Why Uganda’s economy is dominated by multinational capital and what cannot be done about it
THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | Uganda is facing a dilemma. The country is investing tens of billions of dollars in huge infrastructure projects – dams, airports, highways, bridges, railways, water systems etc. Many Ugandans are complaining that all the big contracts are won by foreign firms especially Chinese, who even bring their own workers and materials. They argue therefore that these investments bring little value to the citizens as local manufacturing and construction firms get little or nothing. Consequently, the debate on and demands for local content have become loud.
Many are calling on government to adopt and enforce local content laws to give domestic/indigenous/local/nationals a piece of the pie. However, government has made half-hearted efforts in this direction. Whatever local content rules it has designed have not been implemented to the satisfaction of anyone. Why is it that the problem is known, the solution (or at least a part of it) has been designed but the implementation has remained elusive? This article attempts to provide an answer or at least a slice of it to this vexing problem.
There is an implicit assumption in most debate on development that public policy is made through some optimisation process i.e. that decision makers meet, and based on sound economic policy principles and seeking to do what is good for the country, carefully craft a policy strategy. This religious assumption about how government works is, to say the least, utopian. This article shifts the debate on policy making from economic theorising and political moralising to the field of political economy.
First, no society can be governed based on technical considerations of economic theories derived from a textbook or classroom. Indeed, no theory can capture the multitudinous complexity of social life. At best a theory can only represent the experience of a given society at a given period in time. But even here, it would only be a small part of a complex social reality. Therefore any attempt to govern society based solely on technical considerations would destroy the meaning of human life.
Second, government is not a single reified actor working for the “common good.” It is a collection of self-interested individuals and groups armed with particular ideological convictions. These come together seeking to advance the interests of the social groups that constitute the political supportbase of the ruling power. Therefore, public policy making, especially economic policy, is primarily a political, not a technical process.
I am not suggesting that public officials lack public spiritedness i.e. a commitment to serve the “common good.” Rather, public policies are based on ideological convictions; and ideologies are interest-begotten. Therefore, to understand the public policies a country pursues, one has to look at the interests that stand to benefit from those policies. The army of intellectuals who defend such policies need not be selfinterested individuals consciously seeking personal gain. Rather, they often advance the interests of particular social groups subconsciously in the often honest and genuine belief that it is what is good for the country.