‘A courageous return back home’
- Give our readers a brief overview of Edward Katende
I am a retired Certified Accountant with a passion for agribusiness development. My career started in Uganda’s banking sector in 1997 before moving to London, in January 2000, where I enjoyed an illustrious career with the UK’s top business advisory firms. I retired as a licensed insolvency practitioner in April 2011 to set up Focus on East Africa, a boutique business advisory firm that links the world of business to East Africa.
- What was your main business in UK and in Uganda?
I worked for a number of high profile accountancy firms in the UK as a licensed insolvency practitioner- offering advice and solutions to financially distressed individuals and businesses.
Upon my retirement, I dedicated more than 3 years with Focus on East Africa, investigating the best ways by which so many people in Uganda could create wealth for themselves. My findings were:-
- The best approach to wealth creation in Uganda is agricultural development. Agriculture and agribusiness – more than any other industry, should play a key role in promoting inclusive growth, working as one effective wealth-creating system, by drawing the majority of our people into the economic and social mainstream, stimulating economic growth, creating jobs, and the wealth needed for them to prosper.
- Facilitating connections between farmers, private enterprises and government is the key to creating sustainable solutions.
- Empowerment of our women and youths is a way to create fundamental change.
- Private enterprise unleashes the creativity and resourcefulness of the human nature.
- Real partnerships and relationships are the key to success.
Based on the above findings, I am working with a number of smart professionals to provide access to agribusiness advisory support, management guidance, agribusiness educational programs, mentor networks, business incubation services and other resources to help agri-entrepreneurs build profitable and sustainable companies. In this regard, I have helped to set up and currently coordinate a couple of entities that support the growth of agribusinesses in Uganda. These include;-
- Agribusiness Incubation Alliance of Uganda –ABiAU (a national body of member organisations dedicated to supporting the growth of new and early-stage agribusinesses in Uganda).
- Agribusiness & Rural Industries Development Corporation- RIAD (which focuses on nurturing and developing integrated agricultural and rural manufacturing agribusinesses that are viable, competitive and sustainable).
- Uganda Agribusiness Alliance – UAA (a private sector driven multi-stakeholder-partnership platform that brings together Uganda’s foremost actors in the agribusiness and agro-allied industries sector to among others pursue opportunities, incubate innovation, develop new resources and drive growth in the sector).
- Why did you decide to relocate to Uganda?
Uganda is my country and as the old idiom goes “East or West, home is best” and notwithstanding its challenges as a country, in my view it offers the most business opportunities of all the 5 East African Community countries. Foreigners are taking advantage of these opportunities while Ugandans are still in slumber or blinded by partisan politics! It is this opportunity that attracted me back home to build my country as I also build my own fortunes.
- What do you advise Ugandans who are planning to take the same plunge and move back?
- You must be aware that it is going to take several years instead of months to become a billionaire, and that people are not out for your best interests!
- Know you are just like everyone who has big dreams. Accordingly, you must ‘hustle’ and promote yourself if you are to succeed as an entrepreneur in our Uganda. This means networking, being kind, following up, and spending hours keeping up with / harnessing your global contacts.
- Business may not pick up as fast as you may wish! It takes time to understand what works and what doesn’t. Therefore you must be ready for -and stand firm against- disappointment, discouragement, pressure caused by criticism and the constant reminding of ‘you are wasting time’ from family, peers and purported friends.
- In the West, entrepreneurs build businesses first before building personal wealth. For Uganda, it is the other way round. You build your asset base first and this will help you to build your business. This is mainly because “unsecured loans” is not a term in our bankers’ dictionaries! You need assets to borrow for business growth. So while in the Diaspora try to build your asset base in Uganda, you may need this when you finally return and are running your business!
- You must work to the best of your ability on your ‘Circle of Influence’ and trust no Ugandan. That sounds harsh to the few honest Ugandans!
- Cash is King! So ensure that you have a guaranteed source of regular income-however small- to help you during the tough times as you try to achieve your big dream.
- Are there career and business opportunities especially for Diasporas?
Human capital is the scarcest resource in our resource-rich Uganda. Accordingly, opportunities abound for skilled and Western trained Diasporas. Some Diasporas claim nepotism in public offices but a big part of the rapidly growing private sector recruits on merit and they need skilled and experienced workforce to grow their businesses.
- What 3 key prospects you would advise people to invest in especially those with little capital?
Agribusiness particularly involving some form of value addition. The agribusiness opportunities are numerous. Can you imagine Uganda importing toothpicks from China (with all the wood that we have in the country)!
- What has been the challenges encountered in settling and realising your plans and business?
Great ideas can be born anywhere, but they need the right environment to thrive. Starting a business in Uganda can be such a challenge. Entrepreneurs in Uganda struggle to get the right know-how, the know-who, and the funding to establish viable businesses.
When I was starting out I thought that;
- I will conquer the world in a year – I will be a billionaire (in Ugandan money) within a year. I’m original, unique and no one else offers the services I provide.
- Everything will be smooth sailing – I will do the work, people will be satisfied, and I will be paid on time.
At the end of the first year, I started seeing the cracks, the mistakes, and the flaws in my planning and strategy. I realised that, after all, I am not that special or original – other companies are around that can do something similar. The billions were not forthcoming! Clients didn’t pay on time, actually others never paid at all and the risk further increased as these were large clients. All my savings were depleted, borrowing was maxed and it became an issue of “survival today, tomorrow will take care of itself”.
- Have you at any time ever considered moving back to UK?
Certainly. There are numerous times when the going has been so hard and the future looked dismal. It can be tempting to pull up and head back to England where to me, the going was much easier. There are moments of tears during the days of frustration wondering if you can or want to make it to the next day. You wonder if being an entrepreneur is worth it and debate going back to England where you can get a steady paycheque.
However I left myself no possible way of retreat! Thank God, with time, I have had to pick up the pieces of my once imagined dream. I took my lessons learned (not mistakes) and I am actively applying them. Slowly, business is picking up, results are starting to show on a routine basis and my circle of influence is growing as other useful people start coming on board. Now, instead of believing I can, I know I can succeed.