Uganda’s marketing policy


The Katikkiro (Prime Minister) of Buganda, Charles Peter Mayiga, last week lashed out at the government asking aloud how a company that does not own a single plot of coffee could be entrusted with marketing Ugandan coffee.

Given its prominent status, the centrality of coffee to the economy of Buganda and Uganda, and the suspicions surrounding the questionable decision to award the contract to Vinci Uganda Coffee Company, an Italian firm, the commentary de Mayiga received widespread support from the public.

The NRM government’s track record of selling off state-owned companies and negotiating contracts with foreign companies and individuals has made Ugandans wary of any arrangement, especially one involving foreign investors.

Katikkiro Mayiga tapped into populist sentiment rooted in African history and agitation for independence from the late 1940s.

The traditional vision since the 1960s at the dawn of independence is that of Africa becoming a land of new self-sufficient states.

These new states were to have their own national airlines, export marketing boards, national public service broadcasters, national telecommunications companies, etc.

Naturally, this sentiment around Marcus Garvey’s 1920s rallying call for “Africa for Africans” and the fact that most of the economy was still state-owned led to the creation in 1963 of the Coffee Marketing Board, an agency responsible for marketing Ugandan coffee abroad. .

This attitude persists in the recent outcry over the announcement that Vinci was to be the company holding the contract to market Ugandan coffee abroad.

This is an understandable, but factually incorrect assumption.
Starbucks in the US and Nestlé in Switzerland have shown for decades that the world’s greatest coffee producers and brands can be companies that don’t grow a single coffee plant.

Chinese companies building or upgrading road and bridge infrastructure in Uganda know nothing about Ugandan culture and most supervising engineers live in isolation from Ugandan society.

This did not stop them from doing what Ugandans themselves lack the skill and discipline to do in their own country.

Marketing is a whole other sophisticated area of ​​economics and so far since independence, an area that Uganda and most of Africa are far from beginning to grasp.

Over the past 20 years, marketing has become many times more sophisticated as the economy has shifted to a digital, data-driven and mobile-centric world.

Americans and Brits have developed advanced marketing and measurement tools and concepts over the past two decades, which in part explains the meteoric rise of Silicon Valley digital advertising companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple etc

There has been a change from the old way of placing advertisements on television, radio, outdoor billboards and newspapers and hoping that enough people will see them and will answer it.

Today, marketing has increasingly become a data science, with analytics and analytics at its heart. It is no longer enough to send a message to the market; marketers are required to measure ROI in terms of response, increased audience recall of the brand, and more.

A look at Ugandan newspapers from the 1960s to the present day in 2022 shows simple, unsophisticated messaging and packaging.

Finance Minister Matia Kasaija (right) and Mrs. Enrica Pinetti who signed for Uganda Vinci Coffee Company (UVCC), exchange a signed agreement at the Ministry of Finance headquarters in Kampala on February 10. PHOTO/FILE

What passes for coffee marketing in Uganda is the basic, old-fashioned approach – packets of coffee placed on supermarket shelves, the rich aroma and history of the region from which this Robusta or Arabica has been cultivated told about the packaging, the brands of coffee provided like placement and sponsorship in radio or TV shows, and the owners taking pictures of packages over the phone and posting them on their social media pages.

Today, among CEOs, cabinet ministers and heads of marketing departments of Ugandan companies, only 15% or less have a real understanding of the new internet and digital marketing landscape.

Not just in marketing coffee, but in marketing Ugandan tourism, Uganda Airlines, Ugandan cities and Ugandan agricultural products.

The main international markets for Ugandan coffee are North America and Western Europe.
Coffee is an agricultural product, but it is not a necessity insofar as, for example, rice, potatoes or tomatoes are necessary as nutrition.

Coffee is not essential to food. It is a drink, a lifestyle product and therefore requires a different drinking habit than bread or rice.

So, while the coffee comes from Ugandan farms, the end user is European and American; thus, effective marketing in this affluent market requires a sophisticated understanding of its cultural tastes, imagery, idiom, and the complex science and art of marketing.

When Uganda Airlines was relaunched a few years ago, it followed the familiar old marketing script. Cabinet ministers, government officials and a number of Ugandan music stars and athletes were flown to a few destinations and their positive comments on the airline, as well as billboards in Entebbe and some social media posts, were meant to be a marketing campaign by the Airline.

Furthermore, the poor performance of the Uganda Tourism Board confirms the problem of assuming that the mere fact that the government is interested in promoting local tourism and that national parks and historic sites are located in Uganda means that the government is best placed to market Ugandan tourism.

What Uganda might need is to disband the Uganda Tourism Board, contract a European or American company to handle the marketing, and the country will see tourism become a vibrant part of the economy.

The main problem with the Vinci agreement is therefore not that a European company won this marketing contract, but that Mrs Pinetti in particular has a lot to explain about the incomplete hospital project awarded to her in Lubowa.

The second problem is that since the start of the privatization of Ugandan state companies 30 years ago, instead of the government sticking to its regulatory role, senior government officials have doubled as stakeholders in divested companies, often using their insider knowledge and political office to disadvantage competing bidders.

However, putting these political issues aside, Ugandan coffee will not be done justice if the country relies on Ugandans or a Ugandan-led coffee marketing agency to manage the marketing of the largest foreign exchange earner. most imported from the country.

Over the past 20 years, marketing has become many times more sophisticated as the economy has shifted to a digital, data-driven and mobile-centric world.


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