Yesterday was the first day of the new decade. A powerful psychological turning point.
I started the last decade believing poverty is the root of all Uganda’s evil – high population growth, famine, disease, corruption and now stepping into the new decade I am more convinced than ever that this remains true.
Unfortunately the way we talk about poverty it is as if we are discussing something that happens to other people.
Clearly we are in denial, the vast majority of us are living off our parents or spouse or lurching from pay check to paycheck or have business with no larger mission than to provide subsistence for us and our loved ones.
A cursory look at our individual balance sheets would make a grown man weep.
Many of us are guilty of spending money we do not have, to buy things we do not need, to impress people who do not care.
With our money there are only two decisions to make when a spending opportunity presents itself, either we consume it or invest it. The rich angle their expenditure towards investments, building asset bases that will ensure their financial freedom. The majority of us spend on consumption guaranteeing that we shall live in perpetual servitude at best or suffer a subhuman existence.
As a result Uganda is a manifestation of the sum total of our spending folly. The poverty of our nation is a man made situation, perpetuated by poor (there is that word again) leadership.
At the beginning of the last decade I also thought this country was poor for lack of planning. I was recently disabused of this thinking.
If we had no plans as a country how were we able to wangle billions of dollars out of the donors over the last few decades?
The donors are not your benevolent rich uncle. They require very elaborate plans detailing economic viability, environmental impact assessments, the project’s usefulness in the context of national development plans etc before they can disburse one dollar.
So the fact that we have been one of the greatest beneficiaries of donor largesse presupposes the plans are there.
We have world class policy papers on any number of areas from alternative energy uses to gender based affirmative action but the results – or lack of thereof, are there for all to see.
What is missing is execution, defined as getting the job done.
Having world beating plans is only one component of getting things done the. We need the right people, infused by a vision of where the country is going, operating in an enabling environment all this underpinned by robust strategic planning.
Ten years ago a UN consultant broke it down for us. His advice was that there are a few areas in which Uganda can win a competitive advantage and therefore thrive in regional and international markets. He listed these as Agriculture processing, education and health services, ICT, niche tourism, financial services and power generation.
In the last 10 years we can list the edible oils industry, the helter skelter growth of the private education industry, the empty hotel rooms post CHOGM, the proliferation of telephone subscribers and the emergency thermal power generators as a sign that we might be moving in the right direction.
I believe we could have done much more in the last ten years with a more systematic execution of our priorities.
And execution is going to become even more critical in the coming decade with the East African common market for goods, services and labour opening up in the middle of this year.
If our industries close and we lose our jobs because of more competitive goods and services from other countries squeezing our offerings out of the market we will have only ourselves to blame.
I go into the new decade resolute in my conviction that fighting poverty – on a personal and national level is not everything, it is the ONLY thing.
We will do this buy executing far sighted strategies that will one, crystalllise our competitive advantages and then execute them with unwavering determination.
Have a Happy New Year!
Published January 2010, New Vision