By Stephen Twinoburyo
On Saturday 9th October 2010, Uganda marked its 48th anniversary of its independence from colonial masters, Britain. For Ugandans in South Africa, we celebrated the day by attending a financial empowerment seminar at the plush Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) in Sandton, Johannesburg’s financial hub. The seminar was a brainchild of Mrs. Monica Rubombora, a Senior Executive at accounting firm Accenture (also formerly a Deputy Director General in the Gauteng Provincial Government) and Mrs. Jennifer Katekaine Kaahwa, a Policy and Advocacy Advisor at Southern African Human Capacity Development Coalition based in Pretoria, who through the Association of Ugandan Professionals in S Africa, AUPSA, worked tirelessly to make this event the resounding success it was.
The aim of the seminar was to equip Ugandans and their friends with tools that will make them financially independent, and there was no better opportunity than to do this on Independence Day. It is felt that if we become financially independent, we will be able to celebrate our independence in a more meaningful manner and the word ‘independence’ will make more sense. This is the first of the intended series of events that will lead us in that direction. Our financial independence will help more Ugandans and the general society around us move towards that goal of personal liberation. In the present world, liberation without food on the table is meaningless and is fodder for perpetual social instability. The seminar was also aimed at demystifying the workings of the stock exchange. Empowerment activities of this kind are more particularly useful to the youth who will be drivers for change in the future.
The event kicked off with registration, meet-and-greet and refreshments at 8:30 am. Ugandans turned up in good numbers, many with their children, to give them an early rubbing with the workings of the financial world. The MC for the day was Johannesburg-based chartered accountant, Mr. Charles Oketch, who is also the Finance Officer of AUPSA.
The real event began at 9:30 am with a two-hour presentation by Mr. Waldemar Budeli of the JSE. He started by giving the history of the JSE and it was revealing to note that the JSE was opened in 1887 and currently has an operational turnover of R25 billion (approx $6.5 billion) per day. There are 23 exchanges in Africa and the JSE accounts for 75% of all the trade. The JSE is part of the association of African stock exchanges and shares knowledge with the other exchanges to help them avoid the pitfalls it has fallen into on its way to this level and assist them not to re-invent the wheel. This is very valuable to developing markets in Africa because they can draw from the lessons of the JSE’s 123-year history.
More useful for Africans is the Africa Board of the JSE that allows African companies all over the continent to list on the JSE and raise capital from South Africa and other markets that the JSE is exposed to. On an individual basis, it was enriching to learn that anybody can invest on the stock exchange. One does not have to be a millionaire to invest on the stock exchange. Instead one can use the stock exchange to become a millionaire. We learnt the various ways in which one can invest on an exchange and the various considerations to take into account. One remarkable thing Mr Budeli mentioned is that whenever he used to go to leading supermarket stores, he used to complain about the long queues. Later it occurred to him that if he was the owner of one of the supermarkets, he wouldn’t complain about people queuing to buy his goods. We too, can become owners in those companies, he said. At the beginning of the talk, one lady remarked that she felt more secure investing in cows and land than ‘these’ stocks that cannot even be seen. By the end of the seminar, she said she had had a mind shift and now knew how to reorganize her investment options. Those present also got the added benefit that their contacts will be captured into the JSE mailing database so that they can receive notifications of upcoming events and presentations by various institutions and companies at the JSE.
Next to present was Mrs. Jansen Van Vuuren, on behalf of Professional Provident Society (PPS). PPS offers financial products only to graduate professionals and because of its niche-focus, does not even advertise. Their insurance products are useful to Ugandans in S Africa because they cover one even when outside its borders.
The final presenter on the financial side was Ugandan Mr. David Iraka, in charge of wealth creation at one of S Africa’s largest bank, Nedbank. He presented the various ways in which one can invest today for future wealth. We couldn’t have wished for better investment knowledge. Mr Iraka is also the PRO for AUPSA.
With the financial presentations done, the new AUPSA chairman, Mr Allen Mutono, used the opportunity to make us sing the Uganda national anthem and oooh, even though far way, we haven’t forgotten! He gave a brief history of AUPSA and highlighted its goals. He extorted us to continue striving for activities of high value like this one, and eventually move millions through the building where we were sitting.
It was then time for the Ugandan High Commissioner, Mr. Kweronda Ruhemba, to give his remarks. He thanked the presenters for the value they added to Ugandans, and Ugandans for being receptive to this value. He said such knowledge as gained on the day gave tools to climb the ladder of success but advised that to successfully do that, and even remain at the top, one has to be disciplined. He said there is a lot of Ugandan human capital out of the country and a lot of it could be harnessed to develop the country. He encouraged Ugandans present to attract investment and tourism from the Southern African region to their country. Talking about Independence Day, he narrated that when Uganda gained independence from Britain in 1962, his grandfather remarked that in his life-time (Mr Ruhemba’s) he will not see Ugandans managing their country well. He said indeed his grandfather was correct for since then, we have been fighting, mismanaging the economy, raising corruption levels and have failed to build infrastructure – roads, rail, air transport, electricity power supply e.t.c – that are so crucial for social and economic development. He said we need to strive towards rising above this. Somebody later remarked to me that the starting point should be him advising the man sitting in the president’s chair back in Kampala that leaving that chair is crucial in overcoming these short-falls.
The formal part ended with Mrs. Jennifer Kaahwa moving a vote of thanks and together with Mrs. Monica Rubombora, presenting Ugandan gifts to the day’s sponsors and presenters. The event was sponsored by PPS and Nedbank, and hosted by the JSE. What many will not forget and indeed agreed with, is Mrs. Kaahwa’s memorable quotation from Robert Browning that “one minute’s success is an invaluable addition to years of toil.”
The final activity of the day was finger-lunch and networking in the JSE lobby. There were also many South Africans, including the Deputy Director General from the Gauteng Provincial Government Treasury department, that shared the joy of the day with their Ugandan friends. It was also good to see the head of the Kenyan association in S Africa, Mr KC Rottok, coming to be in solidarity with neighbouring Ugandans.
This event showed that Ugandans can rise to any occasion and their abilities are boundless. Acknowledgements must also go to the South African hosts that facilitated its success. By the same time next year, I wish to see ripe fruits of this seminar.