Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Last week Dubai hosted the third Government Summit, a forum where it interacts with businessmen in order to improve services and encourage new investment.

At the summit Dubai outlined an ambitious project to make interaction between government and the people seamless by 2021.

To illustrate the vision, the crown prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, showed a video of a lady tourist arriving in Dubai, using messages off off a smart watch being, welcomed to the Emirates, informed that her residence permit has been renewed and of the traffic conditions outside and ow to get to her apartment quicker.

In Uganda we daren't think that far ahead, not to mention the convenience of visitors. The comfort of the everyday man is the furthest from our mind when we are still struggling with the basics of getting good health care, clean water, basic education among other things taken for granted by the residents of Dubai.

Its a distant memory or just the stuff of myth, the story that as recently as 1980 Dubai was a one street town surrounded by desolate desert and blanketed in oppressive heat. Now of course it is a logistical hub, financial capital and entertainment Mecca that shifts more travelers through its revolving doors in a month than East Africa does in a year or two.

At the heart of the transformation is a ruling family that had a vision for the country that would outlive its oil reserves. As it is now oil revenues account for less than a tenth of GDP and are anticipated to run out within the next ten years or so.

To push their dream they were lacking the most important element -- people. As it is now Dubai's population is about two million people, or the daytime population of Kampala, of whom almost two-thirds are foreigners.

They got around that problem by hiring expertise from abroad while embarking on an ambitious program to only upgrade their education system, sent their youth abroad to study, but also ensure the local Emirati understudy the expats with a view to replacing them eventually.

The skilling of locals is a political necessity but truth be told the execution of the Al Maktoum's vision was done by hired hands who generated the economic activity that allows even the locals to enjoy an enviable standard of living.

Moral of the story is, without people you have nothing.

Last week too we saw the release of O-level results. More children are seating exams annually, distinctions are being achieved like they are going out of fashion and for some of us from a bygone era we can't imagine the enormous pressure being brought to bear on these small minds in search of ever better results.

Our education system is designed to create the army of workers needed for an industrial society -- able to read, write, count and respect hierarchical authority. By as we have done with mobile phones isn't there a possibility that we will be forced to vault the Industrial Age and land squarely in the Information Age? And what will become of our industrial-age-exam shattering stars of today? Won't they find they enter a job market for which their skills are misplaced or worse obsolete?

We can talk all we want about infrastructure, but if we don't have the people to leverage this infrastructure we are on a fool's errand.

It is encouraging that Uganda is at the forefront with Kenya and Rwanda to ease the restrictions on the movement of labour, this will help us bridge our own deficiencies while allowing our excess capacity to find a home elsewhere. Tanzania's intransigence on this will come back to bight them.

Countries like Dubai and Singapore have shown that a focus on raising the level of human resource more than an abundance of natural resources is the key to sustainable development.

We of course have committed hundreds of billions to health and education, and for an observer of this country over the last few decades improvements are visible, unfortunately they are not equitably distributed.

But even worse, endemic corruption has made it such that even ever increasing amounts channelled into social services do not guarantee a comparable improvement in service delivery.

Unfortunately the better off take their children to good schools and have them treated in quality hospitals, this alone will ensure a perpetuation of the current income and wealth inequalities into the future.

The economics of a better human resource cannot be overemphasized and even if political expediency does not recognize the benefits, the long term ramifications will inevitably spill over into the politics of the country with disastrous results.

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