19 March 2013

Uganda: Ndekera Helped Local Products Break Through Global Market

Margaret Ndekera is a busy woman, not because she flits in and out of the room to attend to her grandchildren, but because many things demand her attention, besides her interview with the New Vision.

What makes her special are her achievements. Ndekera was born to Dr. Joseph Kamulegeya and Joyce Kamulegeya on September 10, 1957.

Her father was the chief medical officer of Kampala City Council in the 1970s before he was murdered during the turbulent times of the Idi Amin regime. Ndekera went to Butenga Primary School in Masaka district because her parents travelled a lot.

Some of the products Ndekera's group members make

After completing her O' and A' level education at Tororo Girls School, she enrolled at Uganda Technical College, Kyambogo.

"I wanted to do something challenging - something that could put my skills to the test and make a difference in women's lives. I knew fi rsthand what it was like to work in a male-dominated world. At Kyambogo, we were about 12 girls in a class of 1,000 boys," Ndekera says.

The start of crafts

After she graduated, she pondered her next move. She did not want to spend endless days looking for jobs like her friends did. Instead she started an organization to develop the handicraft initiatives because she realised if she was to make it, she would have to work with other people.

"I discovered that I could make things out of paper, raffi a and yarn and that is how the making of paper jewellery and raffi a placemats started.

When my project began and I made money out of my products, I recruited people to join me so that they could provide for their families. Many women were languishing in poverty, with not even a cent to their name," she says.

Ndekera went to Mubende and Kiboga districts and launched her initiative in many villages and women came in droves. As a result, many women improved the lives of their families through making handicrafts.

For Ndekera, it provided her with opportunities to improve her knowledge and travel extensively. "I travelled to many places due to my work. I went to Germany, Japan, UK and many other places for short courses to learn more.

I wanted to find out how textiles and artisanal products could break even on a global market." When Ndekera came back, a lot of what she saw abroad opened her eyes. She realized that European countries had been robbing Uganda.

"What they did was to come here and buy cheap raw materials, take them back to their countries, process them and sell them back to us as finished products at triple the price they had purchased them."

As soon as Ndekera set foot in Uganda, she got to work. Together with Theresa Mbire, she formed Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Limited, (UWEAL). They mobilised women and explained to them how they could transform their products into hot cake.

Improving the crafts business

Ndekera told them that in other countries, the things they were selling at giveaway prices were fetching millions of dollars annually. She advised them to ensure that the products they made were beautiful and usable.

Ndekera explained that they had to convince the market that their products could be worn with pride, instead of being purchased as artefacts to store in their houses as proof of a dying culture.

Ndekera with guests during a trade fair

Many women were complaining of how they supplied their crafts to shops or traders, but never got paid because few people were buying their products.

There was a time in Uganda when people looked down on wearing bitenge or any other locally-made products, Ndekera says.

She started an initiative to conduct Easter and Christmas bazaars to showcase handicraft products to increase awareness and sales. However, she realized that this was not enough as business remained slow due to the mindset of Ugandans, who thought that locally made products were not good enough for them.

Gen. Elly Tumwiine was repeatedly thrown out of Parliament for being "indecently dressed." He is a living testimony of how people had refused to embrace their culture because the Western world had for such a long time set the dress code for the rest of the world.

People came round, however, and Ndekera can attest to this. She says progress can be seen from the many African crafts stalls and exhibitions mushrooming all over the country.

Today, Ndekera and her women conduct bazaars at the National Theatre, Uganda Railway park and UMA showgrounds in Nakawa. She was appointed the secretary general of the Confederation of Informal Sector Organisation in East Africa.

Mary Nasuuna, a beneficiary and resident of mubende learnt how to make table mats made of raffi a and has since expanded her business. Nasuuna completed constructing her three bedroom house in Mubende plus educating her children from the profi ts she makes from the handicrafts.

She owns a shop at Buganda Road called African crafts village. Harriet Kansiime, another beneficiary owns a crafts shop in kiyembe. She says it is her family sole source of income."

Many youth come looking for kanga a material commonly known as lesu, which is transformed into clothes of latest designs.

According to Kansiime, the business of selling African fabric is lucrative and attracts locals and foreigners. "Thanks to Ndekera, who worked hard to promote the sale of local made products.

As results people no-longer look down at our locally made products because they are buying them in large quantity," she says


Ndekera says although Ugandans are talented, they lack organizational skills to turn their schemes into multi-millionaire enterprises. She adds that there is no intervention by the Government to overhaul the informal sector.

Kenya's artisanal sector, every year, churns out original designs, which are recognized nationwide. This gives morale to the participants.

The Ugandan Government should do the same. As long as the Government does not recognise the contribution of the informal sector to the economy, there will be little progress.

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