Uganda: Someone Tell the Youth Not to Fly Out - Uganda Has Big Plans

My late friend Eriya Kategaya taught me a valuable lesson in development. Even at the height of his political power, Kategaya would spare an hour or more to engage a young journalist after a formal interview "to teach you how we do these things".

For the first 18 years of Yoweri Museveni's presidency Ugandans called Kategaya, who held different ministerial positions, "the de facto number two" until 2004 when he was kicked out after opposing the removal of the constitutional 10-year-limit on the presidency.

Anyway, Kategaya told me more than once that it doesn't matter how brilliant your ideas maybe, if you don't explain them well to the people and get their buy-in, you will march alone, accompanied by a few liars not be committed to the ideas who would "run away on hearing the first shot".

Looking at the wonderful plans that Uganda government has put on paper and how little understood they are by the public brings to mind memories of Kategaya and it is not surprising that targets like attainment of middle income status and annual revenue collections are missed.

Watching the other day the signing of the deal for the "world's longest heated oil pipeline", one could not help but wonder if ordinary Ugandan have understood the project and what is in it for them.

Listening to the people who have been involved in developing the country's petroleum sector for the past two decades, today they tell you to prepare to welcome thousands of Philippine and Indian nationals who will descend on the region to work on the pipeline project as welders, electricians and drivers because they are internationally certified to operate the equipment.

Ugandans never got to learn these and get international certification. They remained behind as the brilliant project managers marched ahead.

Oh yes, you also get to hear about ordinary Ugandans in the project. Many have been living on the land for generations, and have/had their burial grounds on the land they now have to vacate.

They are now disturbing every media house you know here, complaining about not being compensated and so on. Grim stories of dealing with the macabre contents exhumed from graveyards on such lands are being told.

How well explained are the development plans to the people? Not all of us can read the project documents, but where are the abridged versions printed on simple pamphlets?

Right now there are aerial surveys of Karamoja region in Uganda's North East to accurately map the vast, diverse minerals under the ground. The natives of Karamoja (across the Kenya border the Turkanas) peer at the low-flying aircraft with apprehension. They know next to nothing about the exercise.

When the miners subsequently arrive with their equipment on the ground where the Karimojong can feel and touch them, we pray it will be only friendly touches, even as they start fencing off the lands that the natives know to be theirs for grazing.

Back in Kampala, the other day our members of parliament were disturbed by the multitudes crowding the immigration offices where passports are issued. Our young people can't wait to go to the Middle East and work as housemaids and perimeter guards. Since the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown started six months ago, Uganda Civil Aviation Authority owes its financial survival to these children, for they are the ones keeping traffic steady and growing at Entebbe Airport.

The question is, don't all these young people know that their country has marvellous, big economic plans that need their youthful energy? Where is the connection between the planners and the country's manpower? For whom are they planning? Does the plan require the youth out of Uganda as the frail old people remain to develop it?

Uganda and the world stand at the threshold of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Production and service delivery are changing drastically, dirty industries are dying and new, clean ones are emerging. Is it Uganda's plan that the masses and the youth to whom the future belongs shouldn't be part of the solution? What for example will be the role of the one million young men riding boda boda today, tomorrow when this primitive improvisation of public transport is swept aside by technology?

Something is not adding up. But wherever he is, the one-time NRM ideologue, Honorary Brigadier Eriya Kategaya wouldn't be surprised at the disconnect between the brilliant ideas and the people they are supposed to benefit. Someone hasn't explained them to them.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist.

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