In last year’s NRM day message President Yoweri Museveni reported that the economy had grown to sh39 trillion from the measly sh3.4 trillion in 1986. This was nearly a 12-fold increase in 26 years.
This means that on average the economy grew by about 9.8% annually, a prodigious figure by any measure.
But the truth is we have only just dug ourselves out of the hole we put ourselves in with the economy’s mismanagement starting in the 1970s.
We have restored peace and security, rehabilitated our infrastructure and added some new capacity, we have educated more and more people and created new industries to absorb some of them.
Anyone who was around in 1986 knows we have come a long way. But there is still a long way to go.
Per capita GDP now stands at about $350, which is far below the $1000 required to be qualified as a lower middle income country. To qualify we have to at least triple the economy’s size.
But given that our population growth stands at 3.6% it would take another 16 years to triple the economy. But that is premised on an annual economic growth of 9.8% a rate we have not achieved in the last ten years.
Forget the mathematics. The point is whereas we are grateful to the NRM – at least the urban elite, for facilitating the improvements our standard of leaving this is not time to rest on our laurels.
I have various officials lament that we are not as grateful as we should be to the NRM for lifting us out of our morass but they should know that to him who much is given much is expected.
And similarly when you give a man an inch he wants a mile. That is the reality of the human condition, if they cannot face it they can pack up and go.
Looking forward the government is already on the right track. They have embarked on the most ambitious infrastructure development in more than road rehabilitation works of the 1980s. Plans are there to lay out thousands of kilometers of road, boost power generation fivefold, reactivate the railway and water transport on lake Victoria.
Infrastructure is the lifeblood of any economy and cannot be underestimated. American investor Jim Rogers toured the world on his motor bike in 1980 and saw first hand the huge investments in infrastructure China was making at the time in roads, rail, sea ports and predicted at the time that the world’s most populous nation was gearing up to become a major player in the world.
Since the Chinese economy has grown more than twenty fold and is snapping at the heels of the US economy, which it is projected to overtake in size by 2030.
But to borrow from China’s meteoric rise, the country invested heavily in human capital. It is graduating as many if not more PhDs in science as the US – they stopped talking about literacy levels as a measure of education there, and there health systems while challenged by the scale of the population, many of the western economies in the procedures they can carryout and in research and innovation. You can have all the infrastructure in the world but if you do not have the manpower to exploit it they may as well be white elephants.
The liberalization of the economy has unlocked private initiative. But the market place while it’s the most effective mechanism for wealth creation is not the best placed to distribute the booty.
If wealth disparities are beginning to widen unsustainably blame it on the government whose role it is to distribute the economic gains of the last three decades. And we are not talking about handouts to Ugandans but the effective and efficient delivery of public goods – security, social services and national strategy, which would give every Ugandan a chance to climb the social ladder.
At the heart of this inefficiency is corruption, which further concentrates finite government resources in a few pudgy hands. Corruption has to be rooted out, least of all because its networks are capable of hijacking state institutions and even overthrowing governments.
Development is a function of politics. And political borders are important. That is why the people in Kisoro may have a better standard of living than their cousins in eastern Congo but may not live as well as their counterparts across the border in Rwanda.
Going into the next 50 years a certain consensus has to be reached within the political class to a bare minimum agenda. So that even if parties seat across the floor there should be an understanding that with issues like the economy we have to pull together. The constant bickering and heckling serves no purpose other than to embarrass the honourable ladies and gentlemen.
Past results do not guarantee future performance, they counsel but given our recent past there is probably less cause for despondence as there was on 27th January 1986.