Tuesday, August 15, 2017


In recent weeks the press has been awash with updates on ongoing projects.

The Entebbe Express highway is months away from completion. East Africa’s biggest hydro-electric power dam the 700MW Karuma Dam will in 12 months bring 200 MW to the grid. The 183 MW Isimba dam will come on line by the end of next year.

In addition a revamping of the health system’s infrastructure is coming to a head with the completion of renovation and expansion of Mulago hospital. One of the centrepieces of the new development is 320-bed maternal and neonatal complex.

Meanwhile there is an ongoing exercise to revamp secondary schools too.

There is also work going on roads, bridges, flyovers, railways and ports. A veritable explosion of activity that if completed on time is bound to change not only the way the country looks but the economy as well.

"Improvements in infrastructure should lead to the quicker movement of goods and services around. These efficiencies translate into economic growth...

Given the benefits of such infrastructure – any economic student can count them off his fingers, why has it taken so long to get around to it?

There are many reasons but financing is at the top of the list.
Two things have happened.

Locally our revenue collections have grown. Secondly and related to the first, the financing options have increased with the rise of China as a major financier of development across the globe.

In the early 2000s the government wanted to build two dams simultaneously at Bujagala and Kalagala. Western financiers objected to the building of two dams at the same time arguing that there was not enough demand for the power.

Secondly, bowing to the environmental lobby they cancelled the development of Kalagala if Bujagali was to go ahead. Around the same time the prospect of a dam at Karuma was mooted by a consortium led by Norwegian developers.

But the financiers stuck to their guns refusing to back to projects simultaneously.

Even for Bujagali with its meagre 250 MW of power hey had then energy minister Saida Bumba scrambling around the region, jumping through hoops, to get written commitments from our neighbours that they would be willing to take on any surplus that Uganda was unable to consume.

"With the Chinese has come a difference of perspective of what drives growth and therefore development, as they had had first-hand experience from 1978. The western donors’ experience with driving development around the world is far from laudable...

A graph of the growth of Chinese GDP per capita shows a curve inching up, only hitting $2000 in 1990 where a tipping point seems to have been reached, with per capita GDP quadrupling over the next three decades to the current $8,000. No western economy mirrors such progress in the careers of existing development aid democrats.

As I f the statistics are not enough previous experience with telecommunications, road networks and even power consumption suggests that there is huge suppressed demand in the population for the services that come with infrastructure.

That being said it’s important that we get value for money in all these new projects that costs are not inflated, good quality work is done and works are completed.

However infrastructure can spur economic activity the challenge still remains that this growth is spread equitably across the population.

If there is growth but widening disparities in income and wealth it is often an indictment of the government of the day, and jeopardises the chances of long term growth too.

Government through effective taxation of the wealth created finances not only the infrastructure to keep the wealth growing but also social services like education, health and social security to ensure that more people benefit from the growth than the captain of industry and their lieutenants.
An educated and healthy population is a more productive one.

"What gets in the way of this service delivery is corruption. Corruption has the effect of concentrating resources in a few hands....

A few years ago it was reported that at least sh500b is lost annually that would have been the equivalent of treating about three million in patients at Mulago. Currently Mulago budgets for less than 200,000 inpatients annually.

Even if 3000 corrupt officials an their accomplices helped themselves to sh500b it means that each was wolfing down the resources of a thousand Ugandans in need of urgent medical care.

Related to that all this spanking new infrastructure is good to show off on social media but it needs to be manned or optimally used for all of us to benefit.

During a tour of Mulago last week NRM officials were told that the nearly half of the 3000 staff complement of the “new” Mulago remained unfilled.

Beautiful buildings, roads and airports are all very nice but if hey are not manned then we will be as good as having done no work.

Monday, August 14, 2017


In the last few weeks there have been three important votes taken on the continent.

Neighbour Rwanda went to the polls last week. Predictably President Paul Kagame won the election with consensus figures.

On Tuesday this week South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma faced down his critics in his eighth no confidence vote in parliament, winning but not coming through unscathed, prompting the BBC to cheekily declare that he was now on his ninth life.

On the same day Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta stood for re-election, running against perennial contender Raila Odinga in an election that many pollsters said was too close to call.

"In each case the incumbent came through. And in each case we were taken by “surprise”. But we shouldn’t have been surprised...

In the case of the Rwanda Kagame’s hold on power seems not to suffer from the attrition of time. It was a different case in South Africa. While Zuma continues to confound the critics, this time a court ruled that the vote should be by secret ballot emboldening some of his own party members – about 30, to vote against him.

On Wednesday Kenya’s Independent Electoral and borders Commission (IEBC) had ruled that they would announce the final result next week. This came after Odinga announced that the IEBC’s system had been hacked after initial results streaming in had Uhuru firmly in the lead.

At the time of writing this column with 1,000 of the 40,883 polling stations’ results yet to be announced the IEBC website reported that Uhuru had crossed the eight million vote mark. Raila was at about 6.6m votes of the 19 million registered voters.

Except in the Rwanda case, in the other two votes the thought was widely entertained that there maybe an upset.

"Clearly we got suckered by the media or the loudest voices on social media....

In Kenya results showed that both houses in Kenya – the national assembly and Senate will be controlled by Uhuru’s Jubillee party overturning the majority that Raila’s ODM held in both houses. A situation Raila has not challenged so far, but which lends credence to a fair and square Uhuru victory.

It is a development we have seen in Uganda since 1996. The media and now social media, is a useful ground to occupy but actual work on the ground is more important. Proof that not enough work has been done on the ground shows up in the parliamentary numbers.

It seems because we have not learnt the lesson we continue to take the class.

The opposition in all these cases, except Rwanda, manage to create a perception that the incumbent is weak and on their last legs, only to suffer “shock” defeats when the votes are tallied. The defeats are often comprehensive enough that it is difficult to sustain the rigging narrative.

Either because resources are in short supply or a lack of willingness to do the work needed to create a genuine groundswell of opposition to incumbents – or both, the opposition takes to the media and now even more, social media to create the perception that they are credible, strong and able to upset the applecart.

"The strategy seems to be, if we create a perception in the public that we are winning, this perception will lead the public to vote for us. A kind of feedback loop between cause and effect...

Either they are not executing the strategy very well or it doesn’t stand up to rough and tumble of real time politics. Either way the result is the same.

A worse crime is that they begin to believe their own press.

In South Africa the opposition called upon the ANC MPs to vote with their conscience and not the party. They hoped that the secret ballot would convince enough of them to break ranks against the party and Zuma’s presidency. They were left to put a positive spin on a loss, that while it may have weakened Zuma in the perception of the press and social media, still left him firmly in charge of Africa’s largest economy.

The point is, in politics, as in many other aspects of life, hope is not a strategy.