The basic ingredient for any prosperous society or nation is peace. Peace among others guarantees freedom to mobility, thought, enterprise and innovation. The cost of conflict is huge, from loss of investment; destruction of infrastructure; damage to capital and workforce; loss of business partners across the conflict divide; lack of security in the operating environment and loss of opportunity for growth.
On July 11th 2010, terrorists indiscriminately massacred innocent people in the business district and suburbs of Kampala. Such a situation has a negative impact on business. Key sectors like tourism, hospitality, transport and entertainment can be affected. Once mobility of humanity is curtailed, business suffers.
The private sector must be aware of the direct link between security and business opportunity. For instance, while business actors may directly benefit from and be active parties to insecurity, the majority of domestic private sector suffers. The security environment directly affects business by impacting on operations, investments and ultimately profits. For example, despite the economic renewal from 1986 ushered in by the NRM government, macroeconomic conflict related costs can still be measured in the present day. A 2006 study by Civil Society Organization for Peace in Northern Uganda (CSOPNU) revealed that conflict in Northern Uganda cost the country a whooping 1.7 billion United States dollars.
What we know, however, is that there is potential for domestic private sector to pursue initiatives. Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UNCCI) for instance has immense capacity to reach out to affected areas through its robust networks and district branches. We must understand that peace is our business.
Tales of women entrepreneurs in Georgia’s Abkhaz Union building bridges between divided communities through business initiatives to reduce security concerns is inspiring. This group helped start-up businesses with training and finance for Georgian returnees to Gali and Ochamchira districts where poverty and war had devastated lives. The women entrepreneur interventions pioneered start-ups and series of trainings for owners of small gift shops, tailoring businesses, bakeries and small poultry farms among others. The foregoing was done without any external assistance.
We can do the above for our country and the region. We must appreciate the fact that entrepreneurs break the cycle of poverty and conflict. The former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan once said: “Thriving Markets and human security go hand in hand”. I agree with him.
By Mrs. Olive Z. Kigongo
President, Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Chairperson IGAD Business Forum.