Jehoash Mayanja Nkangi was as conservative as they can come. The Oxford-trained lawyer was the last prime minister of Buganda Kingdom before it was abolished in 1966, and over the 27 years until its restoration.
Nkangi ingeniously kept his mace of office safely hidden throughout his years of exile and while living in Uganda under the bull-in-a-china shop era of Idi Amin, and during the unstable half decade of civil war that followed. At the fall of Amin, Nkangi set up the Conservative Party (CP), one of the four that contested the 1980 elections.
With the advent of the Museveni era in 1986, Nkangi held several key ministerial portfolios, including Education, Planning, Finance and Justice, finally winding up as Uganda Land Commission chairman, his last public office before his demise in 2017, aged 85.
In the last quarter century of his life, conservative Nkangi’s was a pragmatist who believed in liberal economic policies alongside state intervention.
President Museveni would take credit for Nkangi’s conversion, describe him as a new “revolutionary.” What used to hurt Nkangi most was Uganda’s inability in the 21st century to clothe its people, after the privatisation of the economy in the 1990s. The national textile companies were sold/given away to private operatives while the floodgates of importing second-hand clothes were opened wider.
The former conservative used to say that when thousands of Ugandans gather at Kololo Independence Grounds for national functions, an order should be given for everyone to take every item of foreign fabric off their body and remain with Ugandan clothing only. Nkangi, a born-again Christian, would laugh and say everyone, including the president, would end up naked.
As the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) gets busy fulfilling its collection targets for 2021-22 financial year, it has targeted second-hand clothing and a public secret crisis is unfolding.
Unless something is done fast, we may not have to go to Kololo for an order to get naked to be issued; a majority of our people might start walking naked in a couple of years unless taxes on old clothes are reduced or we wake up and resume producing clothes from cotton, which grows easily in Uganda.
If policy makers read the history just before the British intensified their efforts to colonise Uganda, they would find that Egyptians in the mid-19th century were on mission to take Bunyoro — the once great kingdom in western Uganda — so as to produce cotton there cheaply and dominate the world clothing market. If only we knew what Egypt knew about our country 170 years ago, we wouldn’t be headed for nakedness from high taxes imposed by ourselves on clothes used and soiled in America.
As grumbling among second-hand clothes dealers mounted last week, Parliament closed business for the second time in its two months’ life and members were sent to find out what happened to some $60 million that was distributed to thousands of grassroots credit societies — at least on paper — across the country.
What would the conservative-turned revolutionary Mayanja Nkangi think of how things have turned out?
Under the conservative capitalism, the country was growing cotton, processing it and dressing its people decently. Now with revolutionary management, millions of peasants are given capital —at least on paper— and even the sector where the country enjoys the greatest comparative advantage in the world — textile production — majority are wearing second hand clothes previously worn by strangers overseas.
Nkangi would be horrified at our impending nakedness, reflecting the failure of just one industry in the economy. Being the meticulous planner that he was, Nkangi would call for an audit of the natural resources of Uganda, list the industries that can access raw materials from those resources, then direct investment in terms of processing capacity and skills development towards those industries.
Alas, Nkangi is no more. But 529 MPs are out investigating what happened to billions of shillings that were supposed to spur productivity in different sectors across the country.
Nkangi would advise the MPs to also study what the different ecological regions of the country can produce best. If now the MPs — most of them with no accounting training — have been turned into auditors of funds that were disbursed before they joined parliament, they can as well do a simpler job of enquiring what industrial activities are best suited for the areas from where they are conducting the audits.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]