Monday, September 24, 2012


The numbers are pitiful whichever way you look at them. Our road coverage is barely 20,000km. Our power generation is under 1000 MW. We have one working railway network that is barely 300 km.

These woeful figures fly in the face of any pretensions we may have to being half a developed country. These figures – of infrastructure development are important, because without infrastructure there can be no development to speak of.

Another set of figures paint and even more abysmal picture. There is one doctor for every 11,000 Ugandans. The pupil-teacher ratio is just under 50 pupils to one teacher in primary school

These figures probably represent the main challenges of the development, where development is the general upliftment of the living standards of the people. Both e figures are indicators of not only how much progress a country has made towards development but what its potential is.

A country that has invested billions in developing its roads, railway and energy resources is an attractive place to invest but not without the other side of the picture. Without a healthy educated and empowered population your potential for development as a country is severely curtailed.

Economic growth is relatively easy to achieve, because it’s a measure of the increased economic activity within an country. So for instance if you spend a billion dollars building a dam it could represent significant growth in a country with a small economic base to begin with.

To see development there has to be economic growth. Development is the harder of the two to achieve, because it requires a distribution of the gains from economic growth.

Distribution is not through handouts but through improvements in education and health sectors and in encouraging business which create jobs and pay taxes, which lead to improvements in education and health. A virtuous cycle.

Failures of development especially in an environment of economic growth, means the gains are being concentrated in the hands of a few with the vast majority missing out on economic growth.

"In Uganda’s case a low revenue base in past years means we kow towed to donor demands for increased spending in social services and less than our required share in building transport and energy infrastructure....

The result as the recent loadshedding, poor road network and less than inadequate railway network.

As result whereas we have pushed up our human development indicators – primary school enrollment, infant mortality and general access to clean water our infrastructure has not kept pace.

The net effect is that the cost of doing business in this country remains prohibitive, therefore jobs are not being created at the rate at which we are churning our graduates meaning there are more and more people disgruntled with life.

Government realizing this in recent years and emboldened by high tax revenues has decided to focus on infrastructure development.

Unfortunately because they are scrambling to bridge cavernous gaps in our infrastructure they have deemphasized human development relative to growth in infrastructure investments. Unfortunately that has political consequences.

All more developed countries have made these decisions at one time or another and most likely they made them in less than democratic circumstances. From the events of the last few weeks we clearly do not have that luxury in Uganda.

Government is not coming out smelling of roses in this situation but to postpone plugging the holes in our infrastructure will only worsen the process.

The MPs are onto a nice populist cause and thankfully many of them are speaking on the record, so we will look back years from now and hold them accountable.

In his book “The Elusive Quest for Growth” William Easterly charts the meanderings the aid community has made over the last half century of the industry and it makes you realize that engineering development is messy business.

"I think it is so because development is an evolutionary process that involves governments creating an enabling environment for people to explore and exploit their full potential. The fallability of men gets in the way all the time making the process look like two steps forward and three steps back....

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