By Joseph Bossa
Trust in the government ability to deliver is needed if any plan, let alone Vision 2040, is to succeeed
The recently launched Uganda Vision 2040, the master development plan for the next 27 years promises, among other things , to raise the GDP per capita ( the average income ) of Ugandans from US$ 506 today to US$ 9500 by 2040.
This should be cause to celebrate in a normal country. But Uganda is not a normal country. According to Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics who delivered last year’s Bank of Uganda Joseph Mubiru Memorial Lecture, Uganda is part of the `dysfunctional societies’; a club that includes the likes of Iran, Jamaica and the Philippines.
These countries are characterised by gross inequality of income between the rich and the poor among their citizens. Gross inequality distorts everything; the politics, education, health, security and stability of a country.
Since GDP per capita is a measure of the average income of a country, the projected US$9,500 does not inform us much about how the poor Ugandans who constitute 99% of the population will fare under Vision 2040. More so as the Vision does not address the gap in income and assumes that when the wealth of the nation rises everybody becomes better off. Not necessarily.
There is also the matter of trust. Uganda has a government whose poor execution of development plans is legendary. This is the government now telling its citizens that this is time the promise is for real.
The dismal failure of Bonna Bagagawale (Prosperity for All), the Universal Primary Education (UPE), which has ended up introducing two types of education – one for the poor and another for the rich – and the perennial excuses for failing to start and complete projects on time, and blaming everybody including witch-doctors, in case of Bujagaali – do not inspire hope that Vision 2040 will work.
This loss of confidence in the government was recently starkly exhibited by the rejection of the Marriage and Divorce Bill, even though the majority of the citizens, including MPs, had not read it. Yet it mostly contains law already in existence. People just do not trust the government anymore.
UPC believes strongly that a country like Uganda needs a development plan. Indeed planning was the bedrock upon which the rapid economic successes scored by the UPC government in the 1960s were built.
However, a serious government should not put out a plan for the sake of it or just because others have done it. A development plan should not be a cut and paste job but should be carefully thought out to suit the history and circumstances of the country. It should be developed by the best and brightest brains of the country and, to the extent possible, it should be owned by the people it is designed to serve.
Unless some of us have been away for a long time, we do not recall the wide ranging internal consultation the crafting of Vision 2040 should have called for. Be that as it may, the following is UPC’s approach to development planning in our circumstances:
First, Uganda is like a person who has been starving for a long time. When food becomes available, such a person is not fed on a sumptuous meal at once but is fed on small doses until his system is able to take bigger amounts. Therefore, UPC does not believe that at this point in time planning in 30 year spans is what Uganda needs. We should plan in short spans of five years.
Second, we must recognise that Uganda has been around for some time. We are not inventing it and planning for it beginning from scratch. It has a history. Some things worked well in the past but were destroyed either through neglect or bad policies.
UPC is guided by its Three Way Campus, i.e. fighting Poverty, Ignorance and Disease. So guided, UPC would begin with a plan for rehabilitation. In the first five years we would deal with six basic things as priority including, but not limited to:
Carry out a comprehensive population census so that the government can plan meaningfully well knowing the population composition in terms of numbers, age, education, gender, and its distribution. There should be a census every ten years but one due last year did not take place because, it was said, there was no money.
Rejuvenate the cooperatives in order to enable tea, coffee, and cotton farmers gain access to inputs and markets for their produce at fair prices and in order to revive countryside incomes.
Restore the railway transport system so as to provide cheap, fast, and safe means of transporting goods and people. This would include the railway repair workshop at Nalukolongo.
Rebuild the factories fabricating simple farm implements like hoes, pangas and “karayis”. NYTIL should fall in the same category in order to provide market for our cotton and also make strong and affordable school uniforms and other attire.
Rehabilitate teacher training colleges, equip school science laboratories, and review the UPE programme with a view to eliminating the rural-urban, the boy-girl, and the poor-rich divide in school performance thereby widening opportunity to quality education, the great equalizer.
Revamp health facilities beginning with the referral hospitals and the twenty- two 100 – bed hospitals built in 1960s. These should be staffed with well-motivated health workers and stocked with medicine. A healthy population is a productive labour force.
Above all that we need to rebuild the people’s confidence in themselves, their institutions and their government. The people of Uganda need to believe once again that the government is there to serve them all; that the government belongs to them all as Ugandans; that the national wealth is distributed equitably. In a word we need trust in our government if any plan, let alone Vision 2040, is to have any measure of success.
Joseph Bossa is the Vice President of the Uganda Peoples Congress party.