Patriotic Ugandans and friends have cause to worry about the future of Uganda which is being shaped by current developments. As we know the past impacts the present and the present influences the future. What makes a country grow and develop are its people underpinned by an enabling environment including education, health and nutrition care, infrastructure, institutions, good governance and the political will and commitment of leaders.
The first decade of Uganda’s independence witnessed commendable progress in these areas. In its 1993 report covering the 1963-70 period, the World Bank observed that “Uganda’s social indicators were comparable to, if not better than, most countries in Africa. The country’s health service had developed into one of Africa’s best. Uganda pioneered many low-cost health and nutrition programs. There was a highly organized network of vaccination centers and immunization program reached 70 percent of the population. Although school enrolment was still low, Uganda’s education system had developed a reputation for very high quality”. Uganda had also made substantial progress in infrastructure particularly road construction and institutions in research, extension services and cooperatives.
Because of political turmoil and economic mismanagement from 1971 through 1985, Uganda lost virtually all it had achieved by 1970. NRM came to power in 1986 with a clear understanding of the challenges and a balanced program to address them and return the country to the right development trajectory. It lost the way for three main reasons:
1. Beginning in 1987, the government switched from the balanced ten-point and mixed economy program to structural adjustment market and private sector driven program which was designed in such a way that the benefits of economic growth would automatically trickle down to social (education, health and nutrition as well as housing), infrastructural (roads and energy) and institutional (research and extension) sectors. The hand of the state in the economy was severely restricted. Unfortunately trickle down did not happen and the government did not take appropriate corrective measures. Consequently, the social sectors of education, healthcare and housing as well as roads, energy and institutions were starved of resources and the systems have virtually collapsed. The emphasis on diversification of exports into food traditionally produced for domestic consumption reduced supplies in the domestic market driving prices beyond the means of many households and contributing to high levels of malnutrition especially among women and children.
2. NRM has spent disproportionate amount of time, human and financial resources on regional security, economic integration and political federation matters. Of late, Uganda has become the host of international conferences and summits. The leadership and substantial resources have been diverted from development to service these expensive conferences and summits, with serious adverse repercussions on social and infrastructural development. Domestic attention has been devoted to beefing up security capacity to contain the potentially explosive situation due to the high level of poverty and youth unemployment. As noted above, the economy was left to the operation of the invisible hand of market forces and laissez faire arrangements. The imperfections of the market and laissez faire policies have damaged social and ecological sectors.
3. The core leadership of NRM came to power with a hidden agenda (that many people have yet to grasp) to dominate Uganda’s politics, economics and security indefinitely and impoverish, immiserize and marginalize Ugandans to the level of voicelessness and powerlessness and then use Uganda as a base for extending control to the Horn and Great Lakes regions of Africa. On April 4, 1997, President Museveni made a historic statement before the eyes and ears of the world. He said “My mission is to see that Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire become federal states under one nation [and one leader]” (EIR Special Report April 1997). Over the last 26 years, dominating Uganda has been done through neglecting social sectors of education, healthcare, food security and nutrition, housing, institutions and infrastructure. That is why NRM government has ignored appeals and advice for implementing a stimulus program to address youth unemployment and boost the economy, support school feeding program and improve quality education and health status. NRM knows that exporting too much food especially nutritious fish and beans is depriving Ugandans of an affordable source of protein. NRM knows too that hungry, unemployed and desperate voters are easy to bribe with salt, local brew and soap during political campaigns and get elected with a huge majority in parliament that enacts executive decisions and approves presidential supplementary budgets. So why empower voters and make them hard to manipulate.
The findings of United Nations and other reports that Uganda is among the worst countries in human development are therefore not surprising. They merely confirm what we have been saying and writing about all along. They also vindicate writers and commentators that have been accused of sabotaging Uganda’s development agenda and inciting revolt against the government. In spite of these findings, NRM will not change its priorities. So what do we do? There has to be a change of government if Uganda is to be saved.
Post-NRM government must draw up a new development agenda that combines economic growth with social development and environmental sustainability driven by market forces and strategic public and private sector partnership with checks and balances. The social sectors, infrastructure, institutions, agriculture and rural development should be accorded top priority.
The social sectors should embrace food security and nutrition with a focus on women and children. When a pregnant woman is undernourished she will likely produce underweight children with permanent physical and mental disabilities if they survive, making them a liability to society. A lactating mother needs adequate and balanced diet to produce sufficient milk for at least six months, the minimum period recommended for breast feeding. Feeding children properly from infancy helps development of normal brain size and performance at school and in adult life. While at school, children should be provided with lunch supported by government. School lunches improve attendance and performance especially of girls who stay at school longer and delay becoming mothers and reduce population growth which has become a major concern to some policy makers.
Health should focus on preventive complemented by curative care. The preventive dimension should include general hygiene of safe drinking water, good sanitation and housing and clean clothes, safe food, immunization and de-worming programs. Clinics and hospitals should be located within reasonable distance and provided with well staffed, competent, well paid and motivated workers and supplied with adequate medicines and supplies.
Besides compulsory, education should focus on quality, relevance and flexibility in relation to the changing labor market. The curriculum needs to be revisited and revised as appropriate so that academic and vocational training are properly combined. Rigorous inspection of schools should be part of the new system.
Infrastructure and institutions should focus initially on roads particularly constructing permanent bridges across major rivers because once a temporary bridge is washed away it takes a long time to repair. Energy policy should have a mix of various types taking affordability into account. UNDP which has supported programs in energy sector in developing countries might help. On institutions, Uganda should focus on research and extension services linking research products with final users.
Agriculture and agro-industries remains Uganda’s economic pillar. Support to smallholder farmers through smart subsidies will be essential. While large scale farms should be promoted on a case-by-case basis, they should not replace small holder farmers. The latter when properly facilitated are more productive, efficient, environmentally friendly and socially least disruptive. Small scale irrigation schemes should be supported to supply irrigation water to overcome difficulties connected with rain-fed agriculture.
The United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) has already prepared a National Recovery Plan (NRP) with a comprehensive analysis of the challenges enumerated here and simple, action-oriented recommendations. The Plan with an Executive Summary for easy reference is available at www.udugandans.org.