Monday, May 16, 2016

UGANDA, LETS GET ON WITH IT

Yesterday President Yoweri Museveni was sworn in for his fifth term as elected leader of this country. 

Not unlike 30 years ago when he performed the same ceremony on the steps of parliament building, challenges abound.

Three decades ago the NRM inherited an economy that had been flushed down the toilet and come out the other side. 

"The size of the economy stood at just under $4b or about half the size it was in 1971. This from a point where in 1971 our economy was behind only Mauritius, Rhodesia, South Africa and Zambia in east and southern Africa. In 1986 a graduate entry civil servant earned $7 a month (about sh24,000 now)  while a PS pulled in $23 a month. Coffee was not only our main export earner but also our main tax revenue earner...

Of course since then employing a combination of measures that broadly included rationalising the public sector and activating the private sector, we have seen the longest duration of year-on-year growth in the history of independent Uganda.

The performance of the economy in the last three decades is nothing to thumb our noses at. The macro statistics are beginning to assume once again, an air of some respectability.

And grudgingly or not we have to give the NRM the credit for resuscitating and then fixing the broken down machine that was the economy.

"But as they say, to those who much has been given, more is expected. Nothing came to the NRM on a silver platter, but the base against which we judge progress is no longer the Uganda of 1986...

Whereas we were glad for a smooth highway out of Kampala then, we now expect tarmac roads to our door steps. While we were glad for a few hours of electricity a week, now we expect that when we hit the switch there will be power. While we were ecstatic for our weekly ration of sugar then, now we threaten strikes when the price goes up by a thousand shillings.

And we blame the NRM for these failures never mind that the government no longer manufactures sugar or distributes power.

The NRM has long been a victim of its own success and will continue to be so for at least the next five years.

To keep up with our expectations the NRM government has to continue to ensure economic growth, which our technocrats can do even in their sleep (they make it look that easy). But the bigger challenge is how to make sure it is inclusive growth, that more and more people benefit from this growth beyond being told about it during campaigns.

Economic growth is important because the population continues to grow at a rate that will see as double from the current 35 million by 2040. Essentially we need to create more of a pie to distribute.

Distribution is where the catch is.

Statistics show that while poverty levels – measured by the number of people who live on a dollar a day, has fallen to about 20 percent from more than half the population in 1992, there are such huge income inequalities that we are in the bottom quarter of the countries surveyed.

"Two things have to happen in rapid succession, preferably simultaneously, in order to improve our ability to distribute the economic gains.
We need to improve the business environment and secondly, we need to launch a determined assault on corruption...

The investments in infrastructure – physical and social is important. Good infrastructure be it roads, telecommunications, energy or institutions lower the cost of investment. The private sector is the engine of job creation not the government. One thing that the cold war taught us is that a country is only as viable as its business community.

Dealing with corruption is imperative because it not only affects service delivery, therefore kicking away the social climbing ladder from under the lesser fortunate members of society but also, and relatedly, concentrates resources in the hands of a few at the expense of the majority.

It is simple but not easy.

You can’t doubt the upheaval – political and social that would come with a full scale assault on the pillars of corruption in our society. But the alternative, a total breakdown in law and order, fuelled by disgruntled youth, making this country ungovernable once again, is a fate we would rather not contemplate.


We really have no choice but to get down to work.

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