If anybody had asked you how 2020 would turn out, none of us would have predicted the drama that it turned out to be! Locusts, an overflowing Lake Victoria, Covid-19 and its attendant deaths, a violent presidential campaign and then some more. It has been such a roller coaster year and just staying alive has been an achievement. What then will 2021 bring?
On the side of health, the year ended with the discovery (or is it invention) of vaccines to counter the corona virus pandemic. So as I write this, some people who have been favoured by geography are getting their first jabs. In China, Europe and the USA, the vaccine roll out program is in high gear. As for Africa, a few Very Very Important People will get their jabs soon. The moneyed class will probably also get theirs too by flying away or importing the vaccine. As for the rest of us, the devil may care. Sorry, make that God. The bigger lesson is take precautions if you can. Wear that mask, don’t go to crowded areas and try and stay healthy. You are really on your own, especially after January 14.
The presidential election too will pass. In spite of the violence and unnecessary deaths it has occasioned, the outcome is rather more obvious for those in the know. If you pay the piper, then he must sing from your hymn book. Life in this respect should go back to ‘normal’ after the charade, but there will be lots of bitterness and more division in our society unfortunately. I have gone on record before wondering why a poor country like ours has to go through this pain. We just can’t hold free and fair elections in the environment we have. The so called ‘free’ world however expects us to tick that box.
The thing to really watch in 2021 is going to be the economy. Many businesses, especially in the micro and small to medium sector (MSME’s) have been disrupted. Many small entrepreneurs are on their last feet, and once the moratorium on loan repayments ends, these businesses are going to be toast. Bankruptcies are going to become the order of the day. That also means that the financial sector, which through the moratoriums managed to kick the can down the road, is also going to feel the heat. The general economic prognosis would be for slower growth and a high degree of hardship for households and small businesses. I think economists call it recession, but that is a hard word to use.
As old business models fail, the good news is that there will be more startups and changes in the way we see the world. Many entrepreneurs will begin to take value addition and exports as a serious source of revenue. Aided by digital marketing, we could see a revolution and spike in our export business for those who will be able to make the leap. The ‘mall’, (or is it arcade?) will probably never completely recover as micro businesses migrate to the suburbs. This would also probably be good for decongestion of Kampala City. Rural areas could also benefit from the retrenchees moving back to their home areas and bringing some enlightenment to their communities.
Regionally, we will continue to see the East African Common market suffer. This will be partly due to the bad blood among the ‘Pan Africanists’ and also partly due to the ongoing trade wars between Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. Increasing non-tariff barriers will continue to hamper the exchange of goods and services.
Internationally, as Trump exits center stage, we should expect the USA to engage more with World issues, from climate change to nuclear proliferation, from great power aggression to transnational terrorism, from cyberwarfare to mass migration. The Biden Foreign policy is more likely to also be concerned with governance issues and human rights. Whichever way the dice rolls, may 2021 be a better year!
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at MAT Abacus Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka