Date Posted


Godfrey B. Zaribwende



Construction is an important sector to Uganda’s national economy and contributes greatly to the Gross Domestic Product, (GDP). It has picked up since 1987 after years of stagnation and it is estimated to be one of the biggest employers of skilled and unskilled labor after agriculture. Contractor development leads to increased employment opportunities and infrastructure provision thus contributing to reduction of poverty and overall development. Since 1991 construction work has increased by 38% while Gross Domestic Product in general has increased by 25%. Donor support account for more than 20% of Uganda’s Gross domestic Product per capita. A considerable amount up to 50% of this funding goes to the construction industry.

The Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors (UNABCEC), is an organization established to identify, promote and safeguard the interests of building and civil engineering contractors in the Uganda construction industry and related material suppliers. It is also the mouthpiece of the member contractors and suppliers. UNABCEC has been involved in the challenges of the contractor development and this paper shares the experiences of the organization. It is hoped that it shall expose participants to the experienced problems, successes, failures and challenges faced to enable discussion in contributing to the overall contractor development in developing countries.

Key words: Experience, Problems, Successes, Failures and Challenges


There is no clear definition as to just what the construction industry is. Certainly it must include the general and specialist contractors. B But really to understand the industry, one must extend its scope to include consultants, material suppliers and equipment manufacturers, labor organizations and professional bodies, developers add still another dimension as do public and private consumers of construction services. Government regulatory agencies in such areas as safety, health, planning, employment practices and fair trade also play an increasingly important role.

It should be noted that Uganda lacks a clear national policy for the contractor development and sustainability of construction industry. Defined operationally as part of the overall development planning and implementation process, the problem is both of decision making and of society wide approach. At governmental level, as general public level, construction industry is viewed in a non-coherent manner and as something apart from the crucial national and development needs. And yet construction often takes colossal amount in terms of development budget annually.

Construction is considered a sector of the economy that transforms various resources into economic and social infrastructure and facilities. There is hardly any sector that does not have a construction component. It is the engine for growth and its development is an indicator of overall economic development. Therefore, it is one of the crucial sectors that developing countries should focus on.

The Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors (UNABCEC), through her members has greatly contributed to the construction works in Uganda. UNABCEC as an institution has been involved in the activities of contractor development and this paper shares the experiences of the organization. It is hoped that it shall expose participants to the experienced problems, successes, failures and challenges faced to enable discussion in contribution to the overall contractor development in developing countries.

UNABCEC Background

The establishment of a body of the kind was done sometime in the 1950s when Uganda’s construction industry was dominated by Asians and other expatriate contractors. There is however no clear record left behind for references. This may be due to the humiliating expulsion of the Asians done by Uganda government under the leadership of Idi Amin in 19’72. Hence, the construction industry in Uganda stagnated. Attempt was made in 1988 to start a similar organization. It did not take off and there is apparently, no proper record that one can make references to.

In 1993, with the help of the Federation of Uganda Employers, (FUE), a steering committee was formed. UNABCEC was established and registered with the registrar of companies on February 25Lh 1993 as a limited company in accordance with company act of Uganda. Since then, UNABCEC has registered some reasonable growth with problems, successes, failures and challenges that are here by shared to all participants. It is a voluntary association of companies and individuals bound by a constitution and directives authorized by the Annual General Meeting (AGM) through the national executive committee of enfranchised members. Daily activities are executed by the secretariat manned by an Administrative Assistant.

To UNABCEC, contractor development leads to the following:

  • Increase employment opportunities
  • Better infrastructure provision
  • Facilitation of poverty reduction
  • Construction and building lower unit costs, better quality and timely delivery
  • Improvement of the overall development

Because of these, UNABCEC has great will and interest in matters of contractor development and does participate with their full potential. Thus hosting of the CIB Task Group 29 construction Industry in Developing countries meeting in Kampala, Uganda is in line with UNABCEC’s aspirations.

The objectives of UNABCEC are:

  • Form a strong, self-reliant body to champion and defend the common interests of contractors and material suppliers
  • Set standards and assure the execution of quality work to clients through evolution and adaptation of technologies and strict adherence to a code of conduct.
  • Joint bargain with cartels, government or any organization on issues of common interest
  • Enhance the lobbying capacity and influence of the construction industry on policy issues promulgated by government and other agencies
  • Grade and categorize contractors and material suppliers according to current capabilities
  • Evolve and adapt a code of quality standards and conduct for the construction industry
  • Develop machinery for the settlement of disputes and contentions between contracting parties within the construction industry
  • Form associations with related organizations with similar objectives
  • Procure and establish a permanent operations base for that association

Membership is Open to:

  • Building and civil engineering companies properly and legally registered and conducting construction business in Uganda
  • Legally registered consulting practices related to the construction and civil engineering industries
  • Individuals of special merit related to the construction industry as appointed by the national executive committee
  • Construction related material manufacturers and suppliers

The Services Offered/Proposed to be offered are:

  • Information, lobbying and advocacy activities both to members and significantly influential agencies Human resource development
  • Estimating services, library, data bank, management, advisory services, discounted insurance premiums, discounted legal services, marketing services
  • Research and development in management, science and technology related issues.

The benefits joining UNABCEC include:

  • Formation of a strong united voice for members within the construction industry
  • To utilize the network of contractors and material suppliers and share views and experiences for common future benefit
  • To utilize the increasing services available from the permanent operating base
  • To optimize opportunities in obtaining business


One of the greatest successes of UNABCEC is just to stay alive. Many organizations are started in Uganda but indications are that not many see their fifth “birthday” alive and kicking. The infant “mortality” rate is high, however other successes include:

  • Hosting three seminars on topical issues a year since inception
  • Dialogue with the Ministry of Works and Housing, on contractor categorization, code of conduct, easing of tender conditionality. Not much impact has been achieved
  • Dialogue with Ministry of Finance on taxation issues vis: withholding tax, Value Added Tax and we intend to discuss stamp duty on certificates. Again not much has been achieved.
  • Established dialogue with local government
  • Holding regular elections on the National Executive Council (NEC)
  • Membership has since grown at an average of 20% per year
  • Running occupation health and safety programme in conjunction with NORAD and
  • FUE in the process of establishing capacity building programme in conjunction with the British Department for International Development DFID. This DFID support is about contribution to poverty alleviation by focusing on improvement of employment opportunities. The purpose is to improve UNABCEC ability to contribute to contractor development and consist of two phases:

a)      DFID will put in the risk capital for three months. The support funding is to allow UNABCEC to market and establish itself as an effective trade association and enable it to grow its membership subscription and additional service to a level where it can it support its running costs and

b)      Running jointly funded programme with DFID for three years to ensure that UNABCEC will be financially self sustaining thereafter

  • Established membership linkage with Uganda Manufacturers Association, Private Sector Foundation, Federation of Uganda Employers, National Union of Building Civil Engineering, Cement and Allied Works and other associations of technical professions,
  • Established potential contact with World Bank, DANIDA, FDA and works closely with chambers of commerce in the United Kingdom and Europe on matters related to the construction industry.
  • Recruited one staff as an Administrative Assistant who is currently helping the executive committee in all matters. Looking forward to recruiting chief executive under the capacity building programme in conjunction with DFID
  • Establish a recognizable presence in Uganda’s political, social and economic scene.


In its candid role and efforts to promote contractor development, UNABCEC experiences some problems that are here shared. It should be important to distinguish between the problems of UNABCEC as an organization trying to help in contractor development from the various problems faced by individual contractors. These include:

  • The voluntary time input by executive members makes operations very difficult subsequently resulting into low input and retarded progress
  • Lack of personnel to run the secretariat. There is only one employee as Administrative Assistant and has limitations to do everything that is required
  • There are serious resource constraints to facilitate the activities of the organization.
  • The main source of funding is the membership contribution that ranges from Ushs. 50,000/= to Ushs. 200,000/= that are paid by few members and some donor support for target programmes.
  • Active membership participation is lacking. This may be contributed to lack of commitment and lack of information to members. There is a problem of the concept of what comes first in the ‘egg and chicken’ scenario. The members would like to see the usefulness of UNABCEC first before joining and UNABCEC wants the members to contribute enough first before they can have beneficial activities to members. This indecision is due to past history associated with some organizations that died prematurely due to lack of transparency and accountability.
  • Lack of government protection in the form of a statute that could have set some guidelines that could be enforced by legally established bodies. This may be due to lack of government recognition of the role of UNABCEC, understanding the need for contractor development and government commitments and capability to support industrial growth in general and particularly the construction industry. If there is a programme by government for contractor development, then it is not properly co- ordinated with UNABCEC.
  • The notion of looking at each other more and ever as competitors rather than members with common problems, common practices, common role and common destiny, that should be addressed collectively. This may be due to lack of job security
  • Lack of unified and integrated fronts in contractor development with other associations and related professional institutions. This is a factor of the fragmentation of the construction industry and lack of cohesion and sometimes causes duplication of duties
  • The big multi-national companies with better resource capacities seem not to be minding about UNABCEC. They prefer to work in a vacuum since they have better capacity and do not think that there is much to benefit or they are just too busy making money to care about LJNABCEC.
  • Some of the local companies are run unprofessionally so they do not want to expose themselves and their weaknesses by joining UNABCEC.
  • Membership retention seems to be very difficult; in the past three years, membership growth seems to have stagnated and there is apparent equilibrium in members leaving and others joining.


Despite all other successes and problems as elaborated above and some that may not have been mentioned, the greatest failure is probably in establishing UNABCEC in full attributes as we would have loved it. This is especially in taking its rightful position in the development process of Uganda Construction Industry in particularly and the overall national development. The influence on government policy making and implementation is negligible and needs a lot to be done. Integrating the work of the organization with others in the construction industry has been very poor and needs great step of improvement.


One of the greatest challenges for organizations like UNABCEC in developing countries is the very essence and structure of developing countries’ economy. This is complicated by the globalization combined with free market policies that are being adopted by developing countries and the strong influence of donor community through their funding conditionality. Emphasis should also be put in capacity building in a sustainable manner Highlights should also be on the role of construction industry in development, employment and member membership problems. It is also important to note that cost of construction in Uganda is the highest in the region and estimated to be 40% higher than Kenya and poses challenges. With the challenge of construction of classrooms under the Universal Primary Education (UPE), a lot needs to be done on contractor development by government of Uganda.

The Way Forward

To make any head way, all the stakeholders in the construction industry in developing countries must make a deliberate effort to pool resources together; to work together; to be more transparent to our own self and to each other; to lobby government to formulate practical policies to enhance the industry in a sustainable manner and to make the construction industries in various countries the engine of growth of developing countries. We must change our personal work habits and attitudes if we are to be competitive. The work ethics must be correct to enhance accountability and transparency. Integrity, reliability and honesty are important skills.


In conclusion, let me remind participants that construction is not an ordinary business. It is a complex one where engineering skills must be employed alongside management skills and others. The role of construction in developing countries cannot be over emphasized. Subsequently, the role of contractor development to make the industry more efficient and effective in fulfilling its obligation and role to society should be made clear.

The formation and development of an organization to promote contractor development is not an easy task as already seen and requires great commitment and dedication. Our experience is that, it is worthy to organize for common history and common future for both membership good and national development. There are many obstacles along the way and there is every temptation to abandon the struggle. However, it is a noble cause to pursue construction industry development despite all problems that may be faced, that is failures that may be experienced and challenges that we must reckoned with.


  • Address by Mr. Godfrey B. Zaribwende (1998), The Chairman, Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors (UNABCEC) on the Annual General Meeting for Uganda Institute of Professional Engineers – 15″‘ July, 1999
  • The Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors (UNABCEC) brochures
  • Application for Assistance under the British Programme for Enterprise Development.
  • Presented on behalf of the Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors by the Construction Employers Federation (Northern Ireland) December 1998
  • Okema James Esau (1999) Proposal for Comprehensive programme to support small grass root contractors: By Department of Architecture, Makerere University
  • Charlotte Boe, Lasse Pedersen & Orjan Teigen (1997), Unpublished Master Thesis in Civil Engineering, Construction industry in Uganda: Some factors significant for the quality and sustainability of the construction industry Department of Building and Construction engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • Dennis F., Turner (1994), Building contracts: A practical guide Longman Scientific & Technical
  • Donald S. Barrie and Boyd C. Paulson (1978); Professional construction management, McGraw – Hill, Inc.