Yesterday, businesspeople in downtown Kampala who deal in hardware and other building materials closed shop as a protest action against what they see as an unfair advantage enjoyed by Chinese traders in the same business.
They claim that their Chinese counterparts are able to sell similar items at lower prices than them because of a number of factors that favour the former (Chinese) while putting the local traders at a disadvantage. In the long run, it does not make business sense for them to keep operating in such an environment. Hence their decision to take such drastic action to highlight their plight.
Further, the local traders suggested that the Chinese should be relocated to the industrial parks from the central business district and the surrounding areas of the city "since they came to the country as industrialists, not merchants."
It is not the first time that Kampala traders are staging a strike and closing shops over one issue or another. While there is a danger of this latest incident taking on a xenophobic angle, we should not lose sight of the salient issues raised. This should never be allowed to escalate into an "us against them" or "local [Ugandan] businesspeople vs Chinese" scenario. One of the parties (the local traders) feel they are bearing the brunt of either unfair policies or the lack of protection from threats that could potentially hurt their business. That is why they look to the government to provide a solution.
Also telling is their rejection of the government representatives who were on site to listen to their concerns. It is reported the traders rejected the State Minister for Youth Nakiwala Kiyingi, who showed up to represent minister of Trade Amelia Kyambadde. Instead, the traders said they would only listen to Ms Kyambadde herself or Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba (President Museveni's son and also special presidential advisor) because they have access to the President.
This is not the first time that traders or businesspeople in Kampala or, for that matter, other parts of the country are protesting against unfair charges, heavy taxes and the other issues that affect their activities. While there has been response from government such as sending a representative to listen to their concerns or having a dialogue, it seems there is hardly a lasting solution.
The fact that these traders' protests keep recurring calls for deeper far-reaching measures that cover all bases and leaves all parties satisfied.