Community, Diaspora and Immigration

Uganda’s Road To Prosperity

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By Baroness Chalker
of Wallasey P.C, Chairman, Africa Matters Limited

Uganda has undergone many changes since she attained independence from Britain on 9 October 1962. As the country prepares to celebrate 50 years of independence, a review of the country’s political and economic development will help the leaders and future generation to adopt a lasting system of governance.

The first half of the 50 years of independence was a testing time for the country and many would agree a learning curve too. The first coalition government of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) and the Kabaka Yeka (KY) barely lasted over three and half years. The First Republic government of UPC that was formed thereafter faltered too, leading to the Military rule of Idi Amin. The difficulty years of the 1970s were a wake-up call for the political class, the outcome of which was the unity of forces to end Amin’s misrule and begin a new political era for the country under the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) – a coalition of diverse Ugandan political forces, many of whom were living in exile.

The eventual return to elective politics in 1980 raised hopes for a new order in the country, this was however, not to be so, with allegations of election rigging. The subsequent years of the early 1980s were another testing time for the resilient people of Uganda. After a five year guerrilla war, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) took over the government on 26 January 1986. The NRM government introduced a new form of broad based politics, in which the movement system was introduced based on individual merit and popular participation. The system evolved, eventually leading to a decentralised structure of local government in the early 1990s. Finally multiparty politics returned and is currently the system governing the country today.

Uganda was at its lowest ebb on my initial visit, when as the UK Minister responsible for Africa, I met face to face with President Museveni for the first time in early February 1986, just ten days after the NRA took power. After our meeting, I was confident that the new NRM government was what Uganda needed to transform the country from total anarchy, despair and underdevelopment. I have since worked in close association with the country, and cultivated many friendships with many Ugandans both at home and abroad.

The country has indeed undergone many positive changes since 1986, and although there are some critics who say some of the initiatives could have been done differently or better, the general impression from an investor point of view is that Uganda is making positive strides.

It is true that there is a lot of room for improvement, particularly in service delivery, infrastructure development and accountability. Many would agree that it is critical to build and strengthen institutions in the civil service and economy. These are the key levers that will make the country transform and achieve prosperity.
The Uganda Parliament is doing a good job in its oversight role, but needs strong and effective supporting institutions such as a well trained and effective police force and the Auditor General’s Office.  Capacity building of Parliament is critical so that good laws are enacted expeditiously and that there is effective oversight of the executive by Members of Parliament, and good communication with the people. The appointment of a substantive Inspector General of Government (IGG) is a welcome development. The Office of the IGG should be assisted to play its rightful role.

I believe many investors will agree with me that the revival of the Presidential Economic Council (PEC) at the end of July, is a welcome development – investment promotion is now right at the doorstep of the Presidency.  The announcement by the Minister of Finance in this year’s budget that the Government plans to establish a One Stop Centre to provide online registration services is another pro-business initiative that will allow the business environment to evolve.

Additionally the Presidential Investor Roundtable (PIRT) is now to be given more support and direction. Uganda, like any other developing country needs investment across the key productive sectors, to foster growth and job creation.

In the area of infrastructure development, the government is very aware of its key enabling role – there is political will to fix the country’s infrastructure. Great strides have been made in energy – with the 250MW Bujagali Hydro Power coming on the grid and 600MW Karuma Hydro Power Project in the pipe line. Road construction remains one of the government’s key priorities. Far greater co-ordination is needed to make the projects a reality, and to gain the support of the private sector through Public-Private- Partnerships (PPP).

Agro-processing involving value addition is critical for economic advancement. This will mean getting consistently improved quality produce, to enable better prices, job creation and provide for the east African markets as well as exports.

The growing middle class in Uganda and Africa in general is a sign that the continent is becoming a more attractive destination for investment. A new generation is emerging who are demanding improved consumer products and better services. Africa consumer markets are growing quickly and investors view this as a very positive development.

The Youth of the country are now a force to reckon with. It is critical to build relevant skills and thus have input for new jobs and business; Uganda has one of the youngest populations (78% of the population is under the age of 30; about 57% are between 0 and 18 years).

The East Africa Community (EAC) is one of the most successful Regional Economic Communities in Africa. The potential benefits are huge; however non-tariff barriers should be removed to facilitate trade. All five Partner States are committed to speeding up the integration process and Uganda like other States will no doubt exploit the Common Market opportunities.

The Diaspora is a powerful force for good. The increased inflows of remittances amounting to US$ 2 billion is an indication that a lot more can be harnessed from the Diaspora engagement. The Uganda Convention UK is an appropriate forum to explore synergies and open dialogue with the government and private sector. With the increasing use of social media and improved communication links, the stake holders in the country and abroad can work together for the betterment and prosperity of the country.

I wish you a successful UK Convention and a Happy 50th Independence Anniversary.

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