19 December 2012

Uganda: What Uganda Requires to Achieve More Developed Status


TO conjure conditions which could accord Uganda a more developed status will not happen accidentally or miraculously.

It will require, among other things, meticulous management of our resources, political will and good governance.

The Ugandan state is best placed to engineer such conjuring. Was this always the role of the state? No. At one time in Uganda, we had a colonial state.

Its role was unlike that of the modern Ugandan state! It was a brutal and authoritarian instrument of foreign rule.

For close to 70 years of colonial rule, there was no rule of law, democracy and human rights to talk about. Colonial leaders believed that delivering development did not require these key ingredients of good governance.

The modern Ugandan state is different. It is always in search of real development which, I dare say, has remained elusive.

Some of the reasons for this failure are known. The Ugandan state has not been allowed to have control over its own affairs. At first, there was cold war politics.

It had its negative toll. This was then followed by the World Bank and International Monetary Bank's imposition of the Washington Consensus whose doctrine is the belief that market-led growth solves all developmental problems.

When this failed, the Ugandan state was then persuaded to shift from free-market radicalism to emphasis on 'good governance'. This entailed building institutions for a capable public sector, controlling corruption, restraining arbitrary government action and making state agencies more accountable to the public.

Policy making was expected to embed in consultative processes which provide civil society, labour unions and private firms opportunities for input and oversight.

It was also expected that civil society would be in a position to monitor and challenge state action and that government agencies would limit the influence of big business.

The truth is that civil society, private firms and government agencies have not succeeded in playing those roles.

That said, the Ugandan state has recorded some successes. For a start, it is not a dictatorial state the way the colonial state was.

Over the years, it has enjoyed fast growth and rising standards of living by Ugandans. This has earned it some legitimacy which the colonial state never enjoyed! It has tried to ensure that essential aspects such as access, equity, sustainability and efficiency are in place.

It has desisted acting as an accomplice in perpetuation of injustices such as land grabbing and polluting the environment.

To its credit, the Ugandan state has not allowed foreign investors and powerful economic forces to abuse their powers by maximising their own profits at the expense of Ugandans.

The downside of these successes has mainly been the growing corruption, which is now threatening foundations of our society. Some 'donors' have used the on-going marauding corruption to justify withdrawal of their 'aid'.

Progressive Ugandans believe that withdrawal of the 'aid' is the best thing that has ever happened to the Ugandan state! According to them, this is a positive development!

If only such acts could trigger off our determination to frugally and patriotically use our resources and also usher a new national resolve to hate corruption and punitively punish thieves!

But will that outcome be possible? If it was, it would liberate Uganda from the current indignity of dependence and exploitation.

'Donors' actions notwithstanding, how shall we prevent our nation from the threat posed by corruption? Our syndrome of collective unwillingness to have a moral approach to management of public affairs must be overcome.

If Uganda is to transit to a more developed status, with or without 'aid', she will need to buttress herself with considerable moral capital which is rich in societal and ethical values that are capable of enforcement and generating uncompromising retribution against thieves.

Until we choose to settle cogently the moral question, there is no amount of conjuring that will hand to us that prized outcome of being a developed, modern state!

The writer works with Institute of Development Studies (EA). 

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