“COVID-19 is no longer creating a new normal for us. It is ruining each new normal we are trying to build.” This would be the ideal response you’d get from a startup founder, if you asked for a comment on the prevailing times.
Yes, the pandemic has, on a serious scale, ruined the definition of a startup in Uganda – right from the shift to remote work, to the total lockdown (recently announced). What began as a few restrictions to stop the spread of the virus is now pushing ideas, innovations, and formations back to square-one.
As we speak, literally, it is now the Government that can pick the startup industry from the pit it’s fallen into. This is not to say that all startups can not fend for themselves in this trying time. However, the authorities ought to know that any business running on an idea is as vulnerable as the situation in which it is running. Well, COVID-19 is real!
So, as the vulnerable poor await their mobile money messages from the Prime Minister’s office, what can the government do to support startups in these uncertain times?
Do away with internet tax and its associates
We are grateful that the government listened to our cry to have the OTT (social media) tax scrapped, after 3 years of VPN usage. Unfortunately, it is only paving way for a much worse implication in the 12% internet tax. Unlike the OTT tax that only covered social media, this tax will be imposed on full internet usage – excluding the provision of medical and education services.
Now, the reality is that most (if not all) startups rely on the internet to operate. And most startup operations are channeled towards serving the customers, who happen to be you and I! In such a time when COVID-19 can afford to keep us all at home, with the internet tax taking effect right in the middle of a 42-day lockdown, how does the government expect startups to operate?
The Government should better do away with this taxation on internet services, and stop any brainstorming on taxing internet usage. It only digs deeper into the pit in which startups are already arrested.
Accord startups a stimulus package(s)
As the government thinks of sending relief to the vulnerable poor, even startups should come close by. These rising enterprises never tell enough of their story but behind the scenes, it is a shocking tale. From debts to pay, employees to accommodate, to bills pending clearance; it is never an easy task to fly a startup off the ground.
Government should set up a stimulus package, and even more, to give startups a lifeline and some oxygen in this trying time. How and when to do it should be a discussion with stakeholders, as long as the package is delivered. Any funds should be applied to protecting jobs and preserving the capacity of local startups
The end of the lockdown could, otherwise, spell new beginnings for enterprises and firms that were once considered in flight mode.
Welcome (and adopt) COVID-19 innovations
Young technology innovators have so many ideas in relation to the pandemic that could do much to curb the virus spread. The government needs to give a listening ear to these youths and let them express their abilities on an open scale. Once they find any of importance to the government’s plans, they should then take it on and reward the corresponding brains behind.
That way, the startup space in Uganda could gain more traction as the players build confidence in the ecosystem. Short of that, we are going to keep randomizing the success factors of startups in the country while we beg the government to set up friendlier environments to operate.