Uganda needs security and development to sustain stability

To sustain stability (permanence of character), Ugandans need security (state of feeling free from fear or danger of joblessness, hunger, sickness, discrimination, etc) and development (advancement in economic and social progress). In other words security and development are conditions that underpin national stability.

In Uganda efforts to realize security and development have been outcompeted by those in favor of stability. The NRM government has focused on peace and political stability in terms of safety of Ugandans from military threat, political instability and internal conflict. The disproportionate effort to build and consolidate national defense, police, intelligence services and macroeconomic stability is a clear demonstration that peace and stability has priority over equitable incomes and social progress. In his address to the nation on Uganda’s 47th independence anniversary, the president observed that “… our nation remains strong, peace and stability are assured, and our economy continues to register high economic growth. … These important milestones which have been established since the NRM came to power in 1986 have been largely due to peace and political stability as well as the prudent macroeconomic management”. One would have expected the president to add that these milestones had in turn improved security and development of Ugandans since 1986.

The international community (donors and foreign advisers) has also focused overwhelmingly on macroeconomic stability at the expense of security and development. GDP and per capita growth, inflation control and stability in earning and accumulating foreign reserves have been accorded priority over quality education and healthcare, food and nutrition security, generation of jobs and preservation of the environment, among others.

The absence of security and development has rendered achievements in economic, political and internal stability unsustainable. The riots and demonstrations in September 2009 attest to that. Therefore time has come to reorganize Uganda’s priorities by putting security and development at the center of national efforts and international support. Before making suggestions on the way forward, let us review briefly past efforts at realizing and sustaining security and development and the forces that have undermined those efforts.

During the first UPC (Uganda Peoples Congress) government in the 1960s, national development efforts concentrated on providing quality health care and education through immunization, hygiene and food and nutrition security, construction of hospitals, dispensaries and schools, training of health staff and teachers, providing adequate medicines and teaching supplies.

On the economic front, agriculture received support through extension services, cooperatives and roads. Manufacturing activities using raw materials promoted forward and backward linkages through value addition, creating jobs and improving incomes and purchasing power of consumers, in turn raising demand for goods and services.

State intervention in economic development including nationalization and diversification of Uganda’s economy to reduce dependence on agriculture and external forces upset the pre-colonial arrangements based on comparative advantage that consigned Uganda to the production and export of raw materials in exchange for manufactured imports. These modifications were interpreted as a drastic shift from capitalism to socialism at the height of the Cold War. External forces of capitalism stepped in and removed the government from power. Obote was replaced by Amin, a trusted and compliant ‘gentle giant’.

While still in the bush, NRM cadres analyzed comprehensively Uganda’s economic, social and environmental situation. They concluded that continued dependence on external factors will never unleash Uganda from the shackles of under-development. They drew up a ten-point program later expanded to fifteen points – designed to achieve security and development as a condition for permanent peace and stability.

However, the NRM government needed funds to implement the program. The external donors interpreted the program based on the mixed economy model as socialist. They would not support it and in 1987 – after 18 months of resistance – the program was replaced by structural adjustment alternative that stressed macroeconomic stability at the expense of security and development.

Realizing that structural adjustment while boosting macroeconomic stability and growth had failed to achieve security in jobs, environment, incomes, nutrition and social progress in general thereby undermining peace and national stability, NRM government introduced a development plan in September, 2009 based on public-private partnership and strategic state intervention.

We recommend that drawing a lesson from Malawi, the government of Uganda should not again succumb to international pressure and drop the plan under the pretext that it undermines the supremacy of market forces. Instead the government should negotiate with development partners that the implementation of the plan should be given a chance with sufficient funding and close monitoring of progress. This way realization of security and development will constitute a strong foundation on which to construct and sustain national stability.