Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The tragedy of Zimbabwe continues to painfully unfold on our TV screens. A cholera outbreak has been adding misery upon misery for the people of Zimbabwe with the death toll at about 700 and infections estimated in their thousands.

President Robert Mugabe announced to the world that there is no cholera in his Zimbabwe and therefore the US and UK should desist from attacking his borders.

Former UK minister for Africa Peter Hain a few years ago concluded Mugabe “had lost touch with reality” and he was poohed as patronizing and still living in an age when “the sun does not set on the British Empire”. Very few people would take issue with him today.

Looking at our two countries I got to thinking what would it take for Uganda to plumb the depths that Zimbabwe is now dredging? Not very much, I concluded.

"To begin with the Zimbabwe’s economic decline only came into sharp relief at the beginning of this decade but the seeds of its collapse were planted years ago...

The unfair land distribution during colonialism guaranteed an almost permanent situation of income inequality between the white and black populations. At its height white farmers controlled 70 percent of the country’s arable land.

However, the white settlers put the land to good use to the point that that Zimbabwe was a net exporter of food and other agricultural produce as recently as 2000.

Understandably with black majority rule in 1980 there was an urgency to redress these imbalances. The government raised spending on education, health and other social services but simultaneously hobbled the private sector by nationalizing companies and raising tax rates to uncompetitive levels. The net effect of this was a ballooning budget and a diminishing tax base.

An ill advised intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998 put the economy under further strain and paved the way for a clumsy attempt at land distribution in 2000.

The land distribution has served to half agricultural production in the period since, the ensuing instability has seen, industrial production slump by an almost similar figure, unemployment peak at 85 percent and inflation rise to the point where prices are doubling hourly.

"Zimbabwe’s economy is collapsing more for a lack of leadership and functional institutions than for a lack of money. To pump a billion dollars into Zimbabwe as it is now would be to throw good money after bad...

In less than 30 years Zimbabwe with its world class infrastructure, industry and workforce has been reduced to nothingness.

"Compared to Zimbabwe’s economy in 1980 Uganda’s economy is like the kid with a forged university transcript – its all style and little substance...

Unlike Zimbabwe in the early 80s the basic building blocks of a sound economy -- basic infrastructure, functional land tenure system, trained workforce and easy access to capital are severely lacking.

Typical of a donor driven economy our income inequalities are so skewered towards Kampala where 70 percent of national out put is generated. The economy is geared towards servicing a smash-and-grab elite who have a one way ticket to the west ever in their coat pockets for when this pack of cards comes crumbling down.

I exaggerate?

Man is wired in such a way that he will always behave in his self interest – forget the patriotic, selfless words he may coat his intentions in.

So to determine what a country’s leadership priorities are one only need look at what the country’s priorities are and not as they are read out in the budget.

Clearly electricity is not at the top of the list, otherwise how would you explain us forking out billions of dollars for expensive diesel power when we have more hydro-power generational capacity than our neighbours?

Transport is not, otherwise how do you explain our commodity based economy being held hostage by the more expensive road transporters, with little effort to revitalize our rail and waterways?

The growth of an indigenous private sector is not, otherwise how do you explain the endemic corruption, lack of access to cheap credit or absence of an executable and well supported government plan to boost the private sector?

Seduced by the easy donor money we keep putting off for a later date the task of building our own capacity to sustain ourselves, so would it take much to tip us over into the abyss?

Published December 2008, New Vision

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