Tuesday, May 23, 2017

THE CHAOS THEORY AND HOW WE GOT TO WHERE WE ARE

I happened upon “Chaos Theory” not in a classroom –Thank God! But in the pages of Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park”. It is basically that small changes can lead to large unintended consequences. That a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan can cause a storm across the world in New York.

This was the week to examine the chaos theory as it applies to Uganda’s economy specifically.
Former Democratic Party Chairman Boniface Byanyima passed on last week and at a vigil for the pioneering politician, President Yoweri Museveni revealed that Byanyima worried that Museveni was tending towards communism and tried to dissuade him.

It was fashionable for any young political firebrand of the time to flirt with communism, the theory that all property should be publicly owned and everyone paid according to their ability and needs.

"It is doubtful whether Museveni, if he  had hang on to his communist credentials would still be in power today or whether the economy would have been resuscitated after 1986....

On the other hand his knowledge of dialectical materialism, which is the Marxist theory that provides that changes in political and historical events come as result of a struggle between social forces based on material needs may have helped his analysis of the situation and ditched any past romance with communism.

In 1986 the country’s coffers were empty after almost two decades of misrule. However there was an urgent need to get the economy ticking again if only to sustain the regime in power. The critics of capitalism or the free market economy are numerous, but there has been no other system in human history able to create economic growth at the rate at which it has happened since the Second World War.

By adopting a series of IMF and World Bank prescriptions – privatisation of state enterprises, liberalisation of markets and emphasis on a stable macro-economic environment two things were achieved. First, that the aid taps started flowing helping rehabilitate the infrastructure and give confidence to private investors to follow suit. Secondly by breaking up the state monopolies and opening up the economic space, private initiative long suppressed by inefficient government entities, was unleashed.

But also communism was crumbling at the time, whereas the collapse of the Berlin Wall was still three years away the signs were already evident in the USSR and behind the iron curtain in Eastern Europe. The USSR could scarcely bankroll the communist experiment when bread lines were forming at home.

The economy only recovered to its 1970 levels just before 2000.

Prior to that butterflies flapping wings had brought forth the Euro in January 1999; in Afghanistan had led to attack on the Twin Towers in New York on 9th September 2001; which accelerated the dotcom bubble burst and which led to the global financial crisis in 2008.

These event far from our shores have led to a build-up of the military industrial complex and a more inward looking population in the donor nations, leading to a turning off, or at least, reduced aid.
Increased revenue collections – thanks to our commitment to macroeconomic stability, meant that as the aid taps run dry we could at least tread water as we re-calibrate how development will be achieved in the brave new world.

Also the rise of China, which in the late 1970s begun to look for other ways to catch the mouse beyond a dogmatic adherence to communism, meant that there more alternatives for aid and foreign direct investment.

And the last week the IMF said they had downgrade their growth forecasts for Uganda this year to 3.5 percent from five percent on account of the poor harvests and less than planned roll out of key infrastructure investments. They added though that they see growth returning to the six percent level within the next two years.

We are at cross roads. Our emphasis on infrastructure development while long overdue are now happening and the benefits will begin to show themselves shortly.

Urgently we need to improve the environment for businesses to thrive and create the much needed jobs for the hundreds of thousands of new entrants to the job market annually.

"I sense a tendency to think the government will create the jobs, which goes against hundreds of years of economic history and good development sense...

Governments do not create jobs and by extension wealth, the civil service should not be the biggest employer in an economy. But rather governments should create the environment that allows businesses to create the jobs.

Let us not look to exceptions to the rule to justify our planned economic adventurism, stick to the time tested road  -- maintain macroeconomic stability and remove the barriers to business,  and it is almost a mathematical certainty that we will pull out of our current economic malaise.

That and the hope that the right butterflies have already flapped their wings.

Monday, May 22, 2017

UGANDA SHOULD NOT SWEEP TORTURE UNDER THE CARPET

Almost 20 years ago a Kampala magazine published the picture of a young female model on their cover.

That would not have been a big deal as models can be found around every corner in our capital. What made this one so memorable was that the picture showed a hint of her underwear peeking through.

Ugandans went ballistic. The uproar was such that the promoters of the offending magazine had to make a public apology for fear of their license suspension.

Far from bringing a close to any such repeat publication this actually served as the opening of the door to even bolder pictures taken from every imaginable angle, to the point now that it seems like the ethics minister is the lone crusader against such salaciousness.

We are now desensitised to such images. Who would have thought it in 1999.

Last weekend we were assaulted by images of the Mayor Kamwenge, Godfrey Byamukama, lying comatose in his bed at Nakasero hospital, the flesh of his knees and ankles exposed, apparently 
evidence of torture he had suffered at the hands of our security agents.

The police say Byamukama is a suspect in the March murder of Assistant Inspector General of Police, Felix Kaweesi.

The revulsion was palpable everywhere you looked in social media or the traditional press. It was bad enough that President Yoweri Museveni came out to criticise torture as a tool of investigation and ordered the security agencies to stop it, if it was found to be going on.

But the public reaction was interesting for very disturbing reasons.

A few days prior other suspects in the same case were brought to court bearing wounds and injuries from their time in police custody and the public reaction was not as dramatic.

Maybe we need to define the public. The social media public.

"It can be argued that Byamukama’s wounds were more graphic than those of his fellow suspects. But most probably the reaction was more dramatic because the chattering masses of social media came to their senses that if Byamukama, educated, urbane and middle class could find himself in such circumstances….? Suddenly this was too close to home and we had to rise up in righteous indignation...

That is disturbing for the same reason that we are now desensitised to the sight of naked people being paraded in publications on sale on the streets and in broad daylight.

Blame it on our disturbed history. During the 1970s and 1980s it was not out of the very ordinary to be hop-stepping over dead victims of extra-judicial killings. But the vast majority of Ugandans cannot relate to that time as they were not yet born.

But maybe it is a throwback to that time when it was everyone for themselves, God for us all and let the devil take the hindmost.

Despite our deeply Christian roots it seems the lesson whatever happens to the least of our brothers happens to us, has gone begging.

It would be good for us to remember the poem “First they came….” Written at the height of the holocaust in Nazi Germany by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemollor.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”...

Granted. There are very bad men – and women, who walk among us and the security agencies are trying their best to apprehend them or keep them from doing their worst. Us the chattering masses have little to no clue about what this involves. But surely there has to be a line where as a society we do not cross (And please don’t compare us to the US and their Guantanamo Bay).

It has taken the plight of Byamukama to awaken our moral sensibilities, but the thought has to arise that if they had the audacity to mete such horrors on a “VIP”, how man lesser mortals have been brutalised to get to this point?

And by logical extension you have to ask yourself how far up the “VIP” ladder are you before they get to you?