Multi-Level Marketing in Uganda

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No group of people, no matter how poor, are immune to the predatory practices of multi-level marketing (MLM) companies.  These companies are nothing but glorified pyramid schemes, causing financial losses for more than 99% who get involved.

A Chinese MLM called Tiens has set up shop in Uganda, despite the fact that the average income is $2 per day (so few people can afford overpriced snake oil). Tiens is using false income claims and lies about medical cures to recruit distributors.

Filmmaker Priya Biring did a 25 minute film on this MLM, entitled “Uganda’s Health Pyramid,”  and produced by Al Jazeera News.

Priya says the following in the article that accompanies the video:

Luckily she isn’t so easily fooled, and was able to document how Tiens convinces people to stay loyal through reinforcement of the idea that distributors are starting a new life and by its unrelenting “blame and shame” rhetoric about personal failure and not selling enough products. Only their inadequacies and doubts – and those of sceptical family and friends who should, of course, be dropped – were barriers to the recruits achieving great wealth.

When we met up with Michael Halangu, a former Tiens distributor, he confirmed these were the same techniques that had kept him in the business for years. In our interviews he was open about how they fooled him and how much money he lost, but the psychological impact had gone deeper; although he could see all the aspects of the scam, he still blamed himself for not having made a success of it.

But while it is clear that the poor, weak and vulnerable are particularly susceptible to such schemes, even strong people can succumb under enough pressure. Michael is an intelligent and determined man with a college degree, and we even met a university professor among the distributors at one Tiens event we attended.

No one is safe from these predators who call themselves multi-level marketing, direct sales, network marketing, or any other variation on the pyramid scheme.

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