Tuesday, October 16, 2012

IN UGANDA THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME

“Over the last 60 years, Uganda’s economic growth has been unspectacular but steady. Uganda remains an agricultural country: two-thirds of gross domestic product is derived from farming and over 90 percent of all exports are produced from the land. Agriculture is in large part subsistence farming (mostly done by women with hoes) with a growing, but as yet smaller, proportion of total output produced for the market: three-fifths of the area under cultivation are used to produce food for the consumption of the cultivator and her family”

Except that this was an excerpt from a World Bank report “Development of Uganda” authored in 1962 one would be forgiven for thinking it was a more a current report.

At the time of the report Uganda’s population was just over 6.5 million, GDP stood at $230m (sh620b) and per capital income was about $35.

Fast forward to today the population is 34 million, economic output is at about $15b and per capita GDP is about $450.

In addition agriculture accounts for less than half of GDP and coffee and cotton are not the biggest foreign exchange earners.

The report was requested by the Uganda government following a collapse in the world prices of coffee and cotton, proceeds from which pre-independence Uganda had relied to balance its budget and set up the Owen falls Dam and Kilembe mines.

The reduced income from these cash crops was putting a strain on government’s ability to provide services, a delicate situation given that independence was around the corner and the new government would need all the resources it could muster to drive its expansion of social services.

When you read the report its amazing how as much as things have changed things have  not really changed at all.

“Industrialisation is nevertheless still in its initial stages. The small size of the home market has been a dominant limiting factor …. The birth and growth of small backyard enterprises is still slow because of the slow pace of development of indigenous small entrepreneurs.

“The labour force is still quite distinct in character from that of industrialised countries. Wage labour like the cash crops, has been grafted on the subsistence economy.”
The World Bank reports that there were 13,000 miles of road of which a fourth were main road. This has remained largely unchanged at 20,000 km with less than a quarter paved.

But the researchers saw deficiencies in our national human capacity which gaps they foresaw would cause trouble in coming years.

While noting that there were 240,000 people working outside peasant agriculture the
15,000 skilled, technical, managerial and administrative personnel needed for running and development of the economy were mostly Asian and European.

“Uganda is seriously short of trained senior administrators and technicians for government posts …. The closer the date of independence the greater the need for “localization” of the civil service. The skills acquired can be acquired only through higher education and experience, and Uganda will have difficulty supplying them for many years to come,” the report said.

We may never know the loss to the economy after 1971 when little or no new education institutions were set up but the population continued to grow, and the shortages in manpower were aggravated by the fleeing into exile of many middle class professionals.

And this human capacity deficiency is at the heart of any problems you may think of in the country today inadequate medical care and education services, corruption to name a few.

Seeing the enormity of the task the researchers proposed a long term strategy.

“Educational patterns cannot be changed overnight. Educational planning must take place on the basis of generations rather than in terms of a five-year cycle,” they wrote.

 The report a 520 page tome, studied all aspects of Uganda’s economy and suggested the way forward. It would be useful even today given that the same challenges the authors pointed out at the time persist almost unaltered, today.

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