Sooner or later the NRM government will fall under the heavy weight of its incompetence, corruption, sectarianism and marginalization of capable citizens. NRM has no capacity for adjustment to the unfolding challenges.
NRM started off well with a mixed economy model combining aspects of neo-liberalism (laissez-faire capitalism) and neo-Keynesianism (demand management). This was a popular and pragmatic program that had been crafted by many Uganda stakeholders with different perspectives and ideologies.
Then in mid-1987 – suddenly and without public warning – came the Washington Consensus (WC) or structural adjustment program (SAP) that was imposed by the Bank and the Fund on a bankrupt government. WC stressed small state, private ownership of public enterprises, deregulation and liberalization, export diversification, balanced budget and primacy of the invisible hand of market forces – all to be implemented simultaneously. Sequencing was ruled out and NRM absorbed WC lock, stock and barrel. It was hoped that market forces would distribute equitably the benefits of rapid economic growth – itself a function of foreign direct investments – to all classes and regions and everyone would live happily thereafter.
After twenty four years of SAP in Uganda economic growth has fallen far short of expectation and trickle down mechanism has not worked leading to skewed income distribution in favor of the rich who are a few families. Absolute poverty has remained high at over 50 percent of total population with rural areas carrying the heaviest burden in spite of massive donations from bilateral and multilateral sources. Hunger, disease, ignorance and crime are on the rise as well as rapid environmental degradation. This is an external manifestation that NRM policies have failed.
NRM policy makers and their external advisers have focused on service sectors that are capital intensive and located mostly in the capital city of Kampala at the expense of agriculture and manufacturing enterprises that create jobs. Institutional and infrastructural under-development has occurred due to a combination of tight fiscal policy, mismanagement and corruption and further constrained economic growth.
Although the Washington Consensus was abandoned in 2009 in Uganda and elsewhere, NRM does not have the capacity for flexible adjustment to the new challenges that require a new development model and expertise – the Keynesian type model of demand management. Macroeconomic stability has continued to be implemented with donor support as the IMF representative in Uganda elaborated at the NRM legislators’ seminar early this week.
A new government will be the answer to unlock Uganda’s capability most of it locked up in exile. Ugandans in the opposition under the United Democratic Ugandans umbrella organization have developed an alternative development model in the National Recovery Plan (NRP) that has been well received at home and abroad. It has been posted on www.udugandans.org.
The plan will restore the primacy of agriculture and rural development where the majority of Ugandans live and earn their livelihood. Manufacturing enterprises that create jobs will receive greater attention as well including protection of infant industries until they are ready to compete in global and regional markets.
A social protection policy will be developed that will put more funds into health care, education and housing as well as women empowerment and promotion of youth employment. Where feasible cash transfers will be made to poor and vulnerable citizens so that they can feed, clothe and house their children better, send them to school, and prevent illness or get them treated when they fall sick.
A school feeding program along NEPAD formula will be implemented. It has worked well in developed and developing countries in improving attendance and performance especially of girls thereby escaping early pregnancy and debilitating motherhood.
A land policy will be developed in line with traditions and local or regional preferences regarding tenure and use to ensure among other things that citizens are not tricked into losing their only major asset and source of livelihood.
A sustainable environmental program will be implemented by shifting agriculture from extensive clearance of vegetation to intensive farming that will increase productivity per land unit using a combination of organic and inorganic fertilizers to prevent soil and water pollution as well as encouraging zero grazing to end the current destructive nomadic practices.
As much as possible Ugandans will be responsible for designing and implementing their development policies and strategies taking into full consideration Uganda’s regional and local characteristics including resource endowments.
The role of the state will be adjusted to fill gaps where market forces have been unsuccessful. The overall function of the state will be to facilitate private sector development which will continue to play a significant role through micro, small, medium and large scale enterprises.
As you can see, the post-NRM development model sketched above differs fundamentally from the failed NRM government program that has disproportionately put emphasis on macroeconomic stability especially inflation control as well as per capita economic growth at the expense of social and ecological protection and manufacturing enterprises that create jobs and help eliminate poverty.
We call on the development partners to join hands with us in the opposition camp at home and abroad that are trying to find practical ways to help Ugandans help themselves out of absolute poverty in which they have been trapped for a long time. We shall ensure that oil funds are made public and parliament will play a prominent role in this transparent and accountable effort.
Failure to act quickly will trigger very costly social and political instability – the signs are already there for anyone who cares to see. And we should not underestimate the demonstration effect arising from the Arab Spring Revolutions.