Agriculture, Sports Betting and Boda Boda Economies [opinion]

At the weekend, our group of seven MPs, led by Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairperson Alice Alaso, returned from Ethiopia, after a weeklong accountability training and annual general meeting of the Eastern Africa Association of Public Accountability Committees (EAAPAC).

Our training and meetings took place at Elilly International hotel in the Kazanchis business district. This place, where the various UN agencies are headquartered, is being developed specifically for hotels. This is where you find global brands such as Radisson and Hilton.

Even without being told, you can see it is an area growing on a physical plan. Most of the streets are being laid and there are at least 20 large construction sites. I was, therefore, not surprised when Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo suggested another visit in five years.

A double-track railway line is being planted just below the Kazanchis hotel area and it runs through the biggest part of Addis Ababa, a city of about five million people. Public transport is still a nightmare in this city, with long queues seen in many parts, especially after work.

The amount of construction going on in Addis makes you think that the country has just made a discovery, yet agriculture is still the main source of income. It brings in at least $3 billion a year and employs over 80 per cent of the 80 million Ethiopians. For every five buildings, there is almost a new one squeezing through on various streets. It is a real construction boom.

Our good host drove us about 40 kilometres from the city centre and it was an admirable sight. We drove on a newly-constructed six-lane road to wonderful military vehicle assembly plants and aircraft repair workshops. These two plants employ about 8,000 people. Here, they assemble buses, military (both transport and gun carrying) vehicles and luxury cars. Most of the spare parts are imported except just about 20 per cent.

I think this is what our revolutionary leader, Ssabalwanyi had in mind when he presided over establishment of UPDF National Enterprises Corporation (NEC). But as he said on a recent trip to Rwanda, he is working with thieves. This Ethiopia military plant assembles at least 30 vehicles a day.

I am, therefore, not surprised that Wikipedia, quoting CIA, is listing Ethiopia as the fastest-growing economy in the world. Trouble is that it also remains one of the poorest countries that require food handouts for about four million of its people. Nevertheless, in truth, this is a country on the march.

The new prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, is trying to liberalise the economy, which has attracted foreign capital, but state control remains very g. For example, the telecommunication sector and, I was told, even financial services, air and even public transport, are still in the hands of the state.

In Ethiopia the monthly salary of a Member of Parliament is $200 and legislators use public transport. Muwanga Kivumbi, another MP in our group, almost got convinced that in poor countries, we still need Ethiopia-style state control if we are to develop.

Our stay in Addis gave us more time together to reflect on the direction our country is taking. Of grave concern to all of us was the rampant youth unemployment. Our young people, still full of energy, are flocking sports betting spots in their hundreds every day. One colleague argued that these days, there is more traffic to sports betting halls than to banking halls.

Every street in every trading centre now has a sports betting hall and this is where many youths spend their time, staking money on who, between Arsenal and Man United, will win. Thousands of other youths are riding boda bodas bought after selling their parents’ land.

On our return, we found tens of buses in Entebbe town near State House. They had ferried youths from various parts of the country not to discuss employment or agriculture, but how to keep the revolutionary in power. Each youth, according to The Observer, was being given Shs 400,000, and there will be another Shs 2,000,000 to be given out at Namboole later this month, when the revolutionary walks there to receive endorsement so he can stay in office for life.

That is where Ethiopia is and that is where we are as Uganda. UPDF factories are rotting away while in Ethiopia the military is assembling vehicles. Youths in Ethiopia are being herded towards farms ours, if not in sports betting halls, are being mobilized to go to Namboole to support a leader realise his childhood dream of keeping power for life.

The author is Kyadondo East MP.

Source : The Observer

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