Business leader Samuel Owori says many Ugandans ‘grossly underpaid’


“When we are paid well, we work well and are loyal,” says Samuel Owori president of Rotary International.

Dignify your employees. This is the advice that prominent Ugandan business leader, Samuel Owori, has for companies in his country and elsewhere in Africa.

Owori has been selected to head Rotary International for the 2018-2019 term, making him the 108th president of the global organisation since it was founded in 1905. He will also be the first Ugandan to take on the position – and the second African, after Nigerian lawyer Jonathan B. Majiyagbe who served from 2003-2004.

Rotary is a humanitarian service society of business professionals who come together to do social good in areas such as healthcare, education, poverty reduction and disease prevention. Membership is by invitation only and the club prides itself for having affiliates with high ethical standards.

Owori has served as the executive director of the African Development Bank, managing director of Uganda Commercial Bank, and director of Uganda Development Bank. He has studied at institutions across the world, including Harvard Business School, and today serves as CEO of the Institute of Corporate Governance of Uganda.

Battling corruption

Owori says that Uganda suffers from poorer business professionalism, work ethics and company loyalty than elsewhere in the world. Corruption is also a reality that cannot be ignored, especially within the public sector. However, he adds that it is important to understand the context in which Ugandans are working – one of harsh economic realities.

“People are grossly underpaid, so firstly they are not motivated… because people have to try make ends meet elsewhere… That is why we are not catching up to other countries.”

He notes that quality formal employment opportunities are also slim, and there is a large unemployed pool of graduates forced to either seek employment abroad, or enter the high-risk arena of entrepreneurship.

For those employed in the public sector, a combination of low pay and power breeds corruption, which can then spread throughout society.

Uganda has also not updated its minimum wage since 1984, and to this day it stands at 6,000 Ugandan shillings (US$1.66) per month.

“It goes back to survival. If you drive people to a level where they have to struggle to survive and make ends meet, then they will take advantage of whatever comes their way,” he explains.

“When we are paid well, we work well and are loyal.”

His advice to both public and private employers is to “dignify” their employees with decent wage. Once this is taken care of, companies will find that work ethic, loyalty and professionalism will improve.

“This should be the continent’s century. Africa has all the resources it needs, it is just the governance that we need. We need to incorporate best practices, governance and trust and we need to take care of corruption.”