Young nation, young entrepreneur, strategy in action―a Ugandan story

October 8, 2014
By

AAT short story

Robert Mugabe Mulindwa is a young Ugandan entrepreneur whose story illustrates the necessity for strategic skills, patience, tenacity and vision in a country that today looks much like we might imagine our forefathers faced in the US, when they first arrived and began building our nation. To place this entrepreneur in his setting, it is important to understand a little Ugandan history.

Situated in the eastern equatorial region of Africa, Uganda history is one of the oldest on the continent.  Initially inhabited by nomadic people who lived as hunter-gatherers (foragers), over the centuries, the people organized themselves into kingdoms, many of which co-exist today with the democratically-elected government of the Ugandan Republic that was established in 1962 after gaining independence from Britain. The country was part of the British East Africa Company (1988) and then a British protectorate (1894).  In order to build the Ugandan railway, the British brought in laborers from India. Political strife over the next twenty years left the country in an economic shambles.  The most notable destruction occurred under the dictatorship of Idi Amin (1971-1979), in which over 300,000 Ugandans were killed; the entrepreneurial Indian population that supported the economic system was anihilated and their businesses were destroyed.  The 1993 constitution and its 2005 amendment fully recognizes four of the ancient kingdoms (Buganda, Bunyoro-Kitara, Busoga, Toro), their laws and their Kings’ powers.  They have influence over the Ugandan Republican government and are important to the country’s future economic development.  Buganda Kingdom, located near Lake Victoria, encompasses Kampala (capital of Uganda) and Entebbe (location of the international airport).  It is the largest of the recognized kingdoms, with over 17% of the entire Ugandan population and much of the country’s economic activity within its jurisdiction. Tourism is one of the major driving industries in Uganda’s recovery, representing $1.88 billion of the national GDP and most of the country’s leading tourism-based companies are based in the Buganda Kingdom region.

Robert Mugabe Mulindwa’s father was killed by Idi Amin.  His mother, a descendant of  one of the wives of King Mutesa I, raised Robert in the Buganda Kingdom palace, where he developed a fascination with history and cultural tourism and eventually obtained the title of Chief Tour Guide at the Kasubi Royal Tombs. Using his savings, he continued his formal education in business administration and tourism in Uganda, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Returning to Uganda, he learned the practical ropes of running a safari business through early associations with safari companies and eventually set up his own business (African Adventure Travellers, Ltd.) in 2010.

Located in Kampala, the company started small, with day trips around the city. Robert had everything to learn about building a business in a period when the industry was recovering from Uganda’s political instability and was beginning to address the infrastructural needs of a wildlife management policy that would establish national parks, provide sustainable management of wildlife resources and supervise wildlife activities within and outside of the protected areas.  Today, there are ten national parks, twelve wildlife reserves, five community wildlife management areas, and thirteen wildlife sanctuaries under the jurisdiction of the Uganda Wildlife Autority. The leading tourism trade union, Association of Ugandan Tour Operators, lists 139 members that offered services to over 500,000 vistors to Uganda in 2012.  Everyone is competing for customers in a time when the international news is focused on the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa.

Tourism from the US is down this year and in large part it seems to be related to a lack of awareness of Africa’s physical and infrastructural distances.  Most local businesses depend upon their internet presence to market their offers.  While Robert’s business is growing, he is challenged to find ways to meet potential customer expectations, when the most lucrative customers are very distant physically and psychologically.  Mastering social media is a significant part of the African Adventure Travellers strategic marketing plan.  In 2014, Trip Advisor awarded the company a Certificate of Excellence. Their active presence on Facebook includes the company page and the professional pages of each employee.

The successful safari business depends upon happy customers who spread their stories of good experiences widely and in a timely manner. From a small startup in 2010, Robert’s business is on a positive growth trajectory, in spite of the tight competition.  Today, he faces the challenge of how to finance and manage the growth.  In 2000, McKinsey published the “Seven Degrees of Freedom for Growth” model that suggests directions Robert can consider:  (1) sell existing products to existing customers; (2) acquire new customers in existing markets; (3) create new products and services; (4) develop new value-delivery approaches; (5) move into new geographies; (6) create a new industry structure; (7) open up new competitive arenas.  Building new value will require timely financial investment and good strategic alliances.

Source: Adapted from http://www.buganda.or.ug/; http://www.buganda.com/buganda.htm; http://observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=34121:-uganda-seen-through-the-eyes-of-young-americans&catid=73:highlights&Itemid=70; http://www.uganda-safaris-tours.com/; http://www.adventure-travellers.com/index.html;  http://tourism.go.ug/; http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/seven-degrees.htm

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