Business and Finance

Exclusive interview: Major General Benon Biraro on how to lift Uganda out of poverty

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When I was trying to initiate a discussion with a successful Ugandan businessman on empowering the local Ugandan entrepreneur, I was advised to look for Major General Biraro, a visionary who is suggesting new solutions to Uganda’s poverty. I am also much honored to be able to explain the LIFT Uganda project, through your network which I have been told, links many Ugandans in the Diaspora.

General, you are a soldier of the highest rank in Uganda. I thought you would be teaching the nation on issues pertaining to national security. Instead, you have changed your direction to business. How and why have you come to such a change?

Maj Gen Biraaro: In the wider understanding of national security, economic well-being is the main pillar. If you remember the former Soviet Union had emphasized state security without looking at economic security and they disintegrated. Nation building to me has to include state security, democratization, human resource development and economic development. Of all these elements, economic security should be the foundation on which the rest can grow.

You are the initiator of a Local Investment for Transformation intended to consolidate local financial resources from Ugandans into a structured investment fund. Can you tell us more about LIFT and what encouraged you to start it?

Maj Gen Biraaro: LIFT stands for Local Investment for Transformation. There are five categories of nations: super powers, industrial powers, developing countries – such as India and China; poor countries such as Egypt and South Africa; then the last group is called HIPC – Highly indebted poor countries. Uganda is among the 40 countries in the world in this last category. The challenge to me is how to develop without much indebtedness. Long ago, there used to be trains that used external combustion engines. They were slow, noisy and smoky. The main cargo used to be water and coal for the engine. This looks like the economies that depend on foreign aid.

Later, the internal combustion engine was developed. Faster, less noisy and carrying larger cargo. Internal resource mobilisation will move our economies faster than depending on foreign sources which increase our indebtedness.

LIFT looks to Ugandans and Africans of course with our friends, to mobilize finance capital in the form of equity for investment. The objectives of LIFT Uganda include:

  • Industrialization
  • Modernisation of agriculture to take advantage of the world food situation
  • Generating power / energy
  • Exploiting our mineral wealth (Oil, Uranium, Copper Phosphate chrome, Iron ore plus the more fancy minerals like Gold etc)
  • Turning Uganda into a must-go tourist destination
  • Building at least four new cities, one in the East, West, Central and North. These regions have populations exceeding 5 million people and easily support well planned cities.
  • Providing jobs. LIFT is capable of employing up 100,000 people every year.

A formula for mobilising financial capital based on incomes has been worked out as follows: Uganda has 32 million people. 32% live below the poverty level, approximately 10 million people. 48% are peasants which is about 15 million people. This leaves 7 million Ugandans, around 2.5 million adults and their 4.5 million children) composing the 20 % who can invest in this program.

Diagrammatically it looks like this

48%

15 million UgSHS

Peasants

32%

10 million UgSHS

Below poverty level

20%

7 million UgSHS

Able to invest in LIFT

Platinum

$250,000 * 2000 USD each

Gold

$750,000 * 1000 USD each

Silver

$1 million * 500 USD each

Children

 

Bronze

$2.5 million * 100 USD

Marble

$3.5 million * 50 USD

Total over

2 billion USD per year

 

We are aware that there are corporates who may want to invest with LIFT or business people wanting to put equity for their businesses.

We have created 3 more categories

  • Honorary members – assisting LIFT without expecting dividends.
    Honorary members are bodies like the World Bank and people all over the world who have good will and will assist in providing funds for LIFT to take off.
  • Super corporate – Equity exceeding $250,000. Super Corporates are big time business groups such as telecom companies, banks, insurance companies etc which operate in Uganda and would like to invest in LIFT mainly as a gesture of goodwill.
  • Corporate – Equity exceeding $50,000.
    Corporate’s are SACCOS and individual registered businesses which intend to invest in LIFT as a means of diversifying their investments.

You can see from the above that we will be able to mobilize financial capital in excess of $2 Billion – when all the targeted people and groups get to know about LIFT – Uganda project.

I have also been mobilising Ugandans in the Diaspora to invest back home. I found that the biggest challenge was the lack of trust we have amongst ourselves. We also suffer from the illusion that anyone initiating a scheme is either doing it for personal or political reasons.   Has LIFT encountered any challenges?

Maj Gen Biraaro: When I announced the LIFT Uganda project to the Ugandan audience, I thought trust would be a big issue, which it is really. I have addressed over 200 seminars all over Uganda, and all of them have been exceedingly positive. The press and media in Uganda have been supportive.

The government was quite silent at first but later on encouraged me to go ahead. Religious groups, political parties and civil society have come to identify with LIFT Uganda project. Educational institutions all over the country still call my team of mobilizers to talk to students about LIFT Uganda project and the response has been above our expectations.

I have been cautioned though, by people in the marketing industry that the big numbers attending our presentations may not translate into the number of investors. I can only say that so far so good. Here I must commend people in the Diaspora who have heard the LIFT Uganda project message and are mobilising others to get involved.

LIFT is not a one day event or a one year activity. It will grow from strength to strength year in year out.

Managing such a scheme is very challenging and needs competetent people and good management skills. What have you put in place?

Maj Gen Biraaro: I agree that management is a critical factor in the success of every enterprise. We have put several levels of checks and balances

For example

    • Tourism = 15 %
    • Agriculture = 25%
    • Energy = 30%
    • Construction = 10%
    • C of E = 5% etc

    The project managers will be recruited worldwide based on merit, professionalism and experience. Then other levels start monitoring the projects.

    Profits will be declared later and dividends pooled so that all investors get their returns on investment.

    • I should have said at the beginning that LIFT is regulated by the capital markets authority CMA of Uganda because it falls under these enterprises called the collective investments, under the collective investments act of 2003. So there are in-built levels of oversight positioned to ring bells and raise flags well in advance
    • In every country in the world, cases of businesses going into administration abound. However, that does not stop others springing up. So in LIFT Uganda project, we have put several measures in place, such as hiring experienced managers, investing in a wide range of projects to put eggs in different baskets and created many levels of monitoring to ensure success. There are other legal means instituted to minimize the chances of failure.

    I am very interested in LIFT vision. As someone living in the Diaspora, how can I subscribe to LIFT?

    Maj Gen Biraaro: A lot of back ground work is being undertaken, to put everything in order before the launch of LIFT – Uganda project.

    This includes activities such as :

    • Having the banks that will receive the subscriptions.
    • Preparing the forms for the individuals to fill as they register. (This would be easy but there is a need to design something that will suit all tastes. Some people demand a lot of privacy.)
    • The workforce and staff for the different roles. The above will help us set a realistic launch date preferably early next year. We will not receive anyone’s contribution before the national launch, by which time all the necessary information will be available. We do not want to have situations where people will create branches to “receive” LIFT-Uganda contributions.

    Dear Major General, we are very grateful that you shared your vision with our readers and when LIFT-Uganda is launched, we shall again reach out to you to share LIFT’s progress with Ugandans. Good luck, Sir.

    For more information about LIFT, contact Major General Benon Biraaro benbiraaro@yahoo.co.uk

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