Many Africans educated in the West don’t go home because they’re afraid they won’t find jobs. But Peter Sematimba says the blend is just beautiful. Sematimba is a Ugandan entrepreneur who says he established himself thanks to what he learned in the United States. He now owns a radio station, Super-FM, and other businesses in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe asked him why he went back to Uganda fifteen years ago. “Americans were very proud of being Americans, and it made me feel bad about wanting to run away from home, so I just felt this need to play a role, emulating what I learned in America.” Also, Sematimba says the environment in Uganda improved greatly after the Idi Amin years. “There was a lot piece, lots of opportunity, so I decided to take advantage of that and do my thing.”
But it was not without challenges, Sematimba adds, for someone who had an American work culture and came back hoping to be a leader. “People did not take jobs seriously, didn’t keep time and were not concerned about managing resources or expanding yourself even if you felt comfortable, so to change people’s mindset; that was interesting. What I also found challenging was that business counterparts saw you as an enemy.” But on the government side, “The government has actually created an environment which is pro-business. We are not as bureaucratic in terms of getting to set up, I’ve seen the number of private companies multiply incredibly.”
Sematimba says his formal education hasn’t played a big role in what he is doing. The things that have changed and affected his life are professionalism and etiquette. “America is known as the country of great sales people, so I learned how to brand and market….” He says his work ethic is gaining a lot of ground in Uganda because almost everyone has realized that in order to succeed, “you’ve got to be professional, you’ve got to go for system, go for branding, go for marketing.”
To other professionals who fear returning home, Sematimba advises: “Be as good as you can in what you are doing, get into the habit of thinking out of the box, to see opportunities that others are not seeing…. We have resources; it just needs a different kind of a thinker to take advantage. Come in cautiously…. It’s time for entrepreneurs to start looking at Africa as one of those ‘factories’ for the rest of the world.”
Sematimba says until Africa can reward its brain talent, the drain will continue. But it is a two-way traffic, he adds. “On the other hand, we get more foreign exchange than from our biggest exports…. I don’t mind the back and forth. All in all, the network system will just get better…because of what happened.”