18 November 2012

Uganda: Why Ugandans Don't Save


That more than 30 million Ugandans have only three million bank accounts among themselves speaks volumes.

Do they save at all? Do they have none- cash investments? Or do they, like that old bank advert suggests, keep their money under their beds?

According to business critics , the savings culture of Ugandans is appalling. When I asked Musota, the man who weeds the compounds around my neighbourhood, whether he has any savings, he stopped for a minute and gave me a blank stare. "Look at me; I dig for just the food. How can I save when sometimes I sleep hungry?" he asked.

Mark Ochieng, an enthusiastic entrepreneur and accountant, points out that the major reason indigenous Ugandans do not save is poverty. Ochieng says in a country where almost half the population lives on less than a dollar a day, it is unrealistic to expect them to save.

"What will they save? If I was that poor, I too would not save," he says.

But Murtuza Dalal, the Regional Executive Partner at PKF, insists that there is no such thing as enough money and everyone can save. "Work within your means and save a small percentage," he explains.

Dalal's firm is a one-stop centre for those seeking advice on investment. It boasts of both local and international clientele. In his experience, Dalal says that the savings and investments culture in Uganda is poor. He adds that compared to their counterparts in Kenya, Uganda's capital market is small. To grow, the capital market needs large volumes of investment, which are absent in Uganda.

Dalal adds that while the investment environment in Uganda is excellent, corruption, government administrative costs and bureaucracy remain huge barriers.

"If at every level you have to shell out money in order to start up something, you will be discouraged," Dalal explains.

He adds that countries like India have an ingrained culture of savings and investments because it is instilled in them from childhood. "They know that a prudent person has to save for a rainy day. Any educated person should be prudent enough to save," he says, adding that even little money can be pooled and used for meaningful investments.

Dalal advises that small savings can go into simple investments like buying shares, which in turn increase in value and lay a foundation for further investment. For most Ugandans, the epitome of investment is buying real estate. However, this kind of investment has a downside to it.

"When in an emergency, you might have to sell your real estate for less," Dalal says.

But to Ochieng, the entrepreneur, it all comes down to the low penetration of the banking system. Even the esteemed mobile money transactions, with their constant break downs, are yet to deliver on the promise of extending a semblance of banking to the people. At the end of the day, a few Ugandans might have a couple of shillings stashed somewhere.

"This is not saving. This is merely postponing the date when you will use the money."

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