Man of good ideas, poor implementation

In May 2004, President Musevceni addressed the annual meetings of the African Development Bank (ADB) in Kampala, Uganda. The main features of the address were captured in Omar Ben Yedder’s report which was published in African Business of July 2004. Museveni observed that while Africa had succeeded in decolonization of the continent it had failed to industrialize. To industrialize, Africa needed machines and intellectual power, stressing that Africa will succeed through an intellectual revolution. By selling raw commodities rather than finished products, Africa was receiving only 10 percent of the final price. More than four decades since independence, Africa had failed to transit from third to first world class.

President Museveni attributed Africa’s problems to endogenous and exogenous (external interference) factors. He noted that frustrating private enterprise in Africa had been a major contributor to the continent’s backwardness. The second factor was excessive government intervention like the creation of state monopolies, fixing of exchange rates and imposition of complicated immigration and licensing procedures. Inflation had risen due to uncontrolled spending. Failure to develop human resources had been caused by insufficient or ineffective education and health programs. Because Africa is not economically viable, it had become dependent on foreign aid.

Regarding external factors, Museveni complained that Africa’s development had been hindered by excessive tariffs, subsidies and other measures that have distorted international markets. After independence the west has meddled with African politics including putting in power ‘puppets of the west’ “who effectively betrayed Africa and redirected many of its natural resources on terms that enriched themselves instead of their people”.

On the way forward, President Museveni reported on Uganda’s policies and outcomes. He observed that in Uganda “Since 198[7] there has been a program of privatization, liberalization of foreign exchange which had all contributed to Uganda’s increasing prosperity and an average growth rate of 6.2% over the past 17 years”. He further advised that Africa should sell more finished products and keep more of the profit margin at home. He stressed that manufacturing was number one priority for Africa and called on the ADB to champion it. Another priority was human development. He underscored that “… the product of the brain is superior to [the] product of the earth…”. He lamented about Uganda’s massive brain drain, announcing that over 1000,000 Ugandan professionals were living and working in Canada and USA.

He called for strengthening economic cooperation including of East Africa to promote economies of scale and linking Africa by railways, roads and communications infrastructure. He further called on African leaders to build strong institutions, ensure peace and stability throughout the continent as well as the development of the middle class.

While Museveni’s ideas are undoubtedly sound, the implementation has been very weak, leading Omar Ben Yedder to ask “… how effective are the Ugandan leader’s policies?” Through a combination of omission and commission of inappropriate policies, Uganda’s economic performance has failed the test as witnessed by high unemployment, rapid environmental degradation and rising diseases of poverty. It is believed that Museveni’s ideas were not matched by action because of too much focus on building and consolidating security forces, overreliance on foreign advisers who had different ideas and overdependence on loyalty or relatives rather than on competence. He is considered to have become a staunch puppet disguised as the darling of the west.

Here is a question for readers: what is your impression of what President Museveni outlined in the address to the ADB and what he has actually implemented in Uganda since 1986?