Uganda’s development plan is a repeat of structural adjustment program

President Museveni articulated his vision of the five-year development plan in the foreword to the plan. With due respect, he just restated the objectives of the Washington Consensus or structural adjustment program (SAP) which Uganda has been implementing since an agreement was signed between the NRM government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May 1987. The program was dropped in September 2009 because it had failed to deliver as expected.

The main pillars of structural adjustment were: (1) macro-economic stability to be achieved through, inter alia, balancing the budget by reducing public services and controlling inflation by limiting money in circulation which resulted in high interest rates as the demand exceeded supply making it difficult for labor-intensive small and medium enterprises to borrow and start new businesses or expand existing ones – hence rising unemployment and falling economic growth rate from 10 percent to around 5 percent. (2) rapid economic growth and per capita GDP. It was hoped that through a trickle down mechanism guided by the invisible hand of the market forces the benefits of economic growth would be equitably distribute to all classes and regions. What happened is that the rich got richer and the poor largely got poorer as the diseases of poverty have amply demonstrated betraying government and donors that had pinned hopes on the magic of market forces. (3) private sector was to serve as the engine of economic growth, employment and development. State participation in the economy had been singled out as the main problem in poor economic performance during the second half of the 1970s. Therefore it had no active role in Uganda’s economy after May 1987. (4) export or outward-oriented economic growth was promoted by increasing traditional exports of cotton, coffee, tea and tobacco complemented by non-traditional exports (NTEs) of fish, beans and maize etc traditionally produced for domestic consumption. The policy increased Uganda’s dependence on raw materials that did not fetch adequate foreign exchange and Uganda continued to rely on donations and remittances. It also deprived Ugandans of adequate and nutritious foodstuffs resulting in very serious under-nutrition especially of women and children. Mothers are producing underweight children because they are undernourished, children are stunted or wasted because they do not eat enough in a country that exports a lot of food, children are dropping out of school because they are hungry and the government cannot provide lunches like some African governments are doing because it is unable or simply unwilling to do so. Insanity has increased in Uganda in part because the diet is dominated by maize and cassava.

Based on the above observations structural adjustment simply failed. What are the similarities in the development plan?

The main pillars of the Development Plan are: (1) macro-economic policy and management: exactly the same as in (1) above. (2) reliance on economic growth: exactly the same as in (2) above. Note that the economy is expected to grow at an average of 7.2 percent per annum. The projected average figure has been set at 7.2 percent which is the minimum required to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. (3) private sector as the engine of economic growth and development: exactly the same as in (3) above. Under structural adjustment private sector was expected to create jobs for new workers and those that had been retrenched from the public sector. The failure to do so is reflected in the staggering levels of under-employment and unemployment with 50 percent of university graduates out of work. (4) outward-oriented policies by encouraging foreign investors and exports with value addition. For 24 years Uganda has tried to attract foreign investors without much success. What makes us feel that in the next five years miracles will happen? The President also wrote about value-addition of exports. Since NRM came to power it has stressed value addition but it has not happened as expected. Where will the miracle come from this time?

Therefore the development plan like the SAP before it will not deliver. Ugandans should not pin their hopes on the plan. Like the SAP, the plan will continue to benefit a few families while the majority of the rest will sink deeper into abject poverty and will be blamed for laziness and drinking too much alcohol.

President Museveni is reported to be unimpressed by the United Nations performance. Friends of mine contacted me after watching President Museveni’s interview. They told me he said that the United Nations had done a poor job. He would not want to scrap but to reform it. They wanted to know what the problem was.

I said that the United Nations is made up of 192 member states and Uganda is one of them. Every September world leaders including President Museveni or his representative meet in New York City to debate current issues in peace and security, human rights and development. They adopt resolutions on what each member state should do to correct the situation. The United Nations Secretary-General who manages the secretariat and the specialized agencies like FAO, UNESCO and WHO etc are called upon to assist member states to implement the resolutions and report back progress and challenges at the next session in September. So when the President said he is unhappy, I am not clear with whom? Member states have the primary responsibility for setting priorities, developing programs and implementing them with the assistance of the United Nations office (secretariat) and specialized agencies. Ownership of programs belongs to member states that constitute the United Nations. So when we talk about the United Nations we mean member states.