KAMPALA – This Eid afternoon finds me listening to Chopin’s beautiful Spring Waltz. It also finds me reading a most interesting series of tweets about H.E. President Museveni’s address to the nation at yesterday’s May Day celebrations at Kampala’s ceremonial grounds in the upscale Kololo suburb.
Reader, as you are doubtless aware, Uganda like the rest of the world is only beginning to emerge from a most unfortunate pandemic brought on by COVID19, itself caused by the novel nSARS-Cov-2 virus. That this disruptive disease is not called Wuhan Virus/ disease is a case for historians of tomorrow. Covid19 will suffice for now.
Of course, as we took our first tentative strides out of a forced 2-year Covid lockdown, the deceitfully calm political waters around the Black Sea, Ural Mountains, and the Sea of Azov erupted into war. This war saw an increasingly NATO-skeptic Russia invade Ukraine in what H.E. Vladimir Putin calls a “Special Military Operation.”
This “operation” has been met by a volley of economic sanctions against Russia by the United States, most of the EU as well as the American anglo allies of Britain, Canada, and Australia. Even Japan has joined the fray as has the Pontiff who only yesterday described it as “Macabre”! Makes one wonder if, over the last 70 years there was ever a European war that was not macabre!!!
These 2 events are majorly responsible for the current price rises of all goods and commodities in Uganda and elsewhere. Of course, we do have our own structural challenges that have also contributed to this price rise. Indeed, President Museveni has been at pains to speak to these challenges over the past 22 years going back to his New Year’s address to Ugandans in 2000. This incidentally was the very night Mr. Vladimir Vladmirovich Putin ascended to the presidency of Russia. President Museveni, in 2017 highlighted these challenges as the “10 strategic bottlenecks”. These bottlenecks are among others:
- Ideological disorientation
- Fragmented markets, market access, and limited expansion
- Lack of Industrialisation coupled with low-value addition
- Underdevelopment of the Agricultural sector
One can argue that Ideological disorientation is solely responsible for the other bottlenecks that continue to hinder our flight from largely poor countries into modern prosperous ones. It is ideological disorientation that causes politicians and those they lead to fail to see the advantages of market integration and access to quality education and health care have on spurring the development of our people.
The Bahorooro have a saying: twigaane etaha aha marwa – equality only exists around a beer pot. Thanks to the government’s many successful poverty alleviation programs starting with mass immunisation campaigns in the late 1980s, agricultural programs starting with rural farmers scheme upwards to now Operation Wealth Creation AND universal education at both primary and secondary levels, poverty in Uganda; although still high; has reduced from nearly 70% to about 37%.
Our government, through aggressive implementation of the Parish Development Model – PDM, aims to tackle this 37% of households still largely in the subsistence sector. Of course, because of the short-sighted global responses to the Ukrainian situation by the United States, the global economy is taking a massive hit in terms of competition for reduced extractive resources such as Oil AS as well as for agricultural produce and inputs such as Wheat and Fertilizer.
The solution is not to lament BUT rather to fall back on our worthy substitutes such as Sorghum, Millet, and Cassava. Thanks to the forward-looking work of our food scientists at Makerere working with sector players, research into adding value to these products has yielded good results. Maybe now, as a domestic market, we can begin to invest in an industry that fully processes these?
On April 11th last year, in her maiden trip outside Tanzania as head of state, H.E. Hassan Suluhu signed the first of 2 East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline deals between Uganda and Tanzania. Our oil deal with China’s CNOOC and France’s Total on the one hand and with Tanzania on the other is internationally lauded as a good one. The crisis in Ukraine makes it imperative that we operationalise this as soon as possible.
Today’s challenges are an opportunity for us to become a modern and prosperous industrialised society – able to withstand the chaos that the reemergence of the East-West divide seeks to impose on us. Let us in unison declare, as Chopin once did, “Even in winter it shall be green in my heart.”
The Writer is a Citizen of Uganda.