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Museveni SOTN and Budget Address in Perspective

By Ofwono Opondo

June, 4, 17

It was Chinua Achebe, who in Things Fall Apart, wrote that “if Nwakibe gave yams to every man who asked, many yams would be wasted by their lack of effort. The yams don’t mean much to someone who hasn’t rightly earned them through hard work.”
Many are complaining about ‘bad’ economy especially the money squeeze, limping local businesses, and sometimes inability to feed families. We each need to ask ourselves what we are doing differently in production, productivity, and personal life styles so that we can tell if the corn is ripe simply by its looks. Perennial complaint is unhelpful.
This week’s state of the nation (STON) address and 2017/18 budget presented by President Yoweri Museveni appear to have resonated relatively well across the political isle including from opposition MPs who despite heckling remained attentive and didn’t stage a walkout protest. At both receptions on Tuesday and Thursday respectively, opposition MPs led by Winnie Kizza, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP) were plenty and seemed to have enjoyed the good times, which bodes well, and perhaps shows a shift towards constructive engagement with the majority NRM side.
Both speeches by President Museveni focused on critical areas of national peace and security, infrastructure and human and skills development, job and wealth creation, and market access, all presented in simple fashion and understood. Never-the-less, it doesn’t surprise that the know-it-all opposition and critics lampooned the president saying he presented nothing new, although they don’t offer alternatives.
While the president and various government officials have urged for the Buy Uganda, Build Uganda (BUBU) policy, and promotion of “local content” particularly on major public works, the policy may not succeed unless we all pay adequate attention to the entrepreneurial and business ethics of the Ugandan actors. Firstly, we should have the president direct State House to auction and replace all the foreign furniture with those locally made by Uganda Prisons, and from Kawempe, Nsambya, Natete and Kireka to begin with. However, State House can keep a few items as souvenirs. I guess there are many Ugandan wannabes who would want to buy and own furniture formerly used by State House or the president himself. Our MPs and other high profile elites should also buy local products to show commitment. Government entities should work with local producers to achieve the desired qualities for each of the items massively consumed by public offices. Also, government should tightly control foreign travels by state officials who gobble national resources in form of hard earned dollars, British Pound and the Euro yet most of the things they travel abroad for can now be conducted safely, faster and cheaply through cyber technology.
The policy of empowering local businesses is not new as such because when the NRM government began the privatization and decentralization processes in 1993 indeed most former government entities including residential buildings and parastatals were acquired by local Uganda political and business elites who have since run them down. Hardly, any Ugandan elites who acquired properties in Nakasero or Kololo still own or use them. Most have gone to the new peripheries of Kampala city where they can continue in semi-rural fashion.
It is also worth remembering that Apollo Milton Obote’s first UPC regime under its so-called Common Man’s Charter and the Move to the Left Stratagem, and the Nakivubo Pronouncements of 1970, and Idi Amin expropriated company shares to individual Ugandan elites. Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada was even so crude that he expelled the Asian entrepreneurs and directly handed over their personal properties to his henchmen and women (Mafutamingi) who became ‘rich’ and ‘wealthy’ over night!  This was meant to “Africanise” and “indigenise,” Uganda’s economy. Today, very few of them, if any even has a well painted building to show. In fact those were the seeds of Uganda’s economic decline and eventual collapse from which we are just trying to pull ourselves. And as many can see, even those who took over the Mercedes Benz franchise in Uganda are going down in spite of decades of being sole supplier to government vehicle fleet. As well, since that time each regime has attempted albeit with little success to build its own entrepreneur, business, political and social elites.
Since 1986, the central and district government have given most construction works in the road, education, and health sectors to local companies who have connived with civil servants and sometimes politicians to deliver substandard works often at very high costs. Virtually every government school, health centre, district and sub-county offices and roads have been built by Ugandan companies. This policy of granting public works to Ugandan, and even district based construction companies had been well intended to build their capacity and businesses. However, now after almost twenty-five years, Uganda is saddled with very poor and low quality roads, school and health infrastructure on account of bad business practices and ethics by many Ugandan actors.
Apart from domestic debt that is crowding out the private sector, and arrears owed to local suppliers, we must all address red-tape, unethical business practices in both public and private institutions, so that they become more efficient, streamline coordination, decision-making, regulation, and compliance. All said, Uganda today has a better springboard, and many are optimistic.