Towards economic and social delivery for all Ugandans

The National Resistance Movement Organization (NRM) has already declared that it will win 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections not only convincingly but also with a larger majority than in 2006 because it has delivered. While hosting the Commonwealth Conference, election to the United Nations Security Council for two years, discovering oil, ending the war in northern and eastern Uganda and winning approval to hold the 2010 AU Summit in Uganda are noble deliverables, their value should be assessed in the context of meeting conditions for economic and social development for all Ugandans as called for in Chapter IX of the United Nations Charter. Chapter IX states in part that higher standards of living, full employment, conditions of economic and social progress and development are among the principal goals of the United Nations of which Uganda is a member.

On reading NRM’s economic and social criticism of Obote II government one gets the impression that the drafters were fully aware of Chapter IX. It is therefore important to remind ourselves of what the criticism was and the extent to which NRM government has implemented corrective measures to deliver the desired economic and social results since it came to power in 1986. We shall examine the criticism contained in vol. I no. 3 of October/November 1981 and vol. II no. 5 of December 1984 which were published by the NRM secretariat in 1990 in a book titled “Mission to Freedom”.

The first criticism of the Obote regime was that it had completely submitted to the IMF conditionality followed by financial corruption and mismanagement that permeated the regime at every level. NRM promised that once in power it would end that conditionality and all forms of corruption and mismanagement in government. NRM’s record has so far been much worse that that of UPC. Not only has corruption, mismanagement and stealing of public funds become unbelievably high, but the Government ceded running of Uganda’s economy to foreigners after it enthusiastically embraced structural adjustment in 1987. A senior World Bank official is reported to have commented that despite all favorable press, Uganda had virtually surrendered “truly nationally-owned (and thus sustainable) economic policy for overall development” (D. A. McDonald & E. N. Sahle 2002). There are occasions when government statements at Consultative Group meetings on Uganda were drafted by the World Bank and foreign advisers imposed on Uganda officials (Sebastian Mallaby 2004).

The second major area of criticism was that UPC’s economic ‘miracle’ was a myth because production figures had been cooked-up. From oral and written reports, there is convincing evidence that NRM has done a thorough job of cooking-up social and economic statistics in collaboration with some development partners. The statistics that have been used as a basis for calculating poverty reduction were based on an impression – not fact. According to Sebastian Mallaby (2004) “The World Bank and the IMF believed that poverty must be receding, given Uganda’s growth numbers; [but] other people at the [1995] conference doubted that the tide was lifting everyone” and it wasn’t and hasn’t since then!

The UPC government was heavily criticized for neglecting physical and social infrastructure. NRM complained that the roads were in a mess – potholes were everywhere including in the nation’s capital of Kampala. NRM reported that “Hospitals and district dispensaries are dilapidated and devoid of the usual essential facilities such as laboratory, theatre and surgical equipment let alone beds and mattresses etc. Doctors at Mulago, once known as the best hospital in South of the Sahara, see their patients die because of lack of appropriate drugs” (NRM Secretariat 1990). There is consensus that physical and social infrastructure including public hospitals and dispensaries and services are much worse today than they were when the UPC government was overthrown in 1985. Reports from Mulago’s children wing and mortuary/morgue are heart-breaking to say the least. One wonders what is going on in hospitals and dispensaries in remote parts of the country.

The same sad story can be told about education: its poor infrastructure and delivery of services that have translated into high levels of drop outs and very poor quality of education that has rendered the majority of Uganda’s unemployable.

NRM complained that because foreign exchange resources had been misdirected with defense getting a disproportionate share which was not justifiable, UPC government had failed to create employment opportunities resulting in unemployment and under-employment of large numbers of economically active workers.

Regarding unemployment, the level under UPC government was nowhere near the 85 percent unemployment level that has been reported for Uganda with 50 percent of the unemployed being university graduates.

The major mistake that the NRM government made presumably because it did not have enough qualified and/or experienced staff (having retrenched experienced staff in previous regimes under the guise of structural adjustment) was to allow major donors to dictate development policy with a focus on GDP and per capita growth rates and inflation control as the yardstick for measuring delivery on economic and social progress and development. Per capita growth rates hide wide differences in income distribution within and between regions.

Arising from the above analysis, Ugandans should not accept continuation of government boasting that per capita GDP is growing rapidly or that it has diversified export base and markets to earn enough foreign exchange for national economic transformation through technology imports because these arrangements have not delivered on economic and social progress and development for the overwhelming majority of Ugandans.

Ugandans should also reject new promises because 24 years’ of NRM promises have resulted in retrogression wherever you look including environmental degradation. For example, infant mortality which gauges economic and social health of a nation has increased from 75 to 78 per 1000 live births.

Therefore based purely on the delivery record as outlined above, NRM has no chance of re-election in 2011 at the presidential and parliamentary levels.