Uganda being wrongly advised

When you press Uganda policy makers privately and anonymously they admit the country is receiving wrong advice most of the time from external advisers and their Uganda surrogates. When you press further for an explanation, they tell you the piper calls the tune, implying that the donors have resources which Uganda does not have.

And when you ask whether in return for loans and grants Uganda has lost control and ownership of the economy, most replies are positive.

When the NRM government came to power in 1986, it resisted – for 18 months – IMF and World Bank advice to abandon the mixed economy model in favor of the neo-liberal one based on market forces and private sector as engines of growth. Finally the message came hone loud and clear when Linda Chalker, former minister in Thatcher’s government advised the government and possibly the president himself that most major creditors believe that “the solution to Uganda’s problems depended on reaching an agreement with the IMF” (New African 1987-88) and its harsh conditions.

Regarding loss of ownership of the economy, Gerry Helleiner observed that “One senior (and informed) World Bank official has remarked to me privately that despite all the favorable press [internationally and domestically] on Uganda, Tanzania is actually about four years or more ahead of it [Uganda] in terms of truly nationally-owned (and thus sustainable) economic policy for overall development. Tanzania may seem to move more slowly he noted, and I agree, but it does so on a firmer and more stable base” (D. A. McDonald & E. N. Sahle 2002). Let us review a few examples where inappropriate advice has been offered – and accepted.

Since independence industrialization to add value to Uganda’s raw materials in order to earn more at home and abroad has been government policy. However, Uganda governments have all been advised – and have accepted – that the country’s comparative advantage is in the production and export of raw materials. Consequently manufacturing activities have contributed a small percentage to Uganda’s GDP.

While Uganda governments have stressed the development of human capital as an invaluable element in Uganda’s economic growth and social development, they have been advised to supplement commodity export earnings with remittances. Accordingly, Ugandans have been encouraged to seek employment abroad resulting in massive brain drain of well qualified and experienced citizens. Because brain drain conveys negative messages, the concept has been conveniently changed to brain gain, meaning that when a country exports its human capital it gains foreign currency. Accordingly, Uganda’s economy and society are managed by people relatively young, mostly poorly educated and massively inexperienced. Consequently, the country has increasingly relied on expatriate advisers who have learned and operated in developed economies and are incapable of providing appropriate advice in a foreign culture. Ipso facto, Sub-Saharan Africa including Uganda “often receives more bad advice per capita from foreign consultants than any other continent in the world” (Development 1996).

Because of global excitement about youth employment, Uganda has increasingly become averse to the employment of relatively senior people including those that retired in their most productive years because of options for early retirement in international organizations.

Given the loss of trained and experienced human power due to AIDS and brain drain, one would have expected the Uganda government to welcome Uganda’s retired people especially those with international experience to assist the government in one form or another. Instead the government prefers expatriates who are not only very expensive but lack understanding of Uganda’s culture and overall development environment.

Notwithstanding that the benefits of economic growth do not automatically trickle down, the Uganda government has continued to rely on the World Bank and IMF advice for economic growth as if it was an end in itself. Consequently, Uganda has experienced relatively rapid economic growth averaging 6 percent per annum paradoxically with spreading and deepening poverty, food insecurity, rising levels of unemployment, theft to make ends meet, deteriorating health and environmental stress.

The development plan launched in September 2009 to correct the imperfections of market supremacy has already come under heavy criticism that it lacks a macroeconomic framework and the capacity for sustainability. Since launching the plan, missions and individuals long associated with structural adjustment that focused on economic growth and inflation control have visited Uganda and repeated their faith in macroeconomic stability and economic growth, implying that they do not support development planning and state intervention and may not mobilize resources for its implementation.

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