Dominic Barton, boss of global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company is tickled pink by his new Ugandan passport.
A Canadian citizen, who calls London his primary home, was born in Uganda in 1962 in Mukono, where his father was visiting lecturer at the Bishop Tucker Theological College, which is now a part of Uganda Christian University.
A visit to Mukono on the weekend, to among other things see the place where he was raised – he left Uganda 1969, was not dampened by his failure to find the actual building, “I couldn’t find my house, the place has changed, it is all built up now.”
Nevertheless he was glad to be back and he had some thoughts in the issues that the continent in general and Uganda can look forward to or guard against.
"Off the top of his head, the opportunities for future progress will revolve around our young population, natural endowments and how we embrace technology but warns there has to be a sense of urgency among bureaucrats to keep the momentum going...
“I am bullish on Africa. It still the second fastest growing region only south east Asia is growing at a faster arte… when you disaggregate take out north Africa and all that’s going on there, and the effects of oil you see 13 economies growing very quickly, faster than before and Uganda is one of them, “ said Barton, who is also the chairman of US President Barak Obama’s African policy think-tank.
The Arab spring that kicked off in Tunisia at the end of 2011 has dampened growth in North Africa, where Libya and Egypt have also been affected. Oil prices fell to record lows in February cratering at $26 a barrel from highs of $140 a few years ago, a development has affected oil producers like Nigeria and Angola aversely.
In Uganda on his way from the World Economic Forum, which was held in Rwanda last week, Barton – who was last in Uganda in 1991 said he sees progress and senses a willingness to keep it going.
“I think the opportunities are in the consumer goods area, this is a young urbanising population, whenever you have a young urbanising population it creates growth,” he said, adding however that these youth will need jobs and the infrastructure to get their wares to market.
Barton thinks a determined push into agribusiness is what Uganda should be looking at in the short to medium term.
He says in the next ten to fifteen years more than 2 billion people will be joining the middle class, especially in south east asia, generating a huge demand for resources particularly food.
“Uganda is a bread basket. To me the model should be like Kansas, Illinois and Minnesota, which have some of the largest food companies in the world, they create great jobs, they don’t just export, they are packaging it, processing it and adding value to it,” he said.
The three states are situated in in the middle in the US and are big producers of wheat, soy beans and livestock.
And finally he thinks technology will draw more people into the formal economy.
“One of the wonderful things about technology is that people can participate, people will come to them. One of the things that Ali Baba and Ten cent has done in China it has connected small businesses all over China allowing them to be able to participate,” Barton said.
He also points out that it allows for education in new and interesting way and to maximise the use of available resources
Challenges abound of course.
He says infrastructure is a challenge pointing to the hours he spent in traffic to and from Mukono.
"But he is optimistic that the work that is being done in integrating the region’s infrastructure is good, creating a bigger market and easing movement around the region will pay out huge economic dividends....
“The second is education for employment, is what we should be pushing, not education for education’s sake…. Skills imparted in short bursts but targeted at getting kids employed,” Barton said.
And finally something else to watch for that could jettison all the good work of the last decade or so?
“Volatility. Making sure things stay stable. One of the reasons Africa has come back the way it has because it has been relatively more stable over the last 10 years. The challenge is to ensure that stays. We assess countries not only for growth but for stability.”
Barton says that the lack of inclusive growth is a phenomenon all around the world but one everyone has to face up to, he thinks the solution is education.
“But it has got to be practical education … we have to ask what is it that employers are going to need, what are the jobs that are coming and how do we train people for them? We don’t need to spend four years we can train in six weeks. Do these sprints of knowledge.”
McKinsey has some experience with that. In Kenya they have a program called generation where they take poor children, train them up for jobs in four to six weeks and afterwards all of them have got jobs and six out of ten have two job offers. They started with training sales forces for financial, retail and health services.
“A lot of companies that want to hire people but the skills are not available this program should address a lot of that gap,” he said.
“Government policy also helps. Setting priorities. Take sectors and look at how we can build domestic businesses, what FDI do we need, what education do we need … we have seen this in Malaysia and Columbia,”
"He point to tourism as a possible sector but wonders whether we are doing the right things to attract visitors and sustain the sector...
Delivery is the key. Just get it done. How do you get it done? Governments need to move at a much higher metabolic rate. Speed is important. We need a sense of urgency,” Barton urges.