NRM’s Mixed Bag of Gains and Failures [opinion]

In order to provide a better understanding of NRM’s performance, six sector categories have been assessed. These are: Economic management, social services, financial sector, governance and democracy, national security and Uganda on the international scene.

The Ugandan economy has grown phenomenally. The per capita GDP has leaped from $242 in the 1960s to the current $487, notwithstanding the changes in price levels. The economy has been growing at an average rate of 6% for the last few decades. This notwithstanding civil conflicts, particularly the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony, which visited suffering on our brothers and sisters in northern Uganda.

Other constraints were lack of enough electricity, lack of good roads and inadequate IT infrastructure. There has been great improvement in the road and ICT sectors and, therefore, growth is expected to move even faster. Secondly, it is important to have growth but to ensure that such growth is inclusive and beneficial to everyone. Currently, there is an increasing gap between the rich and the poor.

In the words of economist Jeffery Sachs, the reduction of poverty is the road to sustainable peace and prosperity. However, Uganda’s phenomenal growth is largely driven by telecommunication and banking sectors.

This growth lacks the transformative element. For instance, the agricultural sector currently engages an estimated 76% of the population. Ironically, the sector does not contribute substantially to GDP.

The reasons are:

1) Agriculture is largely small-holder with rudimentary technologies employed.

2) Lack of affordable agricultural financing.

3) Lack of agriculture insurance, due to high risks associated with weather and supply-side constraints.

Because of these constraints, agriculture remains less attractive, particularly to the youths who prefer to migrate to towns, hence causing urban planning problems. Currently, youth unemployment is estimated at 83% (World Bank, 2013).

Gaps amid access:

When one looks at health and education, one commends the Uganda government for the heavy investment in construction of health centres and schools. This increases geographical access to health and education facilities. However, there are serious gaps that need plugging.

Unqualified health personnel, chronic drug stock-outs leading to persistent high maternal and infant mortality (currently estimated at 487 per 100,000 live births which is equal to 16 women or a kamunye full of female passengers perishing everyday), and 63 children deaths per 1,000 live births respectively.

However, it is important to note that these figures have greatly improved, even if they remain undesirable. Countries that have recently transformed their economies invested heavily in their people, focusing on education, particularly technical and vocational schools, as well as ensuring the health of their citizens. The aim is to build human capital with necessary productivity to facilitate the transformation process.

Wide not deep:

In the 1960s, Uganda had less than five commercial banks. Currently, there are 25. This is a positive development in regard to increased access by those who require seed capital for investment.

Secondly, there has been unprecedented proliferation of microfinance institutions (MFIs) as well savings and credit societies (Saccos) and village saving associations (VLSAs). The major problems, however, are:

Lack of financial penetration, resulting in a low banked population, currently estimated at 8.3 %.

2) High interest rates, making it difficult to borrow for serious activities such as agriculture.

There is need to increase financial deepening through establishment of sector-specific banks such as Agriculture Development Bank. Such a bank would be listed on the stock exchange such that ownership by indigenous Ugandans is increased. It would be farfetched to expect foreign institutions to develop products that can enhance Uganda’s economic transformation. Such foreign institutions are motivated by profit and not provision of popular public products such as affordable interest rates.

On governance and democracy, what is required is the building of robust democratic institutions that guarantee tolerance of dissent, protection of human rights and liberalization of responsible media and pursuit of people’s freedoms.

The bottom line is to ensure that Uganda transforms from a mere state to a nation. Nation-building, however, requires discipline based on inculcating work ethic, moral values and an ethos that recognises every citizen as important. It also requires every individual to assess what contribution one makes to the country as a whole.

Uganda currently suffers from ethnic nationalism and religious chauvinism. People believe and espouse their ethnicities, which is good, but the principle of nation-building dictates that there must be “unity in diversity”.

People must respect and love their tribes but these tribes should not be used to create disharmony. Ethnicities should work as building blocks for building Uganda as a nation. Another critical challenge for NRM has been corruption. Government has invested heavily in establishing institutions to fight corruption but rampart corruption persists.

In fact, the corruption cancer has penetrated all spheres of life. It is one of the main challenges to service delivery, growth and poverty reduction. What needs to be done is to make corruption a high-risk venture with prosecution, imprisonment and recovery of the loot from corrupt public officials a must.

Exemplary UPDF:

While recognising that UPDF is not without problems, just like any other institution, on the whole we should salute this army for being exemplary. In terms of discipline, UPDF has excelled beyond anybody’s expectation. The force is now on high demand to help other countries in creating peace. This is in sharp contrast with previous Ugandan armies.

The critical issue now is what can be done in the civil and public institutions to inculcate the same discipline and values as we have in UPDF. That is one of the most surprising ironies in Uganda today imagine asking public institutions to learn from the army given the history of our past armies!

On the international scene, personalities that have lifted Uganda’s flag high need to be congratulated. These include Stephen Kiprotich, Dorcus Inzikuru, Boniface Kiprop and Julia Sebutinde.

The only problem is that our products continue to be few and less competitive on the world market. The global trade architecture remains heavily skewed against Uganda and even where we have had a leeway like in South Sudan, the civil conflict has significantly affected the trade.

Indeed, conflicts in the Great Lakes region remain an obstacle to development in Uganda. We need to harness sectors such as tourism but this requires sustainable peace and security. As the old adage asserts, “it is peace and security that influences investment and business”.

In summary, there has been significant growth in the Ugandan economy, what is needed is to blend that growth and make it inclusive and transformational. This requires serious investment in people and in governance institutions that guarantee peace, security, freedoms and human rights.

We also need to improve the quality of our human capital and cultivate a culture of national identity buttressed on a national ethos and value system.

The writer is an economist and poverty alleviation expert.

Source : The Observer

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