12 maggio 2008

Radio private, sogno dell'imprenditoria ugandese

In questa corrispondenza dall'Uganda, il giornale kenyota The East African parla delle mode del momento tra i piccoli imprenditori ugandesi: aprire stazioni radio (sono ambitissime durante le elezioni locali), costruire strade e importare automobili. Il bello delle economie in vie di sviluppo è che anything goes. Il brutto è che sono appunto in via di sviluppo, quindi all'inizio dev'essere parecchio difficile. Ma temo che una economia in profonda crisi come la nostra sia peggio.
In Uganda ci sarebbero 170 stazioni radio private, almeno due per distretto (e il governo ha moltiplicato il numero di distretti con estrema facilità ultimamente, nel 2005 erano passati da 56 a 69).
Con un po' di googling ho trovato anche questo necrologio di Irene Bazalaki, che nel 1993 fu una delle prime producer di Radio Sanyu oggi Sanyu FM 2000. Purtroppo Irene è mancata tre anni fa in California. La sua è stata una bella avventura. Sanyu è stata la prima stazione privata in assoluto, subito seguita sempre nel 1993 da Capital FM Kampala.

Ugandan dreams: Open a radio station, build roads, import a car

Last week, we talked of Uganda’s leading business fads of the past two decades — namely churches, schools, forex bureaux, fast food takeaway restaurants and local neighbourhood watering holes. This week, we look at a few more and hope we cover the major ones.
It was December 1993 when the first privately owned radio station in Uganda went on air. “A dream becomes reality,” was the selling line Radio Sanyu used in its first days. The dream was soon to be shared by Capital Radio — in the same month, in fact. Today, some 170 entrepreneurs are sharing the dream of broadcasting across the country. And the number is still growing.
Today, every politician at the level of Member of Parliament (we have some 300, who have twice that number of strong rivals) wants to be able to talk of “my radio station” with the same ease that they talk of their car or their house. And many of them are succeeding.
The radio station business became popular as the (second-hand) technology to set them up became more readily available and the regulatory authorities realised there was no returning to centralised broadcasting for the whole country.
But most important, the consumers do not need to spend money every time they tune in and above all, they can follow the programmes effortlessly, unlike newspapers, which require the capacity to read and concentrate.
Even though the government has been multiplying districts like rabbits over the past five years, there are still on average over two stations per district. Whenever we hold national or local elections (which is rather too often), the radio stations become very busy.
When the president goes upcountry to campaign for an embattled candidate of the ruling party, which is also rather too often, given the many by-elections that arise out of poll malpractices, he graces the local studio with an hour or two behind their microphone. That makes the day, sorry the year, for the station.
THESE STATIONS ARE QUITE INTERESTING. They charge a tenth or less per minute for airtime as their Kampala counterparts, allow a lot of local political debate and generally make people feel good as they phone in and hear their own voices on air.
If the technology to build radio stations is so readily available, the one for road construction is even easier to come by, or to pretend to have. You do not have to be a civil engineer, or a serious businessman, to become a road builder who gets contracts to construct public roads.
Ever since the decentralisation policy took root over a decade ago, you just need to know a district chairman or, if he is your enemy, know enough councillors in the district council to secure a tender to make a few local roads. As we said, you do not need to have construction equipment because basically, you are not going to build a road — you are just going to pretend to build the road and get paid.
Sometimes, you hire somebody’s construction equipment, run it around for a couple of days as the village boys gather to gawk in the sun, and you laugh all the way to the bank. There are hundreds of road construction companies and like the neighbourhood bars, they also seem to be here to stay.
Sometime in the early nineties, the government lifted the ban on importing old cars, meaning those older than four years. Suddenly, everyone whose small shop was failing became a car importer. The car dealer could import a consignment of just one car.
He would follow it all the way from Japan or Dubai through Mombasa, where he would hire someone to drive it through the Busia or Malaba Customs post all the way to Kampala. All this time, he would be hunting buyers up and down the city.
With the car in the Kampala bonded depot, he would get a deposit from the buyer, clear the remaining taxes and finally conclude the sale. The 10,000 car dealers have with time been replaced by more efficient operators who for some reason all seem to be of Pakistani origin.
Where did the car importers go? Possibly some of them opened car washing bays. That is another fad that became a hit at the turn of the century. All you need to do is hire a vacant plot, get a steady supply of water and get a few boys with rags and you are in business.
The washing bays also work as night parking, another fad that came in because more people who live in tiny houses or flats have bought cars and have nowhere to park them. So for a dollar or so a night, their car is parked securely.

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