Monday, July 9, 2012


Last month President Yoweri Museveni commissioned road maintenance equipment worth sh295b. The road maintenance units, one for every each of Uganda’s multitude of districts, were purchased on a loan from China.

In the spirit of investing more in infrastructure development with the intention of cutting down the cost of getting to market for our produce and products, it’s a step in the right direction.

My initial optimism was deflated last week by a friend in government who should know about these things. On the surface of it the biggest challenge I thought, would be the fuel to drive these units – did the districts have the budgets to run this equipment?

But I was shocked to find that the problem would actually be worse than that, that we do not have enough machine operators in the country to operate these road units. Surely we do, I protested. Just driving the earth movers, rollers around. My friend assured me it is not a simple as it looks and requires specialized knowledge in order that good work is done.

It is a problem enough that Economic monitoring minister Henry Banyenzaki told a dialogue on trade and wealth creation last week convened by the African Center for Trade and Development (ACTADE), that one of the reason billions of Uganda shillings in aid money goes unused is simply a lack of human capacity to execute the projects.

We have an inadequacy of skills right up the line from the most basic to the extremely sophisticated.

In order to get the job down in whatever endeavor you need strategic process, which is the road map to convert a vision into reality, operational process, which will actualize the plan and the human resource, which goes without saying. You can be as strategic as you want or have the most perfect workflow plans the world has ever seen but without the right people everything done is as good as useless.

My friend who should know, knew of no government statistics that could accurately reflect the skills’ shortages in this country so I had to make do with those I could glean off the net.

The doctor to patient ratio stands between 6 to 8 doctors per 100,000 Ugandans depending on which sites you visit.  So for our population of the 35 million we have under 2500 doctors. Statistically speaking Kampala with a day time population has 12 doctors.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended minimum is ten for every 100,000, meaning we would need at 700 new doctors to meet the WHO standard.
I am reliably informed that all our medical schools do not graduate more than 200 doctors a year.

The same statistics show that Seychelles has the best ratio on the continent with 151 doctors per 100,000 patients. In the region Kenya has 14, Rwanda five, Burundi three and Tanzania two.

And this dismal state of affairs goes across the profession from the lowliest health workers to the specialists. The same story is found in in veterinary medicine, agriculture and forestry, engineering, accounting or any number of fields you can think of.

At the heart of our many problems wherever you look, is a lack of capacity – this is before we even consider competence and integrity.

Training takes time. Think about it, of all the kids who enrolled in P1 under UPE in 1997 none has graduated from university yet.

Looking back Uganda started with universal primary education 15 years ago and has been in the process of rolling out the secondary school equivalent. Both far from perfect attempts but a start anyway. More recently government has raised the incentives for science teachers and has plans to construct and equip science labs across the country.  In addition government is putting in more money in business, technical and vocational education and training.

Government may consider incentivizing private investment in education to speed up the process. But before we start throwing money at the problem we need to get a more accurate assessment of the extent of the problem beyond anecdotal evidence.

Unfortunately in our poor countries with finite resources and pressing needs that are all urgent --- what do you do first? Roads? Hospitals? Schools? Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of sequencing.

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