An article in last week’s edition of The Standard on Sunday titled ‘Uchumi stumbles through a maze in its quest to regain glory’ left me with mixed feelings. The gist of the story was that failure by the government to give a Sh1.2b bailout on time and difficulties in disposing off some assets have slowed down the recovery of the struggling firm.
There are many things to be said about the content of the article. I will highlight some issues that stood out for me. First, the government, whose intervention Uchumi is seeking to pull out of its current challenges, is reduced to a ‘bureaucratic red-tape of approvals’ hence a major impediment to the success of the recovery programme.
People generally agree with this slow nature of government processes but when a privately run business is running back to the state for a bailout for the second time, I suppose they would have lost the moral authority to castigate the government.
Secondly, the idea that Uchumi has an advantage of family-owned retailers because it is structured and professionally run creates a false dichotomy. It suggests that family-owned businesses are not professionally managed. This unexamined assertion is completely misleading, as evidence from Kenya’s retail market suggests.