A conversation with Silver Kayondo, Lawyer Uganda 

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Silver Kayondo (SK) had the opportunity of meeting Lincoln Mali as a postgraduate student pursuing a Master of Laws (LL.M) Degree at the University of Pretoria (Tuks) in 2015. As an international student opening up a bank account at Standard Bank Hatfield Branch, a casual conversation with Mr. Lucky Mathole, a Prestige Banker at the same branch opened up this relationship that transcended geographical walls and cultural barriers. Silver would later meet Lincoln physically at the Seed S/A “Emerging Leaders Forum”.

In Silver’s own words, meeting Lincoln Mali has been “a transformative experience that changed not only my perspective on leadership, but service and mentorship as a whole.” Silver has since graduated from Tuks with distinction and is back in Uganda, where he practices corporate and commercial law, and runs a series of other enterprises- including a drone (unmanned aerial vehicles/UAVs) start-up. In 2017, he invited Lincoln to address emerging Ugandan leaders under the Leadership Square Africa (LSA), a Ugandan peer-to-peer network of upcoming leaders across the private and public sectors, and civil society. In this conversation, Silver and Lincoln welcome you on a conversation on matters relating to corporate leadership, business, and executive training on the African continent. Enjoy!

SK:

Most African countries have a high number of SMEs in the informal sector. What do you think is the right strategy to unlock this value and grow these businesses? 

LM:

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play a major role in most economies, particularly in developing countries.  According to the World Bank, Formal SMEs contribute up to 60% of total employment and up to 40% of national income (GDP) in emerging economies. These numbers are significantly higher when informal SMEs are included.  

Moving informal SMEs into the formal sector can have considerable advantages for the SME (for example, better access to credit and government services) and to the overall economy (for example, higher tax revenues, better regulation). We can unlock the potential and grow this sector through the following steps: 

  • The digital economy offers Africans an opportunity to re-align markets by eliminating information asymmetry. Unless businesses in the informal sector are able to connect with consumers, the SMEs that make up the backbone of Africa’s economies will be selling in the dark. On average, the productivity of Africa’s informal firms is only 25 percent that of small formal firms and 19 percent of medium-sized formal firms. By providing more accurate data for customers, digital services can improve services and introduce more stability into the region’s volatile markets. Today’s consumers use their phones for almost every service imaginable. Through technology, more SMEs can better monitor and cater to consumer needs and wants, and reach the customers they want. Some businesses across the continent have already developed innovative ways to use technology to help informal SMEs better understand local markets.
  • Digitization creates a pathway to formalization that is a win-win for businesses in the informal sector and governments alike. In the past, the costs of coming out of the shadows may have outweighed the benefits for SMEs in the formal sector; however, technology can ease the burden of regulation by streamlining bureaucratic processes. Moreover, it can generate greater visibility to donor and government services such as skills training and access to finance. With legal recognition, governments can better improve access to capital, award contracts to SMEs, and counsel them on business development. Although governments and development agencies increasingly recognize the importance of support for SMEs, efforts to engage them are more likely to be successful through coordinating agencies like Nigeria’s Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency or South Africa’s Department of Small Business Development. By using technology in their outreach to SMEs, these agencies can better connect and serve more small bus
  • However, access to finance is a key constraint to SME growth. Without access to capital, many SMEs languish and stagnate. The financing gap is even larger when micro and informal enterprises are taken into account.  improving SMEs’ access to finance and finding solutions to unlock sources of capital is crucial to enable this potentially dynamic sector to grow and provide jobs. There are a number of initiatives aimed to address this such as •improving Credit Reporting Systems; 
  • Introducing Secured Transaction Registries, •Modernizing Insolvency Regimes 
  • Streamlining of Payments
  • SME Bank Lines of Credit 
  • Partial Credit Guarantee Schemes (PCGs) 
  • Early Stage Innovation Finance provides equity and debt/quasi-debt to start up or high growth firms which may otherwise not be able to access bank financing.

SK:

From your perspective as a corporate leader, what can we do to ease the process of doing business across the continent? 

LM:

Africa needs new investment, for businesses to prosper, and for innovation to thrive. For this to happen, a conducive and an enabling environment needs to be created. Foreign businesses who invest on the continent and local entrepreneurs who run their businesses have a common need – a huge improvement to the ease of doing business. 

Here are some of the key measures that need to be taken to improve the ease of doing business: 

  • Macroeconomic stability is important for businesses to plan and manage their business in an environment of stability and certainty; 
  • Incidents of bribery, money laundering and corruption are a huge drain on business resources; 
  • Environments of conflict, violence and war create a lack of security that adversely impact business; 
  • The regulatory regime around opening and starting businesses must be very investor and business friendly; 
  • Visa regulations, rules on expatriates and dividends are also important for investors; 
  • Infrastructure, power and electricity are critical for business success; 
  • The legal and regulatory regime around intellectual property, enforcing contracts, protection of minorities, labour market regime and insolvency should make it easier to do business; and 
  • Tax rules and dividend rules must be transparent and objective 

We need new leaders across business, governments and entrepreneurs to create a new policy and regulatory environment to make it easier to go business across Africa. Mauritius, Rwanda, Kenya and Botswana are the leading countries in terms of ease of doing business, these countries have made huge strides in creating a conducive environment for business. 

SK:

How do you measure your impact as a leader? 

LM:

I think it might be a bit presumptuous to measure one’s own impact as a leader. If I were to measure a leader, objectively and remove myself from the equation. I would evaluate a leader’s impact on 5 key variables: 

  • Leadership is not a title held, it’s an influence felt. The first major measure of impact is the level of influence of a leader. The wider and broader that influence is across geographies, business units, stakeholder groups and communities, the more impact a leader will have. 
  • The next measure of impact for a leader is their success in mobilizing or inspiring a team or a group of people towards some huge noble objective or goal against the most difficult odds. 
  • I would also measure the impact of a leader on the growth, prosperity, and success of those he or she leads. The impact of a leader is so profound when they have a positive role in the professional and personal lives of those he or she leads; 
  • A leader’s impact is also measured by how much he or she is regarded as a role model by young and old across a broad community; and lastly 
  • The measure of a leader’s impact is also on the positive role he or she plays in the community, developing young leaders, and in promoting the environment for future generations. 

Each one of us, in our spheres of influence, will be measured about how much impact we have had on these and other dimensions. It is always the sacred duty of those who are led to determine the extent of a leader’s impact. 

SK:

What do you think is the role of emerging leaders like myself in the trajectory of the future of Africa, or the Africa of the Future? 

LM:

Africa’s rebirth is imminent- our people yearn for a new beginning. Those of you who seek to be the midwives of an African Renaissance beyond the “easy headline”, the “catchy soundbite” or social media activism, must accept the responsibility to create the conditions necessary for Africa to rise. Your inaction will inevitably result in Africa faltering. That means you must, in the words of Al Gore, “come to believe in hope over despair, striving over resignation and faith over cynicism.”

A great Ivorian proverb says: “The outsider doesn’t know the path through the calabash trees.” In other words, you as young leaders know our continent better than others; it is your responsibility to be the primary movers in the rebirth of our continent, with help and support from others. The future you create must and should be a future of your own making. 

The inescapable fact is that this is your responsibility; no-one else’s.

This time, this moment in Africa’s history, requires what Robert F Kennedy described in his seminal speech at a Nusas seminar in Cape Town in 1966:

“This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.”

He went on to say: “‘There is,’ said an Italian philosopher, ‘nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.’ Yet this is the measure of the task of your generation, and the road is strewn with many dangers.”

You see Silver, my leader, Africa cries out for man and women of great promise like you, who are willing to take on the Herculean task of changing the fortunes of a continent, who are prepared to take steps, however small, to change our trajectory and who are willing to stand up for their ideals regardless of the difficulties they may face. 

There is no shortage of people who profess to have these qualities, who confess to a desire to bring about change, but fewer and fewer are taking any steps towards this noble goal.

Africa awaits you, you dare not fail her 

SK:

Where would you place emerging trends such automation, big data, artificial intelligence, the 4th Industrial revolution, Blockchain, etc in public and corporate Africa? Are we ready to compete as a continent? What more needs to be done? 

LM:

In the words of Mteto Nyati, “Technology absolutely has a role to play in addressing poverty, inequality and underdevelopment. I would venture to say that without technology, society can forget about the possibility of successfully addressing these challenges. As society we need to see technology as the enabler that it is. “ 

Africa has many intractable problems such as poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, health problems, poor infrastructure, lack of housing and underdevelopment. These new technologies, properly adopted, have the possibility to change the face of Africa. Examples of use cases include: 

  • Drone technology to close the gap between rural and urban communities; 
  • Blockchain technologies to be used to promote trade finance; 
  • Artificial intelligence to be used in agriculture; 
  • Automation to assist power, commodities and energy sectors; 
  • Big data to assist governments to deliver services 
  • Internet of things to promote education across Africa 

These and other use cases are possible when forward thinking governments; smart entrepreneurs and investors in technology partner with developmental agencies to address Africa’s socio-economic challenges through technology. 

SK:

You always speak so highly of seasoned senior executives such as Sizwe Nxasana, Ruell Khoza, Jaco Maree, Brand Pretorius, Irene Charneley, Michael Jordan, Pam Golding, Saki Macozoma, Gill Marcus, Whitey Basson, Gloria Serobe, Sipho Nkosi, Wendy Appelbaum, Phutuma Nhleko, Nonkululeko Gobodo, and Wendy Luhabe. What impact have they had on your life? 

LM:

As our society recovers from a series of corporate scandals, ethics violations, tender frauds, price fixing revelations and state capture – we are in search of genuine role models. As household names such as Brian Molefe (Eskom); Markus Jooste (Steinhoff); Hlaudi Motsoneng (SABC); Leon Kirkinis (Steinhoff); Vittorio Massone (Bain); Trevor Hoole (KPMG); Brett Parker (SAP); Tom Moyane (SARS); Dudu Myeni (SAA); Vikash Sagar (Mackinsey), Lucky Motale (Prasa) and many others are currently mired in far reaching scandals. These scandals have dented society’s image of both the private and public-sector leaders. Society has become numb and the trust levels are at an all-time low. These times call on eminent business, corporate and public-sector leaders to:

  • Behave in ethically accepted ways; 
  • Protect resources entrusted to them and not use them for their personal gain or to benefit friends and family members; 
  • Be transparent, honourable, trustworthy and be an example in integrity, humility and probity; 
  • Create a culture of ethics and values within their organisations; and 
  • To be credible role models for the next generation. 

These and other leaders have helped me to provide an alternative narrative to leadership, to make young and aspirant leaders to realize that there are leaders out there who are competent, highly sought after, humble, professional and are goal driven. The remarkable stories of these people will help shape future leaders for generations to come. 

SK:

As a proud alumnus of the Harvard Business School, what impacted you most about their education system and approach that you would recommend to every business school on the African continent?

LM:

I was blessed to attend the Harvard AMP in 2013. I know that each business school is unique and it prides itself on its curriculum, faculty and special attributes. The key things that I certainly appreciated about the Harvard AMP are: 

  • The Living Group concept, where 7/8 people study together, live together and bond together for 8/9 weeks is a huge part of the Harvard experience. I was blessed to build lifelong relationships with my colleagues, who are now lifelong friends. 
  • The case methodology is such a core part of the Harvard learning and development experience. It was always fascinating for me how each case is understood differently by each one of us, then the Living Group discussions reveal other aspects and views you would not have thought about, then the same case morphs into something different in the class discussion and then the Faculty member plays the role of the musical conductor as he or she uses their unique style to guide the conversation and bring out unique perspectives and insights. This is an amazing learning method for leaders to appreciate that any problem may be approached from different vantage points, there may be different inputs to the outcomes and that as a leader you must be prepared to influence and be influenced through rational thoughts and good discussions. 
  • A huge part of the value I found from the Harvard AMP was the amazing group of current and former CEO’s and leaders who engaged us on their thoughts, their experiences and perspectives. This is a huge differentiator as one has a front row seat to their stories, the decisions they made, the lessons learnt and lessons imparted to us. 
  • The quality of the Faculty assigned to the AMP program was simply world class, this was completed by guest lectures from some household names such as Prof Clay Christensen, Prof Michael Porter and Prof Bill George. Over and above this amazing talent, we also had access to other Harvard professors who we could meet and engage with. 
  • The most undervalued part was the quality of the students who attended the Programme from different industries and geographies. Through an elaborate and well-orchestrated plan, students are encouraged and helped to interact with other students. These may vary from meetings according to industries, countries, interests, electives, living groups, sitting arrangements in class, special dinners etc. Through this experience, we became quite close and I can now comfortably say we have kept in touch and met a couple of times through team, individual and group reunions across the world. It’s a huge network to have of about 175 senior executives from across the world from different disciplines and industries. 
  • Lastly, beyond everything I leant at Harvard, the relationships I build and the exposure I received, what will be etched on my mind is the personal journey of discovery I had to go through. Harvard gives you an opportunity to reflect on your personal and professional life and be vulnerable enough to take some life changing decisions. The most profound lecture, that challenged me was given by Prof Clay Christensen, who challenged us with this most profound question, “How will i measure my life?” This became my roadmap for the things I needed to change in my life, and most importantly the role I wanted to play within my organization, my family, my community and society at large. This very platform, “Conversations with Lincoln” was born from this reflection period, and I remain ever grateful for my Harvard experience. 

SK:

From your perspective as a key player in Africa’s most sophisticated economy and driver of the continent’s largest bank, what is the outlook on capital and wealth on the continent, and how can we young people unlock more alternative value areas needed to spur growth and sustainable development?

LM:

The African continent boasts the largest share of adults running or starting a new business, with 80 percent of Africans viewing entrepreneurship as a viable career opportunity. In the 18 countries where statistics were available, 11 percent of the working-age population were entrepreneurs, higher than developing countries in Latin America and Asia, where 8 percent and 5 percent of adults, respectively, ran their own business.

Financial policies should increase firms’ access to sources of finance, an issue addressed during the World Economic Forum on Africa earlier this month, where leaders emphasized the need for innovative digital financial services for entrepreneurs.

According Mario Pezzini, 

“Entrepreneurs should be lead actors in Africa’s journey into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

A number of entrepreneurs are making amazing strides in using the latest technologies to solve market, consumer, business and societal problems. The following amazing initiatives inspire much confidence in the future of African entrepreneurship: 

  • Emmanuel Odunlade, a 23-year-old electrical engineering graduate, has introduced iGas, an IoT-enabled device that allows people to get real-time status updates on the amount of gas left in their cooking cylinders. Emmanuel and his team implemented a machine learning algorithm to help users predict gas levels and detect leakages. The device also features a marketplace app that makes it easy for users to order refills from a nearby dealer.
  • Rukeme Imoniovu, a 24-year-old mathematics graduate, innovated a wind turbine with solar panels; 
  • Osh Agabi has developed a neurotechnology device that can detect both explosives and cancer cells. 
  • A team of Congolese engineers has created human-like robots to tackle the traffic problem in Kinshasa. 
  • Brian Turyabagye, a Ugandan inventor, created a biomedical smart jacket that can diagnose pneumonia four times faster and with more accuracy than a doctor.
  • Tatenda Ndambakuwa, a Zimbabwean, founder of Shiri, her driving force is to address food security challenges by helping farmers in her country to become more productive and efficient using the power of technology.
  • Brenda Katwesigye – Making eye care accessible and affordable to everyone in Uganda, regardless of their income status, is the vision of Brenda Katwesigye, founder of high impact company Wazi Vision. 
  • Taraja Nyalandu -the start-up story of a Tanzanian entrepreneur producing accessible, localized digital learning for secondary students of a global standards   

We have amazing innovation and energy from across the continent, there are however a number of key challenges to overcome: 

Firstly, many of our entrepreneurs are learning that it is very challenging to raise the type of patient capital needed for some of these innovations. What is encouraging is that they have not been deterred. In the words of Njideka Harry, “These are Africans. These are people. They have all learned that while talent is universal, opportunity is not.”

He concludes, “Africa doesn’t need aid, it needs effective public policy and business development. Governments, the private sector and civil society must work together to ensure a shared future of collaboration and innovation in a very fractured world, and to fulfil the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. When we lift others up, we lift up ourselves.” 

Secondly, many of these amazing innovations have great technologies and passionate entrepreneurs behind them, but they lack the requisite scale to reach a broader mass of consumers, and platforms necessary to deal with huge volumes. 

Young people have an opportunity to recreate Africa through innovation and entrepreneurship, this will challenge financial institutions, public bodies, universities, governments bodies to find creative ways to finance, support, incubate and develop these ideas, services and products. What is most exciting, is that there are more entrepreneurs who see Africa’s challenges as opportunities to make a difference, to build products, offer services and deliver services in a very different manner. 

SK:

I know you make a lot of business trips to China. What are some of the lessons Africa can learn from China in terms of business and economic approach? 

LM:

I have been privileged to travel to China regularly and I have just marvelled at the long-term vision, detailed planning and leadership of the Chinese that has led to great economic progress and development. China has been able to lift millions of people from abject poverty to a prosperity route. I think that there is much that Africa can learn from the Chinese experience. The 6 most notable lessons are: 

  • Today China has a modern inter-provincial highway system spanning the country. It has the world’s fastest high-speed trains, and an airport infrastructure second to none. This transport infrastructure has played a huge role in China’s economic development. Africa cries out for infrastructure within and between countries, to drive the economy, promote trade and allow the movement of goods and people. Our leaders must have the foresight to make the necessary investments into transport infrastructure to improve Africa’s economic growth prospects. Failure to modernize Africa’s transport infrastructure will render economic development a pipe dream. 
  • China managed to leapfrog in telecommunications infrastructure, going straight to cellular. In 1985 in China, the only people with a phone were party officials, doctors, and police. Now, almost everybody has a mobile device. Likewise, Africans are leading the world in adopting mobile technology. This gives Africa the ability to catch up very fast in facilitating commerce in national, local, and continent-wide markets. Mobile commerce is a major channel that must be embraced as a key pillar of macro-economic modernization — and in the operation of companies 
  • Human Capital:  China has nurtured a population with high levels of human capital. Clearly human capital has been one of many enabling factors in China’s meteoric growth.

Unfortunately for Africa, the quality of education has deteriorated on some parts of the continent and overall has not kept pace with the rapid changes in the technology and innovation sphere. The reality is that Africa needs a skilled labour force in order to experience growth like China’s. In addition to that, Africa needs skilled graduates in order to move up the value chain and achieve critical productivity increases. There is an opportunity to learn from China, where more than 40% of all tertiary degrees are awarded in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

  • Much of the investment that has fuelled China’s exceptional growth has been facilitated by strikingly high savings rates. The most recent data suggest savings rates of about 50 percent in China, while the savings rates in most African countries are well under half of that. There are good savings rates in the public, corporate and household sectors. Africa needs higher levels of savings at both public and private -to sustain the needed level of investment and a smooth growth trajectory over the long term. 
  • China’s own experience in industrial development through the special economic zones offers valuable lessons. Special economic zones are geographically designated trade areas that are used to attract foreign investors and boost industrialisation. They generally have trade laws that differ from the rest of the country and companies are offered tax incentives to set up operations. For African countries, setting up special economic zones can boost the diversification of their economies and promote manufacturing. China’s experiences indicate that for zones to succeed, African governments must improve infrastructure and technology and have an educated and competent labour force as well as efficient and effective administration.
  • China has been able to harness a range of new technologies such as augmented reality, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, Blockchain, drone technologies, nano technologies, data analytics, robotics and distribution technologies to solve a lot of socio economic challenges. Through these technologies they were able to solve transport, agriculture, E-commerce, finance, Payments, and poverty challenges. Africa has an opportunity to learn from the Chinese and to use the latest technologies to advance its socio-economic development agenda. 

Regards

Lincoln