become immediately clear where you can fit within the new economy.
Say, Angelo is back in Kampala. There are things I love to do, [and] used to do casually. I write of course, I can construct, I can script and maybe those jobs are no longer there but I see people saying “we see you running all the time. You do all these exercises with your buddies. Can we get together because, you know, health is an issue?” Add there a nutritionist in your group and now [you] are offering a new service that could grow. There is going to be a lot of people who need to adapt the skills they already have to services that others will need.
Raymond Mujuni: Brenda, what work will people be coming back to?
Brenda Katwesigye: Raymond, I will give you an example. Before social media, we had work and jobs as we knew it. When social media came, nobody knew that Kylie Jenner would get $300,000 from a company just because of her social media presence. Now, we have noticed something during the lockdown and quarantine; the rise of TikTok. There has never been more content created online like during this time and I kid you not, content creators are getting paid. I am glad that you gave your example; so, you are no longer on TV but I imagine that you are a multi-faceted [worker], so if you are not on TV, journalism isn’t just TV. It is so many other things I would like to believe, I have never been a journalist, I don’t know how that works but I have read some of the things you have written; there is so much that you have done outside TV that has been very impactful. Some of those things, people can pay for and there will be demand for certain services: businesses are going to want to remain competitive, businesses are going to want people like you to help them market their products so there are so many other opportunities that are arising from that, exactly the way we have seen—YouTube is paying people a lot of money for content creation and people are doing it more now than ever before so that is an example of how the world has changed and how people are making money during a not-so-nice time.[I believe] that remote work is not what you would call, “I have this job that I am used to and now I am just shifting to doing it from home”. It is, ”I run a company, we do production of glasses but I am so great with 3D design and 3D printing for a company that is looking into a fresh manufacturing aspect and they want to take on 3D printing as a way of manufacturing, I can offer that service at a fee”. And those kinds of skills are going to be desirable.
So, I don’t think it’s all gloom, I don’t think it’s all lost, even within our—I will give you an example. For instance, you are an auditor and you have been working for a Big 4 firm and they have decided to retrench or you don’t have work anymore and maybe you are not working from home at that job but you have picked up so many skills at that job: you are great at financial analysis, you are great at business modeling, you are great at so many other small things that are not directly what I would call “audit” or the title of your job but there are things that you learned along the way that actually, people right now need.
Still, even when there are jobs that are lost, I believe that there are others that are created: Zoom moved from 75 million users to 200 million in a couple of months. It’s a company that’s growing. There are so many other companies that are growing that are hiring; Amazon recently hired hundreds of thousands of people in different positions. So, the idea really, is to be flexible with the skills that we have, with what we have learned, and be open to switching-up when need arises. I think that is exactly how things should have been in the beginning; [We] shouldn’t have been tied to “I am a secretary and this is what I am going to do for the rest of my life”, the flexibility, the agility is exactly what we all need to be doing.
Raymond Mujuni: My final question is: the amount of capital available for business has reduced tremendously and when I say “tremendously”, we are talking a loss of 30-40%. So even when work is available, payment will be reduced; people who have been earning a lot will now have to contend with earning less and not just to look at ourselves because as a leadership thinktank like LéO Africa we have to think [about] what becomes for Africa in this new world. So, how can Africa create new capital in this COVID time to replace [that which] has been taken away by remittances, to replace capital that has been taken away by the global hospitality industry; what can be done?
Angelo Izama: This would have been a question for the policy people that you and I deal with Raymond, but someone has just asked–Tumusiime said we need to talk about the government stimulus package designed to create jobs quickly. I am going to leave it to you there Raymond, for reasons that you know, to address that challenge. My interaction with the question of capital with the government over the years has been down to waste and expenditure.
We have this problem which is best reflected in the way interest rates are calculated. The government of Uganda particularly lives above its means, so it spends money it doesn’t have. When it does that, it creates this instrument for people who can lend it money to do so at good rates; we call them bonds and other things. Those bonds become the main lending business of commercial banks and when commercial banks lend to the government, they don’t have money to lend across the counter to you and the cycle keeps going on because [the] money that is left, even for small businesses, is [lent out at] upwards of 24% and for years, literally for two decades, there has been an ongoing discussion: how do you get out of that trap where the government spends so highly, the central bank and others create this room for government to borrow domestically from banks, interest rates are high, come every five years you have got again, you know, very high inflation which means the Central Bank again does what you call “mopping up” in providing very juicy instruments; so that trap there, hopefully with COVID, and with governments being more internally minded, perhaps we can get out of it but I have seen that if you take the government out of the equation, and you allow people to do things the way they would, many societies are already filling that gap.
You have got the growth of SACCOs and other lending societies that have accumulated hundreds of billions of lendable credit; we have to speak to those people about how to stabilize that lending society and make it available for small businesses. This is a leadership crisis. My last point [is] on the question of technology would be that what technology has done. In 2008, when we said “what is Uganda’s problem? How do you define it?” One of the things we came up with is that we have a challenge called “information asymmetry”. If you look at how our public and private affairs are organized, so many people are working in silos; what the information society has done is to allow people to access what other people are doing. So, I see that in the future, both for credit and skills, what technology can do for us is to break down that information asymmetry, allowing people to get to customers, to find new skills (whether those skills are available online), to find new collaborations and start new [ventures]; that is the world that we are going [in]to. I wrote part 1 of what this post COVID world is going to look like and to the others that are thinking about the stimulus package, I will address it in part two; just to tell you that within the government of Uganda, there has been a robust conversation about how to go about assisting jobs and workers. The people who have suggested that government takes less money out: provides tax credits, PAYE relief to companies, tax holidays for domestic businesses, that group has lost out and the challenge of leadership will be to try and get that back on track.
Raymond Mujuni: Thank you so much Angelo. Brenda?
Brenda Katwesigye: Angelo has talked very extensively about the part that the government is playing in making it easier to lend. This is happening; you have companies like Kuza Credit [who] are giving credit to e-commerce players and recovering that money through the platforms that collect money and end up paying the vendors. So, capital has always been a conversation we have in startup circles. We are always looking for money. Every company, if you ask them, they will tell you they need money.
But I also have to tell you, Raymond, that it is not [true] all investment in Africa is gone, that all investment here [in Uganda] is gone. We are having, and I have seen, calls for people to submit projects that are aligned with what specific organizations and capital people, if I should call them that, term as their “new normal” or the future. So, previously you heard people saying “Oh, we will invest in blockchain because we see it as the new future.” “We will invest in investments targeted at specific sectors.” I have a few resources that I can share later. It is not capital for everybody so if you are running a hospitality space, it might be more difficult to get this capital because most of them are looking at that as a risky area. It’s all risk and rewards. I feel like it is extremely risky right now if you are talking about tourism and airline spaces, you are seeing investors pulling out of that but make no mistake, investors are putting their money elsewhere because no one wants money to sit for extended periods because there are opportunities for investors to invest.
Every day we look at the news and we see companies closing rounds of investment and this has been happening during this COVID time. So, it is not all doom, capital is still coming in, it is less than it was before because now the areas are more narrowed down than they were before, so it is specific areas that are getting investment and I think even innovators and entrepreneurs that are thinking should be thinking within those kinds of areas; if you want investment for tech, align. That’s what I think is happening and it is going to continue to happen for a couple of more years.
Raymond Mujuni: We have a question from Hashim who is asking “What exactly is the new normal? Is it in the way that we are addressing the problem now? Are we finding new ways of thinking about the problem and if that’s the “new normal,” how should young people, particularly from LéO Africa position themselves to solve some of these problems?” I want you guys to talk about Africa as a continent, not just Uganda.
Angelo Izama: So, at the Institute, of course, we think that crises like this are a leadership challenge and as a leadership challenge I apply about four principles to it; so just to indulge those who are outside of our LéO family, the principles we have are clarity, which is that you have to be brutally honest about what is going on and do not embellish it; for example when you talk about TikTok and content creation, someone has to say “but how does money travel from point X to my pocket?” If you are thinking about the gig economy, we know that that is already very fragile; money doesn’t come all the time, if people are not spending money—like I see Anne Whitehead [saying] in the chat, “We have always been working remotely, but if customers are not spending then we don’t get any money.”
So that is also the reality. One has to be very brutally honest about the reality that you are dealing with first and as a leadership question, we think yes let there be absolutely no doubt as to the reality of what is possible and what is not. The second is to try and generate new knowledge about the situation and to rely on your ability to generate that knowledge. This will help. If you are a young person, like I said, you need to step out of your home and look at the reality as you observe it. For example, if you are a bachelor like Raymond [Mujuni] and you have to buy Shs 2,000 [$0.53] worth of tomatoes, a couple of onions, you live on Rolex and that is your thing, and you realize that that’s going to be your diet for a long time, ask yourself how you could be part of that solution. Do you want to expand that stall? Take your Shs.50, 000 ($13.3) or Shs. 100,000 ($26.38) that you have and start another stall. Try and think about that as an opportunity for you and many people around there. Relying on your ability to generate knowledge especially in Africa is a lot more—sometimes I think that we are more outwardly looking than creating solutions locally.
The third thing is that we need to be empathetic about the situation we are facing. When COVID started, I had assigned a friend of mine, a journalist, a job of dealing with the psychology of resilience. You must know that in parts of the global North like where I am now (here in California we’ve had drought and fires and that sort of thing), but the last major crisis people faced was the World War. That’s in 1945. So many societies around the world have been having it nice. What have you guys been doing? You’ve had political instability from the late 60s, most of you have got parents who have been in exile, that’s a fact, you have had the destruction of pandemics in Uganda, more than one, HIV being the biggest of them and you have had economic instability, [and] like I said, the real COVID was structural adjustment in the 90s. In other words, you have already lived through this, and my idea was, if you think things are really bad, you need to go up there in West Nile where I come from, to those refugee camps, [and] ask those people “What does it mean to be in a crisis?” That will adjust you quite quickly and you might want to start thinking about yourself in the context of the reality that you live, that we are not doing that badly. We are already resilient as it is and therefore, now we can start moving, with that resilience and moving with confidence. Have that empathy for your people. Don’t worry about the Japanese student who for the first time is dealing with the psychology of being disconnected; deal with your reality here. Let’s be empathetic to each other.
Four, as leadership challenges, we think about volunteerism. Be connected! To be remote, when you think about it in terms of font, it’s just about technology, but you can be also remote in ways that are destructive. Raymond, if you are not speaking to more than five people a day physically, you are doing badly. So, you need to break that remoteness and do something by volunteering. This is how collaborations happen. This is how you meet with other like-minded people; this is how your businesses get started, [and] this is how it’s done. So, assume that the long and short answer is that, to deal with the new normal is to arm yourself with simply a new approach to thinking about the problems that are there and from this conversation; I see it as looking at what we are dealing with as a new set of opportunities and not as an ongoing crisis.
Brenda Katwesigye: So, I want to talk about what Angelo was saying before. You [Angelo Izama] talked about the “new normal” and I just wanted to remind people that before 9/11 people would walk [into airports] and not go through security checks, it would take thirty minutes to board a plane and take off. After that [9/11] all this inconvenience of security checks [and] all these other things that come because of what happened following 9/11, people have had to adapt. It is not the most comfortable situation but it hasn’t been impossible to travel either. So, I think it’s going to be a challenge but then I think all of us as human beings, we naturally adapt to the situation.
Raymond Mujuni: We don’t have enough time, but I wanted us to respond to at least one more question. The facilities that exist in cities like Kampala are not the same as the facilities that exist in cities like Gulu. So, when we talk about things like delivery services; for example, Jumia doesn’t work outside of Kampala or Wakiso. So, what opportunities exist in that space, to create those systems in upcountry towns or even in other towns across East Africa for fellows?
Angelo Izama: Well, it’s interesting you say Jumia doesn’t exist in Gulu. A couple of years ago, I would go through Gulu on my way to Moyo and I couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee. Now, there are a couple of decent coffee shops in that town. Earlier, I had written that the global has to become local in terms of standards. Uganda hasn’t been very adept at transferring ideas from abroad and planting them locally and I have no doubt that someone is going to come up with the Gulu version of Jumia in the shortest possible time; that will work out. How you know that Ugandans are capable of relocating or transplanting from the towns to local areas is, if you travel to other parts of Eastern or Southern Africa, the breakfast in bed, in Ugandan terms, appears like a four-star luxury because most Ugandans, they will say “My hotel has to look like this.” So you will find, even in some remote area, that there is a TV screen, the TV is not working but it is up there, there is a tiled floor in the bathroom and the bed is laid in these cheap Chinese bed sheets but it looks very much like something that has been lifted out of [Kampala] Serena [Hotel] or [Hotel] Africana would look like. There is an active program of taking ideas from the cities and bringing them to the towns.
Of course, it means that, and we have said this to the fellows, they need to find ways to traveling their ideas by getting on board with these collaborations, and let’s take one example which is essential to COVID-19; some of the most promising aspects of the disease control I have seen have to do with vitamins: vitamin D, vitamin C, and other things. So, they are dealing with nutrition. The one thing that we are known for in our country is the abundance of food, fruits and vegetables. The very first week when the lockdown happened, I had suggested to people in power that “look, let’s create a robust program of nutrition and sell it to Ugandans that everyone must have a balanced diet.” There is a whole industry there that is waiting to happen. A lot of that food is grown upcountry and the opportunity there is that it is for people like you in the towns to try and take advantage of the modern tools of creating value in perception, in the quality, in the presentation, and in the culture of “How do you eat right?” That’s a whole industry that is waiting and it’s local. I wouldn’t be too concerned about someone in Gulu not being able to order an iPhone online but I certainly would be happy if the equivalent is that they can take your city ideas from wherever they are and present a local solution but at the same time provide you with an equal opportunity of getting something as simple as Shea butter which comes from that part of the world and putting it in the cities as a new, cool and healthy to take on and to make money from.
Raymond Mujuni: Thank you so much, Angelo, I am afraid we are out of time so we have to close this. But, before we close it, we’ve had over 40 people who have been listening and watching this conversation and we ran a poll just to ask them what they think; will we change for the better or the worse post COVID? And just off the results that I have been given; we have 40% of the people, who are 16, who say yes we will have a better world post-COVID, 23% which is 9 people say no, there will be no better world post-COVID and, just a sense of the anxiety, 15, who are 38% say they are not sure where we are going. Maybe in a minute to wrap this up, what is your sense? Where are we going? Are we going for the better or the worse or you are equally not sure about where we are headed?
Angelo Izama: The short term will be harsh but in the long term, this will self-correct. We will be okay.
Brenda Katwesigye: That depends really on who you are. Everyone is going to have a different fate. The people that were well placed before COVID are making money; I am talking about companies that had set up infrastructure that was accelerated by the pandemic. There are people who saw opportunity and those who didn’t. In the short term, like Angelo said, [the] majority of people are going to find it bumpy, especially if they were not prepared before, but beyond that, I think people will stabilize and adapt so it depends on how you look at it and how prepared you are for the future.
Raymond Mujuni: Alright, thank you so much Brenda [Katwesigye], thank you so much Angelo [Izama]. I will now allow Kwezi [Tabaro] to say something before we officially close this off.
Kwezi Tabaro: Thank you very much Raymond. I don’t think there is anything useful [to add], other than a huge thank you to our panelists. This conversation will continue. You can engage with us and with the panelists through our Facebook and Twitter channels, follow the conversation using the hashtag #COVID19Reset. We will have three more of these [conversations] coming; one on ideas and industries of the future which will hopefully cover some of the questions that were not answered today, and something [important] which Angelo mentioned, which is leadership for these rapidly changing times; we will have a conversation on that coming. Much later on, in mid -June or July, we will have a conversation on something that is perhaps going to be the next pandemic, which is climate change. So, thank you very much, Raymond, thank you, Angelo, thank you Brenda, and thank you to all our participants for being part of this wonderful conversation. Thank you all.
Editor’s note: The conversation has been slightly edited for easy reading and fact-checking.