Uganda silently becoming two nations in one

After the release of Nelson Mandela I travelled to South Africa and visited many parts in towns and the countryside. I came to the conclusion that the deliberate apartheid policy of separate development between black and white people had created two nations in one. There was a first world nation of white people and a third world nation of black people. This dichotomy was evident through differences in education, healthcare, agriculture, housing, etc and overall standard of living between white and black people. I therefore rejected the generalization that South Africa was a middle income country based on GDP and per capita income figures. My subsequent research and observations about Uganda’s development trajectory since the 1990s indicate that there may be a potential for creating – unintentionally – two nations in one.

At the start of his administration in 1986, President Museveni correctly noted and repeated that Uganda was a one class society – of peasants. The tiny middle class which had emerged during the 1960s virtually disappeared during the chaotic period between 1971 and 1986. Drawing from the ten-point program, President Museveni stressed his government’s determination to transform Uganda from a class of subsistence peasants to a middle class society. It was underscored that the transformative policies, strategies and programs would leave no one behind. The modernization of agriculture blueprint underscored government’s determination to effect real transformation. Similar steps were taken in education, healthcare, food and nutrition security. These efforts were well received and earned the NRM government some support. Ugandans saw an opportunity for real transformation from subsistence to modern life.

However, the adoption of the Washington Consensus (structural adjustment) following the 1989 Kampala conference of parliamentarians and other stake holders, the government made a radical shift from mixed economy to neo-liberal policies that focused on economic growth, private sector development, balanced budgets, eliminated social safety nets and drastically reduced state intervention in economic and social sectors.

From the 1990s, the government emphasized private sector as the principal engine of economic and social development. By its very nature private sector’s overall motive is to maximize profits by minimizing costs. Given Uganda’s urban concentration of infrastructural facilities and utilities, private sector entrepreneurs have located their businesses in urban areas with overwhelming preference for the nation’s capital of Kampala that now contributes some 70 percent of the country’s GDP. Most and best private schools, hospitals, cut flowers and manufacturing enterprises are located in Kampala and the adjacent districts.

Because there is a better chance of finding a job in Kampala than anywhere else, many job seekers, foreign and national, have flocked to the city depriving mostly the country side of the economically active workers.

In his address to the nation on Uganda’s 47th independence anniversary, the president stressed that Uganda’s economic growth was largely driven by strong performances in transport (including air transport), communications (including cell phones), financial services (mostly banks), health services (private hospitals and clinics) and manufacturing enterprises. These services are overwhelmingly urban-based with a disproportionate share in Kampala.

The proposed expansion of Kampala city boundaries is likely to attract more entrepreneurs to locate or relocate their businesses in the expanded city thereby depriving other parts of the country the benefit of private sector development.

If the above development trajectory is realized, Uganda will in the long run develop into two nations – the affluent first world nation of urban dwellers (with some pockets of slums); and the third world nation of rural people. The division of the country into economically and socially unviable districts will enhance rural-urban migration of young men and women leaving behind the elderly and disabled persons.

To reverse this trend, the government needs to intervene and create an enabling environment – infrastructural facilities such as roads and rural energy, incentives such as tax exemptions to attract rural industries – promote the growth of medium and small towns; support agriculture by investing at least 15 percent of government budget as agreed at the AU Maputo Summit in 1993; and improve the quality of public schools and health facilities. These measures will render the countryside attractive to business, reduce out-migration and ultimately avoid the development of two nations in Uganda.