Economic Agility in the Face of COVID19 and the Soul of the Ugandan Economy: A Personal Reflection

So, the "COVID Fish" is ready for harvest. A few months ago, I shared a brief story on how the race for economic survival had forced me to venture into #fish farming. A thread...
When #COVID19 erupted, I initially thought that it would be a passing wave. In March 2020, I travelled to Germany in spite of the unfolding global public health risk. I was only lucky that Uganda went into full lockdown just 2 days after I had returned.
As per the Ministry of Health's guidelines, I self-isolated for 2 weeks since Germany was a high-risk country. I also invited the medics to test me and I tested negative. However, the worst was yet to come. These were the longest 2 weeks of my life and a full lockdown was imposed
In my entire life, I had no experience or memory of just being home for a full 24 hours just "chilling". I am a very active workaholic with a very exceptional work ethic. Here I was struggling to come to terms with a new reality. Lucky I had the infrastructure to work from home.
One week into lockdown, we organized a Zoom call with 4 of my best friends. This is a very curated circle of folks who are waayyy smarter than me and I respect them immensely. I just called to check on them and somehow, the conversation veered toward the economics of the pandemic
All of us had no prior experience in living under a pandemic, but we all had some experience studying and living abroad- when you have to squeeze that ka $150 stipend to take you for a month as you save for a picnic or fancy getaway party with friends. Delayed gratification, guys
Being numbers guys, my friends had combed their data from all statics houses (UBOS, BoU, IMF, WB, UMA, etc). Their prediction was that the services sector in Uganda would contract and agriculture, fisheries and forestry would be the most resilient. Being a lawyer, this was bitter
I had already run through my 1 year reserve fund, having burnt it while starting a new business and having been out of formal employment for close to 2 years. Without a stable monthly pay cheque, I was starting to encroach on my emergency fund. Real survival mode had kicked in.
I was also over-exposed in startups. Was running a tab in 7 start-ups, with 4 being Ugandan and 3 foreign. There was no reasonable prospect that the Ugandan ones would pay a dividend. So, portfolio realignment was needed. I divested from 3 of them and rolled over the ones abroad.
With that little cash, I hired manual labour for Bush clearing and digging up the ponds. We sourced for the fish and put it in the ponds. Another learning curve was underway and those frequent upcountry trips had commenced full throttle. No bail-out, no Covid relief in sight.
Fresh trouble brewed again. Covid19 lockdown disrupted supply chains and getting fish feed was a real struggle. The supplier was based in Kampala and was only considering a Fort-Portal branch, but Covid had also messed up his expansion plans. We tried home-made feed as well.
The fish is now mature and ready for harvest, but a couple of interesting thoughts. Because I want to sell in bulk, initial interest has come from Kasese and Congolese traders. Batooro do not have a strong fish eating culture.

I will add a little joinder here...
I am one of those who support the idea that Uganda should construct roads in DRC. My people trade more with Eastern DRC than any other region. Our chicken, eggs, beans, cassava, etc are bought by Congolese. Also, because of hunger and demand, Congolese traders offer better prices
I feel like government handlers have failed to explain this Congo roads project persuasively to the public because most of them are not rooted in that reality. But I digress back to my micro "muntu wawansi" economics of survival and "zenkola zendya", where many of us fall.
With just this little intervention in the community, we have seen some members who had idle swamp land also venture into fish farming. It is very easy to influence copycat economies because people just copy ideas and implement. We also have new SMEs selling fish feed popping up.
In pre-capitalist economies like ours, you have to open up to these types of harsh realities. Not the most ideal, but anything that catalyzes urban-to-rural migration is positive. I have since taken keen interest in secondary cities like Fort-Portal and how to make them work.
Here are some survival tactics learnt

1 Hard assets e.g land will remain most essential safety nets
2 Dividends are taxed. Rural fish farming is not. Deleverage from corporate investments for tax planning if you can
3 Multiple income streams are the bridge to financial freedom
And back to where we started, it is June 2021 and we are in COVID-19 wave 2.0 under partial lockdown. In FY 2020/21, services shrunk to about 3% growth. Agriculture, fisheries & forestry remained steadfast at about 5%.

A new budget will be read in a few days & struggle continues
If you are looking for where & how to pivot, don't say I didn't show you. Unfortunately, in the race for survival, thinking & execution have to be immediate. Mid-term planning and budgeting do not cure short-term emergencies like one we are in. And expect no Covid relief support.

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