Ephraim Manzi Tumubweinee, 73, is a former state minister for Privitisation, and MP for Rukiga, between 1996 and 2001.
In the Sixth Parliament, he became the poster child for those opposed to the sale of Uganda Commercial Bank. In 2008, he published a book, Struggle to Success, which traces his life experience and how he managed to make it against all odds. Now a businessman and prominent moneylender, Manzi talked to Edris Kiggundu about his book, life and politics. Below are excerpts:
What inspired you to write Struggle to Success?
It was my children. I wanted to show them that if you work hard, if you are honest, if you are persistent, there are high chances of succeeding in life. My father died when he was 35, my mother was 44. I did not see my grandfather. I heard that we came from a certain area. I am not sure whether I am Ugandan but certainly I am in Uganda. So, I wanted to put some records down so that people know who we are.
Reading the book, one realizes that you went through a torrid childhood. How did this shape your struggle for success?
Certainly it made me persistent and to lean how to be patient. I learnt to know right at an early age that you do not get anything for free. It helped to know that you have to work for what you are going to get.
But the death of your daughter Fiona Nyangoma in 2005, seems to have hit you harder…
I even got [high blood] pressure. You can’t imagine a 26-year-old girl who had been at a wedding with me. Then I told her “let’s go home” and she told me “I will drive behind you.” Then you drive home and the next day they call you and tell you that she rammed into a car and died. It was so tragic. She had a great future in front of her.
This book was first published six years ago. How come not many people knew about it?
I gave this book to somebody about a year ago. I even gave him some money. He said the newspapers would do a book review but nothing was done. When I asked my publishers whether they were planning an official launch, they said they don’t have the money. Otherwise, I wanted to launch it and have it sold. If it was for my children, it would have remained in manuscript.
From the book, it is clear you were very ambitious academically. Do you regret not having done a PhD?
I even had a scholarship to go to London School of Economics to do a PhD. I came back to Uganda to teach and hopefully to go back and I was caught up in the whole mess of Aminism. In the 1980s things became more complicated and I said well…
Uganda has borrowed billions of dollars to fund infrastructural development. As an economist, do you share the fear that the external debt might become unsustainable?
Yes and No. Yes because it is very difficult for any country to develop without borrowing either externally or internally. No, if you borrow, you must use the money for development, not consumption. Today our debt is $9 billion while our GDP is approximately $21 billion.
The nine billion must be going to those sectors which are development -oriented like infrastructure. We should not borrow for running a government. Lastly, we must avoid corruption because if there is corruption, it means what we borrow will not be properly used. We should not borrow from where someone expects to get a commission.
So, in your view corruption remains the biggest hindrance to Uganda’s economic development?
Well, yes. At present it is the biggest. The second biggest danger is lack of proper planning and not having focus on what we want to do. I agree with people who say we can’t do everything at the same time because we are poor, but we can still prioritize.
If you are poor, you can’t buy 10 shirts, 10 pairs of shoes, 10 pair of trousers at the same time. But you can say this month, I can save for two shirts and one pair of trousers and maybe next month you buy a pair of shoes.
In the book you seem to sound nostalgic about colonialism. Do you want to say that today, someone deep down in Rukiga cannot struggle his way to success the way you did?
No. if someone got a salary today in Rukiga, it would not be more than Shs 150,000 per month.How much can such a person pay for education which ranges around Shs 1 million? In my days I used to work during holidays. I would earn Shs 15 which would be able to give me transport, pocket money and clothes. The cost of living was within range of the earning capacity of the person.
What did the colonial government do right that successive governments failed to do?
They were not corrupt and there were equal opportunities for everybody regardless of whether they were poor or rich. But today do you think a kid in P1 in the village has the same opportunities like a child in Kampala here? In our days the best students were not from Kampala. They were either from Koboko, Teso, Kisoro, but not Kampala.
So, why did the situation change?
The teachers are not there. The teachers who go to rural areas now are the worst ones.The best teachers go to the good schools in Kampala. In my year, the students who went to the Bishop Stuart Teachers College in Mbarara, we were 18. But five of us were among the top-10-performing pupils in our districts at primary level. Today people who join teaching are those who have failed.
In the 6th Parliament, you were very outspoken against the privatisation of Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB). Given the good performance of Stanbic bank (which bought UCB), do you still stand by this view?
My measure of success of a national bank is the amount of development it has created, not profitability. If Stanbic bank now makes Shs 200 billion as profit, all of it goes to South Africa. If our bank made Shs 100bn and invested it here, which one would have created development?
I did not say don’t privatize UCB, I said let us privatize it in phases such that we float shares and Ugandans buy them. If they cannot manage it, they can employ managers but they own it. The fact that I do not know how to build a house does not mean I should not own one. I can contract someone to build it but I will own it.
There has always been talk that the president later appointed you as minister to shut you up over the UCB issue.
I did not know why he appointed me. I never asked him. But was I not qualified enough to be appointed minister? In any case when he first appointed me (in 1998) I was made minister of Trade. It is only later that I was made minister in charge of Privitisation.
What is your assessment of the performance of today’s Parliament?
Pluralism has it disaantages because you have to abide by the rules of the party. At that time we were abiding by the rules of the individual. But if you are in the party, you cannot say what it doesn’t want you to say. This is worldwide. Secondly, we went to Parliament at a time when many of us were old, the type that thought about the country but now many people are going to Parliament when they are young.
I am not saying it is bad to be young but for some it is even their first job if you see now some people. These surely don’t have the same experience as people who have worked elsewhere. Our average age was over 40. Today’s average age of the MPs is in 30s.
You write about the 2001 parliamentary campaigns in Rukiga where you claim that your supporters were beaten and eventually you were rigged out. Did this force you out of active politics?
Yes, it made me lose interest in elective politics. But that is the nature of politics.
Are you a member of any political party?
Yes. I subscribe to the NRM and I still make some contribution to it during meetings in which I am invited.
Do you think the bad blood between President Museveni and ex-premier Amama Mbabazi will affect NRM’s political fortunes?
No, the rumblings are normal. If you see two people agreeing all the time, either one of them is a fool or one intimidates the other. But if you can live without rumblings, this will be okay. I disagreed with people on how to sell UCB, it did not make them my enemies. But we disagreed.
How have you found the transition from politics to business?
I have always been a businessman. I started my first business in 1974 and since then I have never left business. Everything I do (including politics) is to supplement business.
But you write in your book that you are not a risk taker, yet some of the businesses you are involved in like moneylending appear to be hinged on risk.
Moneylending is not as risky as people think. Every business has risks but I fear taking heavy risk. I take risks which are guarded. I started moneylending in 1996 but I also do other businesses on the side.
Source : The Observer