By Kyle Beaulieu
Was the National Development Plan (NDP) deliberately launched on 19 Apr. 2010 by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government in anticipation of the 2011 elections? The government has not had a clear strategic plan since 2008, when the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) expired. With less than a year to the elections, the NDP can and will be used as argument to keep the NRM in power. However, it may be too little too late.
The Ugandan economy has been operating without a development strategy since July 2008. For almost two years, the growth of the Ugandan economy has been reliant on governmental stability, ad-hoc governmental initiatives, and an enabling environment for the private sector. The government did not provide a vision for Uganda’s future: Uganda’s development was dependent on the whims of the world economy.
Even before 2008, the Ugandan economy operated on short-term development plans. PEAP was a 10- year plan that focused on social services and poverty eradication; it did not provide a long-term, consistent strategy for economic transformation.
The NDP is a radical change from this short-term, ad-hoc approach and that is precisely why it has been launched 10 months prior to the 2011 elections (instead of two years ago). The Shs 54 trillion plan is the perfect political platform from which the NRM can argue for the trust and confidence of Ugandan voters. The plan promises the electorate hope, without any time for an evaluation of its effectiveness.
Hope and promises can go a long way in an election, especially with an extremely ambitious plan signed into law. Under the theme of â€œGrowth, Employment and Socio-Economic Transformation for Prosperityâ€, politicians can tell the citizenry that the NRM is innovative and has a vision. Voters will be told the NRM is improving and evolvingâ€”it has a new, official economic mandate.
The strategy is to dilute dissatisfaction among voters by claiming this mandate will create a better, more prosperous future. The deliberate timing does not allow voters to see any gains, but, more importantly, it does not allow voters to see failure prior to the 2011 elections. Had such a strategy been launched sooner, even a year ago, voters could have evaluated the policyâ€™s impact and determined whether it will produce real dividends. Instead, the NRM is asking voters to just place confidence in them. But this too could potentially backfire. If people base their opinion of the NRMs economic leadership on recent performance, not promises, then it appears the NRM will have an uphill battle.
According to the Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project, 68% of Ugandans were dissatisfied with the countrys direction in 2007 (which was the highest dissatisfaction rate outside of Nigeria for the 10 African countries surveyed). Only 40% thought the countrys economic situation was good, despite a 6.3%, 10.8%, and 8.4% growth rate for 2004/5, 2005/6, and 2006/7, respectively.
If only 40% of Ugandans were pleased with the countrys economic situation in 2007, then one can assume there will be less satisfaction when people vote in the 2011 elections. GDP growth has been lower, on average, during the past three years than the three years prior to the Pew Research Centers survey. In addition, the electorate has had to stand-by and watch as money has been embezzled from the Global Fund, the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization (GAVI) fund, and, most recently, CHOGM.
The NRM will attempt to quell this cynicism and erosion of trust with optimism, and the NDP is the tool by which they will try to do just that. Politicians will use this ambitious policy to argue they are listening and responding to the dissatisfaction of the people. Politicians will be able to tell the poorest that they will raise their annual income by about 80% (from $506 to $900) and they can tell businessmen the NRM plans to double Uganda’s total revenues from goods and services over the next five years.
It is unclear whether or not these promises will be enough to tip the citizenrys economic outlook in the NRMs favor. The national development strategy is meant to be the first of six five-year development strategies the NRM argues will lead Uganda from an agricultural state to a modern state over the next 30 years. In the 2011 elections, the economic dividends of the NDP will only be promises, however. The NRM will not be able to argue it has brought significant change to the people of Uganda. This could hurt the NRM, which has not had a plan for nearly two years, or it could be just the unevaluated, ambitious promise it needs to stoke support throughout the land.