This week we commemorated 51 years of independence from British colonial rule.
We are a far cry from what the generation that saw in independence hoped for as a country by this time.
They hoped that by now that the nation’s resources would be managed by indigenous Ugandans their children and their children’s children will have these resources work directly for their benefit improving their lifestyles in the process.
Unfortunately the legacy of more than fifty years of colonial left a legacy that had to be unwound before these aspirations would begin to kick in.
Barely four years into the honeymoon and unresolved issues regarding Buganda’s relationship with the central government came to the fore. Things had been festering for a while but arguably the attack on Lubiri was the shot that sent the country into a twenty year spiral of political uncertainty, economic implosion and civil war.
Fast forward to 1986.
The takeover of Kampala by the NRA put a pause to this downward trend. Once in power the NRM found that not only did they have to deal with the unresolved colonial hangovers but also with the legacy of the previous 20 years of chaos.
Twenty seven years down the road and the NRM—the longest serving postcolonial administration, can lay claim to having done its part to turning around the country.
As an indicator of progress since 1986 the size of the economy has grown many times over, there is no civil war in any part of the country and for the first time in a while there is light at the end of the tunnel for many people.
In terms of the economic statistics the NRM has managed a recovery to just beyond the 1970s levels of development, a real springboard for vaulting to the next level.
The government has laid out its Vision 2040 which envisages Uganda becoming and upper middle income nation in 30 years.
This would mean raising our per capita GDP to $9,500 from the current $600.
In purely mathematical terms, accounting for a continued three percent population growth, this would mean an average economic growth rate of 14% year for the next 27 years to meet this target. An ambitious proposition especially since in the last two decades when the country has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world, has averaged about six percent.
One thing that could work against us managing this prodigious growth figures is that unlike 1986 when we started from a low base this time around we will be starting from a $21b economic base.
However unlike the last 27 years when we had serious power shortages that could not support industry, this time around not only have we just matched supply with demand for electricity we have the possibility of oil production and more power generation potential.
That is power alone but in many other aspects – general infrastructure, human resources and national savings, we are far ahead of where we were in 1986 and by simple compounding these can make a serious difference going forward.
But natural endowment or the place at which you find yourself at a point in time are not an automatic guarantor of future progress.
The key for Uganda going forward is going to be whether political expedience will trump long term development in our leaders’ decision making processes.
For instance, the fight against corruption has to take on added impetus. Corruption – concentrating resources in the hands of a few while making the rest pay, is what is going to prevent the growth of general economy trickling down to the rest of the population.
This failure is not sustainable over the long run.
It will generate disgruntlement among the majority, force more investments into law enforcement instead of the productive sectors of the economy and eventually force an implosion like we saw in North Africa two years ago.
And we will look back fifty years from now and wonder what happened to all the promise of 2012.