President Yoweri Museveni delivered a state of the nation address that was heavy on economics and very little else.
Our fastest growth years were arguably the years between 1986 and 1996, when the President’s focus was almost entirely on resuscitating the economy. Electoral politics, the insurgency in the north and incursions into eastern Congo seemed to have shifted the executive’s attention away from the economy.
Regardless the economy has been tearing along, the president reporting that in the last five years the economy has managed an average annual growth of 8.4%. He also mentioned that revenue collections have grown a thousand fold since 1986, investment by Ugandans into the economy leads investment from all other nationalities and that foreign remittances – Kyeyo money, has rebounded after the global financial crisis.
I think that there is growth in the economy is easily verifiable but what is questionable is how evenly spread around the population is this growth. That the economy’s growth is not more evenly distributed is a failure of government more than anything, as the liberalised economy we operate under can promise economic growth but not equitable distribution. That’s just the way it is.
Government can not and should not distribute wealth by dishing money around. But by providing public goods and ensuring efficient service delivery this growth can be enjoyed by a larger proportion of the population.
This may sound simplistic but if you think about it, most of our ministers and senior technocrats followed a similar script from childhood – quality but cheap or free education all the way to university, working health services that kept the healthy and alive and rudimentary but good transport and market infrastructure that allowed their parents to sell their produce. All these in one way or another came out of government interventions.
Fast forward to the present and the pervasiveness of corruption means that service delivery by government is not where it is supposed to be and is it therefore a surprise that these prodigious growth figures government keeps trumpeting, are not felt by more than half the population?
But what I felt was more just as great an omission was the glossing over the development of our human resource.
Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in his book “From Third World to First” conceded that even from him it took him a long time to appreciate the critical role human resource played in national development, “For a small resource poor country like Singapore, with two million people at independence in 1965, it is the defining factor,” he wrote.
He goes on to highlight how his government went about improving the quality of the workforce through education, health care provision, designing of a robust social security system and some rather controversial social engineering (he was behind a push for graduate men to marry graduate women, previously graduates married below their educational standard) among other things.
The point was that to exploit even the little resources the island nation had – mainly its strategic location, it need a quality human resource to do that.
Looking at Uganda’s human resource – among the least productive the region, is it any surprise we have failed to take advantage of vast wealth of natural resources?
It is no secret that the dramatic growth figures of the last quarter century are largely a function of the low base from which we were emerging. Watchers of our economy will tell you that we have gone as far as we can in rehabilitating existing infrastructure and need to move to the next level – creating new wealth.
We need to focus on our education, is the curriculum keeping up or better still ahead of the demands of the day? Are we continuing to upgrade even these skills regularly and systematically? In health, can we keep our population healthy in so doing improve productivity, and for longer life spans? Do we have a national human resource policy for Ugandan companies, that makes them competitive in regional and international markets and are we enforcing it.
Teaching of the three Rs – Reading, Writing and Arithmetic is all very nice but can only be a beginning. And in the Uganda of the future where knowledge workers will be the majority our current education system is only designed to produce brainless automatons to man outdated assembly line processes.
Published June 2010, New Vision