By Dr. Ian Clarke
I think it is fair to say that most people in Uganda want to see development of the country and a healthy growth of the economy, because this translates into a higher standard of living for us as individuals. We have seen the comparisons between the growth of Uganda and S.E. Asian economies such as Vietnam, but how do we achieve such growth? We have our development agenda to become a middle-income country, but last year the rate of absolute poverty actually increased, which means we are going backwards.
In Uganda there is so much excitement about political issues, but all this politics seems to be working against, and not for, our development. When developmental issues are brought up in Parliament, or other forums, they are greeted with a yawn, because they are not exciting. However, those countries that have developed rapidly, have concentrated their energies and resources on basic issues, which serve as the building blocks for a strong economy. Here we make everything about party politics, for or against government, and in the process, we completely ignore the fundamental issues that need our attention.
These are boring issues, such as the health of the population, and what measures we have taken to keep people healthy; whether we can cope with the rate of population increase, and if not, what measures we are taking to reduce our population growth. There are issues such as the 25- 35% rate of teenage pregnancy, the high maternal mortality rate, and the high dependency ratio, all of which will keep us underdeveloped. Issues such as, how appropriate is our education system for the needs of the twenty-first century: is our education system based on an outdated nineteenth century knowledge based model, when it needs to teach technology and critical thinking? All of this takes thought and attention to detail by the responsible ministries and professionals, but we don’t see these issues as priorities.
When I took part in the 2016 parliamentary elections I was defeated by the FDC candidate because the voters were only interested in one thing – was I for, or against, the government. When I said I was independent, and stood for issues such as healthcare and education, they lost interest. I was not being populist and extreme, and they were not excited.
It takes a concerted effort on the part of all organs of society to see real development, so while we are fighting among ourselves we will not see much development. To really see a country move forwards we need State House, Parliament, Local government, the opposition, Civil society, the public sector and private sector to work hand in hand and focus on the objective of development. It takes attention to detail, hard work, and it is not glamorous. It takes everyone to stay focused on the results, with no passing of the buck, but that is not what we have in Uganda, where everyone wants to blame the other.
When the new KCCA came into being, the first thing they did was to give themselves a pay rise, and then, to keep the politicians off her back, the E.D. also started paying the councilors (prior to that, they only received sitting allowances for council meetings). Subsequently, the government decided to pay the LCIs, and we know that Parliamentarians are paid somewhere in the stratosphere. Personally I would not care what all these KCCA staff and politicians are paid if they were productive. However, we now have the situation where the KCCA staff do very little because they have no budget, and the E.D. complains about the financial burden of paying around three hundred councilors. If KCCA were a commercial company it would have gone bankrupt, because no company can keep going with no productivity. But let us not blame KCCA, they have just become like other government departments. This is not to say that there are no hardworking politicians or civil servants, but they struggle against the system.
What we are lacking is the passion, commitment, focus, and personal responsibility to see things through, and I am not only pointing the finger at government and public sector, I am also talking about the Opposition, which has only the politics of opposing and not building, and much of the private sector, which exhibits only self interest. But we are all Ugandans and one else is going to develop this country, except us.
I have seen something unique to Ugandans: when we talk about a plan, it is as if we have implemented it by simply talking. We are world class at making plans and policies, but then they don’t happen, often because of budget constraints, but because we have the policy or plan it is like virtual reality. To implement any plan, someone must be driving it with passion, but we have a mindset that implementation is someone else’s responsibility, so nothing happens. If we were to apply the same energy and commitment to patriotic projects that we apply to organizing weddings this would be true patriotism.