The death of the Managing Director of Zzimwe construction is forcing the issue once again about confidence in indigenous companies and their businesses.
Run in the big man culture of sole-proprietorships, the passing away of the don of the family business has raised the question of whether Zzimwe will survive the next couple of months.
According to Kampala City Council- the company has contracts of some 8 billion shillings pending.
Zzimwe as a brand can be commended for two things both good and bad.
The bad – is that it’s quality of service is wanting and there have been public calls to blacklist it altogether.
The good is that the company has survived and thrived through a two-decade era as the state of roads became a national issue.
The inference is clear. It managed through these trying times and under the “skillful hand” of its founder to navigate the minefield of special interests that have controlled road construction contracts.
Donors and government technocrats admitting to corruption in the sector have talked of the cornered market- to which Zzimwe was one of the few surviving local companies.
President Yoweri Museveni has decried the high cost of road construction appears at a loss over what to do despite making roads a priority budget item.
However the case has to be made for saving Zzimwe- inspite of itself if necessary and here is why.
Uganda needs more local companies in this sector and Zzimwe has been tested and tried. Despite its broken record and questionable delivery it is not a start-up business.
Government should consider the following options. Acquire a stake in the firm if possible in exchange for its debt stock, order a due diligence of its assets and processes, contribute to a new management capacity and based on these reforms provide the company with more and not less work.
Zzimwe enterprises which have had the Ugandan taxpayer as its sole customer must be put on a path to recovery and not allowed to fizzle out in the all too common graveyard of African businesses unable to move beyond their founders.
Uganda has thus far a dubious record on company bailouts – with no proper criteria for support of deserving companies. Those who get assistance do so often on grounds of patronage or worse.
However the principle of bailouts is still relevant. It helps keep alive entire sectors of the economy, engineer new sectors, and reinforce indigenous capacity. Zzimwe is deserving in this respect.