Uganda has grossly underutilized capable, experienced professionals

Ugandans opposed to the failed NRM regime have begun a radical assessment (misinterpreted by some as trying to cause trouble) to get to the root of Uganda’s development challenges in order to offer appropriate recommendations including in skilled labor to get Uganda out of the political economy trap. We are beginning to behave like good medical doctors who will prescribe medication after they have identified the root cause of the illness. Let us examine the root cause of lack of skilled labor in Uganda.

Often Uganda’s underdevelopment has been defined in terms of lack of trained and experienced human capital to be eased by implementing a liberal immigration policy of very expensive professionals from neighboring countries and beyond. Although the colonial administration did not train sufficient numbers, a qualified cadre of civil service staff was trained for district and to a lesser extent central government. Obote I government increased training in quantity and quality in the 1960s. The political crisis from 1971 to 1986 resulted in many of them dead and most of the rest fleeing into exile where they got employed and improved their skills through further study and/or work experience. Those who stayed at home either took a low profile in towns or disappeared into the countryside where they engaged in subsistence agriculture to survive. These sad developments opened the door for ignorant and inexperienced staff mostly mercenaries to take charge of Uganda which they looted mercilessly and disappeared with their loot in 1979.

It was expected that the once considered enlightened and patriotic leadership of NRM would call on all educated and experienced Ugandans to come forward and participate in the rehabilitation of the country and lift it to a solid foundation for rapid, sustained and equitable economic growth and sustainable development. But this did not happen, leading to contradictory statements by the president. In an interview with a local journalist, Museveni is reported to have complained that the department of IGG had recruited young boys from Makerere University who were well intentioned but did not know what to do, implying lack of experience.

In another interview a foreign journalist asked Museveni “Uganda has a shortage of skilled labor despite the fact that it has many very able professionals living abroad. What measures have you put in place to entice them back?” Here is Museveni’s response. “We do not mind very much if they stay abroad. They earn and send money to their families. It is one form of advantage to the country. We are training new people all the time in the university and technical schools. We do not feel their absence” (The Courier 1993). NRM’s liberal policy of allowing highly qualified and experienced Uganda to seek work abroad in so-called exercise of their human rights has further deprived the nation of skilled labor.

But the absence of trained and experienced labor has been felt as explained by Kanyeihamba contrary to Museveni’s statement “… cadres who were supporters of NRM’s efforts in this sector [barter trade] were either ignorant or inexperienced…. Uganda was bartering with countries which possessed resources, equipment and personnel of such qualifications and experience that outmatched and overpowered the poor efforts of Uganda to strike an equal bargain in this area. For the period in which barter trade was operational, Uganda lost much more produce and products in terms of hard currency and exchange than what she gained in the goods and manufactured items she received in exchange for its valuable coffee, beans, cotton and other products. Some of the products she received in barter were of inferior quality or inoperative compared to those she might have got by just selling her own produce and products on the open market and then using hard currencies to purchase equipment and machinery on the open market anywhere in the world” (Kanyeihamba 2002).

If NRM had listened and heard the arguments of those who opposed barter trade or hired known Ugandans with experience in trade negotiations including with the European Economic Community – now European Union – the outcome would have been different. Museveni chose loyalty over competence and the barter trade outcome was disastrous. Since 1986 I have watched Uganda negotiators from a close range. They still suffer a big deficit in negotiating experience and this has cost Uganda dearly.

Yet, Uganda has a vast pool of qualified and experienced professionals who should be used in nation building efforts to get Uganda out of its endemic troubles. While loyalty is important, it should not be the only factor in determining who should be hired in Uganda. A formula needs to be found to combine loyalty, skill and experience. Looking back, it might be helpful to draw a lesson from Buganda described as “… an open society in which ability and loyalty to the Kabaka could earn one a high position in the power structure” (B. A. Ogot 1972).

In the National Recovery Plan (NRP) United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) has placed an emphasis not only on training for quality but also on employing qualified and experienced staff with loyalty to their country, under whose guidance the young would acquire experience. This should apply in all areas of human endeavor, be they political, economic, social, cultural or ecological. We should avoid putting the cart before the horse.

, , , , , , , , , All