This week President Yoweri Museven told an investment conference in Zambia that Uganda was planning a $1.2b power dam at Karuma, which would be financed through our own resources.
To begin with, it was good news that we are committed to building another dam to alleviate our constant power outages, but for me it was even more heartening that we are pledging to do it with our own resources.
My involvement with a savings cooperative over the last four years, has convinced me without a doubt, that we have the resources in this country to effect major change for the better.
During the period the cooperative has accumulated almost a billion shillings in assets, where there was nothing to start with, with a membership that can optimistically be classified as low middle class to middle class.
The transformative effect on the lives of its various members have ranged from the tangible – the accumulation of real assets like land and houses to the intangible – peace of mind and a new sense of hope for the future.
The membership has grown at a trickle to more than 300, and were it not for the starting inertia against saving and borrowing, the assets the Coop (that’s what we call it) controls would have long passed the sh1b mark.
Prior to the Cooperative’s entrance many of the members did not have a million shillings to their name, live alone sh100,000.
The point is, that we – and this goes for the nation, look at our individual means and doubt our ability to make change happen, however the aggregation of these means changes the whole outlook of what we are capable of.
A donor dependency has been cultivated that drums in to our heads the notion that we can not do this, that or the other in the process hijacking our development agenda.
Foreign aid has its place, but when it overwhelms your planning processes to the point that you can not imagine living without it, as a nation you are not unlike a baby who cannot be weaned off breast milk.
Official figures show that just about 50% of Uganda’s money supply of about sh5,000b is in the formal banking sector, that means the other half is disaggregated among us, in our pockets, mattresses and holes in the ground.
Uganda is predominantly a cash economy, in more developed economies the ratio of money in the formal financial would be much higher. What this means is that they have more money aggregated where it can be reached for deployment into the productive sectors of the economy – the private sector.
The boom in banking services in recent years is testament to the power of many. By increasing the number of depositors, money has been pooled and banks have then been able to lend to the private sector, in ever increasing sums and borrowing conditions.
If you look at the history of modern economies, the financial sector’s importance was recognized and appreciated early and respective governments instituted the appropriate measures to ensure it thrived.
The current economic meltdown aside, the development and the sophistication of the western financial sector, has nurtured many fortunes and uplifted the general standard of living.
So when the President declares that we are building a $1.2b dam, beyond the obvious question of where will this money come from, I know this will start or has started a process of local resource mobilization that can only do this economy a world of good.
Once we have gone past our mental straight jackets that restrict us from looking to our own means, the even bigger challenge is to keep the pigs away from the trough, ensure that the money does not serve to enrich the few at the expense of the many.
That is a story for another day. But our lack of confidence in the propriety of our public servants should not dissuade us from setting in place mechanisms to harness our own capacities and so as to dictate our own development agenda.
In fact one of the main reasons corruption thrives in Uganda is because we do not have to generate resources locally, but that too is a story for another day.
Published April 2009, New Vision