Monday, November 17, 2008

Covering Congo

If you've been reading/watching international media recently, you've probably seen more coverage of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) than you have in a long time. In short, General Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi, and his National Congress for People's Defence (CNDP) have been fighting the Congolese army and other militia (including some former genocidaires from the 1994 Rwandan genocide) in North Kivu, Eastern DRC, displacing thousands of Congolese in the process. Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Rose Kabuye, a high ranking Rwandan official, has been arrested in Germany on arrest warrants issued by a French judge.

Most of the coverage you will find in the international press will (and has) focused on the humanitarian crisis that has ensued from the fighting, as well as the possibility of this becoming a regional conflict, not unlike the Congo war from 1998-2003. This conflict, however, is far more complex. European leaders have been jumping into the fray, in my opinion largely because they don't want to be blamed later for not taking action (a la the Rwandan genocide). Well intentioned though they may be, I have serious doubts as to the level of understanding most outsiders have of this conflict (which is not at all new and stems from fundamental issues involving state capacity and human security in the Great Lakes Region). I also wish the international coverage reflected a deeper understanding of the issues at hand -- which include the fast-eroding French-Rwandan relations, French involvement in the Rwandan genocide, the legitimacy of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his government, the scattered but ongoing Hutu-Tutsi conflicts regionally, the lack of DRC state capacity, and many more. The Economist ran a fairly good piece and I look forward to their future analyses. Mr. Izama at the Daily Monitor also wrote a good analysis of the wider implications of the conflict, including the non-coincidental arrest of Mrs. Kabuye.

Just to give you a different idea of Goma, above right is a photo I took of the would-be idyllic city, as seen from a beach in Gisenyi, Rwanda (just a few miles away from Goma on Lake Kivu).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

McCain's Worst Ideas -- Gag me

Foreign Policy magazine has recently published what they consider to be each of the presidential nominees' 10 worst policy ideas. Among them was McCain's support of the Global Gag Rule (excerpt from the FP article below).

Supporting Abstinence-Only Education and the Global Gag Rule

What he said: Asked on the campaign trail if he thought grants for sex education should include instruction on contraception, McCain turned to an aide for help, saying, “Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception—I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.” The reporter asked, “Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?” After a long pause, McCain replied, “You’ve stumped me.” Town hall meeting, Iowa, Mar. 16, 2007

Why it’s a bad idea: A landmark, 10-year study sponsored by Congress found in 2007 that students in sexual-abstinence programs “were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, reported having similar numbers of sexual partners, and first had sex at about the same age,” the Chicago Tribune reported. Abstinence-only education is one of the core principles guiding the so-called global gag rule, an executive order passed by President George W. Bush in 2001 that prohibits giving foreign aid to NGOs that offer any kind of counseling on abortion as family planning. McCain voted against repealing the measure in 2005. Critics of the gag rule point to reports showing a shortage of contraceptives, clinic closings, loss of funds for HIV/AIDS education, and a rise in unsafe abortions since it was instituted.

Now, I have many issues with foreign aid and the global aid industry, including bilateral donors like the US, and am highly skeptical of the effectiveness of the President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). HIV/AIDS has become an obsession of the aid community and has hijacked or otherwise derailed domestic health priorities. While the global gag rule should not be the biggest of our concerns regarding foreign aid, it just goes to show you the hubris of aid policy makers. Abortion is illegal in Uganda -- but whether or not NGOs in the country offer any kind of counseling on abortion should be the concern of Ugandans, not Americans who have themselves legalized the practice.

I am not at all confident Barack Obama will help make critical changes to the aid industry -- there has been little evidence that he is thinking differently about foreign aid than his party typically has. But I am certain that a President McCain would make the same self-righteous and arrogant blunders as his predecessor. Which experience shows will do little to help those on the receiving end of aid, and which will burn a lot of taxpayers' dollars on the way.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Leeza in Libya

I wonder how uncomfortable Condoleeza Rice felt during her recent visit with Col. Muammar Gaddafi or what either gained from the interaction. Well, we know she gained a locket engraved with his picture, according to the New York Times. And we know Gaddafi gained an intimate one-on-one (plus translators and note-takers) with the woman whom he strangely referred to as "my darling black African woman," and of whom he said, "Leeza, Leeza, Leeza...I love her very much," according to another Times article.

Why shower the woman with such affection? Perhaps in hopes that it would continue the mending of the US-Libya relationship? I get the sneaking suspicion however, that he doesn't take her fully seriously as a professional. In the public spotlight Ms. Rice must of course graciously receive Gaddafi's rather narcissistic gifts. But all the while she must be thinking, who does this guy think he is? I know I would.

I have seen his motorcade and entourage take on Kampala, posters of his face plastered all over the city. He came and belittled the Bible and mocked Christianity, in a country where the majority of people are Christian. The guy has one of the biggest egos around, and let me tell you, that is saying something. It would have been the cause of a clash with Museveni....but of course there is nothing that a little (ok, a lot) of money and investments can't smooth over. Oh yeah, and he also suggested to Museveni that he should never leave power...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Rethinking Aid

For all the noise the Jeffrey Sachses of this world have made about not giving enough money to the poor, the fact is that many poor countries are being crushed under the weight of foreign aid. I recently had a conversation with an economist in Kampala working for a government that gives a lot of money to Uganda each year. Frustrated only begins to describe how this government official felt about the impact of foreign aid in Uganda. Fundamental questions are never even considered by many donors -- questions like, should we intervene in the first place? Are we first doing no harm? And perhaps most importantly, who cares? Because if local civil servants and politicians don't care about your project, you will go nowhere fast, and burn a lot of taxpayers' money on the way.

A conference took place this week to discuss some of these issues in Accra, Ghana. Read more about it in this article by the Economist.

Levy Who?

This is my take on the death of Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa (published in a recent issue of The Independent). The Economist also had a interesting obituary.

Those familiar with the health of Levy Mwanawasa, late President of Zambia, may be saddened but not surprised by his recent death at the relatively young age of 59. He has been in a fragile state since the automobile accident in 1991 that nearly killed him, suffered a first stroke just prior to Zambia’s 2006 presidential elections and then suffered a second and final stroke on the eve of the African Union summit, held this June in Sharm al-Sheik. Though he has been in treatment since June, he never recovered, and passed away in a Parisian hospital on the morning of August 19, 2008.

His death may not come as a shock to those who follow news in the African community, but much of the rest of the world may be asking, Levy who? President of what? That is if they even hear word that the Zambian president has died. Most would struggle just to locate Zambia on a map.

President Mwanawasa never held the limelight in the way that so many African leaders have, including Robert Mugabe, Thabo Mbeki, Omar al-Bashir, Mwai Kibaki, Nelson Mandela, Mobutu Sese Seko, Kwame Nkrumah – the list goes on and on. Some of these men became famous, or rather infamous, for the sheer scale of corruption, incompetence, or violence over which they presided or directed. Others were revolutionaries in their own right, involved in historic struggles signifying the triumph over colonialism.

There are few African leaders that have taken the spotlight for their good leadership or commitment to democracy, Nelson Mandela being the major exception. At least, there have not been many who have taken this spotlight for long. In recent years, a string of leaders on the continent have been hailed as part of the “new breed of African leader,” including our own President Museveni. Others that have been included in this category at one time or another include Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki, and Ghana’s Jerry Rawlings. Yet surely and steadily all of these leaders fell out of favor with many of their own people and the international community at large.

Their fame however, did not reach its true heights for the successes of their early years in power (at least outside of the aid community) but rather for their sometimes spectacular slides into corruption and chaos. Perversely, their tendencies toward authoritarianism have actually brought them more fame than any of them ever had as part of the “new breed.” Kibaki did not become a household name outside of East Africa, for example, until the world watched in horror and shock as Kenya slipped into a violent chaos in early 2008 following the contested presidential elections. Even Rwandan President Paul Kagame is better known worldwide as an autocrat who has violently squelched opposition than for the truly remarkable transformation Rwanda has made under his rule. So it is not particularly surprising that Mwanawasa has slipped under the radar until his untimely death this month.

But towards the end of his presidency, the late Zambian President was beginning to make waves and perhaps could have begun to make an international name for himself. He successfully removed the immunity that had been protecting former Zambian president Frederick Chiluba from facing prosecution for corruption charges, and Mwanawasa was one of the few African leaders who did not mince words over Mugaba’s reign of terror (or at least terrible policy). In 2007 he accused Mugabe of turning his country into a “sinking Titanic” and this year described the results of the flawed Zimbabwean presidential election as “scandalous.” He seemed unafraid to step on the toes of those he caught with their hands in the cookie jar – or ballot box for that matter. Thus, Mwanawasa’s life was cut short just when he seemed on the verge of becoming part of the “new breed.” Would he have continued along this path or fallen to the doldrums of autocracy like so many who went before him? And was he as good a leader as his obituaries and eulogies now make him out to be?

At the beginning of his presidency, he was considered by many to be dull and slow. Not unlike U.S. president George W. Bush, though perhaps less notoriously, Mwanawasa had a tendency to blunder in public speaking, at one point even calling Chiluba “my elder sister.” He soon overcame this perception and the title “the Cabbage” that he had earned, becoming a formidable force against those he believed to be corrupt. Chiluba thought the scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours approach would work with Mwanawasa, but he was in for a nasty surprise.

Through Mwanawasa was handpicked for the presidency by Chiluba in 2001, he felt no obligation to protect his predecessor from facing the consequences of his crooked dealings while in power. Shortly after coming to power, after a final wrangle in which Chiluba refused to step down, Mwanawasa officially requested that the Zambian Parliament lift Chiluba’s presidential immunity. Parliament granted this request and Chiluba was charged and arrested in February 2003. Others who had worked in Chiluba’s government were also charged with embezzling public funds at this time.

In addition to his successes in fighting corruption, Zambia’s economy began to recover after its near collapse under Chiluba and Kenneth Kaunda. Mwanawasa was praised for his administration’s strict fiscal and monetary policies. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has been around 5% per year, and inflation has been falling over the years. In response to his prudent policy, the IMF and World Bank wrote off a large chunk of Zambia’s debt, around US$3.8 billion. Several other of Zambia’s cooperating partners also wrote off much of the remaining debt, such that the country’s US$7.2 billion debt was effectively reduced to about US$500 million.

Under Mwanawasa copper mining slowly recovered, and its success helped to jump-start other industries as well, including stone-crushing, trucking, lime producing, cement producing and oil marketing, according to Zambian scholar Alex Ng’oma.

Despite the economic successes, however, many Zambians remain below the poverty line. According to the 2007/2009 Human Development Report, the average Zambian should not expect to live much past the age of 40, nearly one in five children die before the age of five, HIV/AIDS prevalence is at 17%, and some 46% of the population is undernourished. Some also criticize Mwanawasa for selectively fighting corruption – prosecuting some former government officials while simultaneously allowing others to continue working under him in the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) government.

These criticisms notwithstanding, late President Mwanawasa appeared to be forging ahead in the fight for democracy and against corruption up until the stroke that would cost him his life. It is impossible to know what path he would have taken had he lived on. Would he have continued to stand up against abuses of power, or would he eventually succumb to them himself, as so many have before? Did his premature death ultimately preserve his legacy as an upstanding leader? We will never know, and sadly, most of the world will never care.

His small victories were eclipsed by catastrophic blunders of his contemporaries. The world seems to acknowledge only the devils and revolutionaries on the continent. The names al-Bashir and Mugabe roll of the tongue, along with a host of opinions, concerns, and anger. But Mwana-what? Zambia does not make headlines with its small successes, but rather with tales of pain, death, starvation and hardship.

Perhaps Mwanawasa could have become part of the generation that changes the face of leadership in Africa – no more Big Men, no more revolutionaries, no more self-obsessed life-presidents. President Museveni himself once explained, “The main cause of Africa’s crisis is leaders who do not want to leave power. There is no reason why anyone should be president for more than ten years.” Unfortunately he was never given the opportunity to truly become this new face for leadership. The tyrants and would-be dictators in Africa are stealing the show from those who are making small in-ways in improving the lives of their people. It is about time that we acknowledge the triumphs of small men (and women), instead of giving the Big Men all the attention they don’t deserve.

Friday, July 18, 2008

1.3 trillion

In the coming year, approximately 1.3 trillion shillings, close to US $780 million, will be spent on the health sector in Uganda. The official budget weighs in at about Ush 630 billion (including both domestic and external funding), and off-budget support is approximately Ush 700 billion. Yet, awash in cash, the health sector is drowning.

Infant mortality stands at 76 per 1000, and under-five mortality is even worse – 137 out of every 1000 children will die before their fifth birthday, according to the 2006 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS). Life expectancy at birth is 49 years for men and 51 years for women. The Ministry of Health (MoH) reports that there is only 1 health worker for every 1236 people. Even this figure distorts reality as an estimated 70% of doctors and 40% of nurses serve only 12% of the population, according to the MoH’s Master Plan for Accelerating Performance in the Health Sector. And it gets even worse – absenteeism in health facilities has been estimated to be as high as 47% on average, according to recent studies.

Though it is difficult to capture off-budget expenditures, it is likely that the health sector will receive more money than any other sector this year – surpassing even the budget for works, which will receive approximately 1.1 trillion shillings in 2008/09. Where is all this money coming from? More importantly, where is it going?

According to the June 2008 budget speech and the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), the Ministry of Finance has allocated approximately Ush 375 billion from the domestic budget this year to health, split fairly evenly between the Ministry of Health and District Primary Health Care, with a smattering of funding toward Mulago Hospital Complex and District Referral Hospitals. On-budget, donors will contribute Ush 253 billion, 250 billion of which will go directly to the Ministry of health. Off-budget, the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) alone will this year contribute US$283 million for HIV/AIDS screening, prevention and treatment. Additionally, another Ush 300 billion will be spent on the health sector off-budget by donors such as USAID, DFID, and the governments of Italy, Ireland, Norway, and Sweden, among others. Altogether – domestic and external, on and off-budget – the health sector is thus set to receive over 1 trillion shillings.

Despite this flood of money, even the president has begun to feel the pain of the ailing health sector – and not just because he is forced to fly his daughter abroad on a private jet to deliver her baby. In April 2008 he wrote a letter in frustration to Minister of Health, Stephen Malinga, titled, “Alleged Gross Mismanagement of the Health Sector.” He lamented, “Whenever I travel up-country, I am accosted with complaints of lack of drugs and absenteeism of health workers in health units.” If it is gross mismanagement and not lack of funding that is resulting in a decrepit health sector, where is all the money going?

There are two major issues at play – allocation of resources and management of those resources. It is not an exaggeration to describe the global community’s interest in HIV/AIDS as an obsession, and this obsession has serious implications for the allocation of money in countries like Uganda, where HIV/AIDS has at times reached epidemic levels. Looking at a breakdown of the budget, US$ 283 million (around Ush 467 billion) from PEPFAR will go toward HIV/AIDS, US$139 million (around Ush 230 billion) from the Global Fund will go toward HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria and Ush 60 billion will go toward the purchase of Anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) and malaria treatment from the Uganda based pharmaceutical plant Quality Chemicals. Additionally, in their most recent grant proposal from the Global Fund, the MoH estimated that “other AIDS development partners” (not including Global Fund) would contribute between US$22 million and $27 million this year, or approximately between Ush 36 billion and Ush 45 billion. While the aforementioned funds include money earmarked for malaria and TB, the majority will go to HIV/AIDS. Altogether, the sum of funding dedicated to HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB is at least Ush 790 billion, according to sources from the MoH, Ministry of Finance, the Global Fund, and the U.S. government.

The MoH, in its Round 7 proposal to the Global Fund stated that the “overall disease specific needs costing including essential disease specific health systems needs” for HIV/AIDS in 2008 would be Ush 309 billion and in 2009 Ush 329 billion. Even if only half of the Ush 790 calculated above went toward HIV/AIDS programs (an extremely conservative estimate given donor priorities), this should still be enough money to cover the MoH’s self-reported needs for HIV/AIDS. Even if this admittedly back-of-the-envelope calculation was incorrect, the same Global Fund grant proposal specifically states: “Based on the national strategic plan [NSP] prioritized goals and objectives, a resource needs model was applied to estimate the resources needed to meet the coverage costs of the plan. The estimate of the overall HIV/AIDS national response needs costing indicated a requirement of US$ 263 million for the first year of the NSP [2007/8] increasing to US$ 362 million in the financial year 2011/12.” According to this assessment, PEPFAR alone will cover the entire HIV/AIDS national response this year.

Nevertheless, of the Ush 98 billion in additional allocation to the health sector from the Ministry of Finance this year, Ush 60 billion will go toward HIV/AIDS and malaria drugs, the vast majority of which will go toward ARVs. Why? MoH officials say that there remains a large funding gap, in spite of donor contribution, and that an estimated 200,000 people are approved for ARVs but are not as yet receiving treatment. Additionally, in 2005, as an “investment incentive” the government of Uganda signed a memorandum of understanding with Quality Chemicals committing to purchase US$40 million worth of HIV/AIDS and malaria drugs per year. Thus, other sector priorities notwithstanding, US$40 million will be pumped into primarily into funding ARVs. While the idea of the plant was to enable Uganda to become self-sufficient and independent, donors such as the Global Fund and PEPFAR are not buying their drugs from Quality Chemicals – the plant has not yet met the required standards.

However well meaning, donor priorities have hijacked the health sector, pumping it full of money earmarked for specific health issues that do not always align with domestic health priorities. This dependence on donor funding is neither sustainable nor beneficial to Uganda. Already the country has run into serious issues with the Global Fund that has resulted in the suspension of grants. Most recently, the Inspector General for the Global Fund, on a visit to Uganda, warned that if progress had not been made on the recovery of money and prosecution of individuals named in the 2006 Ogoola Report, Uganda’s grant would again be suspended.

Donor funding for Uganda’s health sector on the whole has been “volatile and unpredictable” according to the World Bank’s Uganda Public Expenditure Review (PER) 2008, presented to the budget division of the Ministry of Finance on July 7. It was also noted that “funds are not always aligned with domestic priorities,” and donor commitments were almost always higher than the disbursement of funds. Given the challenges associated with relying upon donor funds, Uganda should strive to become independent of external funding and donor-set priorities.

The PER made several recommendations for Uganda’s health sector. Despite the seemingly staggering budget that the sector will receive this year, the PER concluded that Uganda should increase health spending. It specifically noted that “rapid population growth, increasing unit costs and unsustainably high donor funding create risks,” and that “efficiency gains are clearly possible.”

Many of these efficiency gains can be made in the area of human resources, which was a major area of concern that Malinga noted in his May 2008 letter to the President. Addressing human resource deficiencies and inefficiencies has been a sector priority for some time, but budget allocations have not reflected this prioritization, largely because Uganda has not been setting the agenda for the health sector – donors have. There is much information available on Uganda’s health sector and there has been considerable analysis examining health sector reform.

In April 2008, the Ministry of Health released its Master Plan for Accelerating Performance in the Health Sector, which highlights “areas of strategic concern that require immediate attention,” including Human Resources, Infrastructure, Essential Medicines and Health Supplies, and Operational Budget. Given this strategic plan, it would seem unwise to allow the donor community, however well intentioned, to dictate Uganda’s health budget allocations or distort its priorities. Pumping the sector full of money allocated by donor priorities has led it to burst, with wasted resources leaking out on all sides. The health sector is being trampled in the stampede of donor goodwill and while the Ministry lines its pockets, the greater population of Uganda is suffering.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Exporting Education

In 2004/5 over US $30 million came into Uganda from education services, the fourth highest external earner after remittances by Ugandan nationals, coffee, and fish exports, according to New Vision. Although this statistic is a bit outdated, it is clear that there is an enormous investment opportunity here. In 2006 non-Ugandans made up 13% of the student population enrolled in universities, and in total over 30,000 non-Ugandan students were enrolled at all levels of the education sector. See this report by the Uganda Export Promotion Board for an analysis of potential opportunities and challenges in this sector and others.

Although there is money to be made on this front, perhaps more important is the fact that the sector is as yet unprepared for the massive influx of students that are about to come through the ranks from primary school. There are over 7 million primary students in Uganda today -- a full quarter of the population -- and currently not enough teachers or classrooms to teach them when they reach secondary school. Over 450,000 sat for their primary exit examinations in 2006, but only half were able to continue to secondary school due to space and capacity constraints. And of course at some point one has to wonder what jobs will be available for these millions of students when they graduate in a few years time...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Don't mess with... Equatorial Guinea

Simon Mann was today sentenced to 34 years, 4 months in prison for his role in a failed coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea in 2004. Mann says that Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was also involved in the plot to overthrow Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea. Matthew Green, author of Wizard of the Nile (his account of trying to track down Lord's Resistance Army leader, Joseph Kony), has an article on Mann in the Financial Times today. Equatorial Guinea is a major oil producer in Africa, which has led to massive inflows of money into that country, albeit inequitably.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Luckiest Girl?

Nicholas Kristof's op-ed, "The Luckiest Girl," was, on the morning of July 4th, the most popular emailed article in the New York Times. For some reason, this particular piece irked me when I read it this morning, and I have spent the day trying to understand exactly why. I think it is because in this piece, Uganda, the place I now consider my second home, morphs into just another "African country" and Beatrice into another "African girl," as if using the word "African" somehow ought to convey some implicit understanding among the readers about what Africa or Africans are. I am, of course, glad that Beatrice received a good education, but dismayed at the notion or insinuation that the appropriate course of action for "Westerners" or those to want to "make a difference" is to launch a bunch of goats at poor farmers. Perhaps I am reading too much into Kristof's piece, but I cannot help my instant recoil at yet another portrayal of a very specific place and context as just another generic piece of an amorphous puzzle called "Africa."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Who Should Dictate Policy on HIV/AIDS?

The HIV/AIDS Implementers' Meeting was held in Kampala, Uganda last month. The following article by Sam L. Ruteikara, co-chair of Uganda's National AIDS-Prevention Committee, questions who should dictate the policies of the multibillion-dollar HIV/AIDS industry. The article ran on June 30, 2008, in the Washington Post.

Let My People Go, AIDS Profiteers
By Sam L. Ruteikara

KAMPALA, Uganda -- The President's Emergency Plan for HIV-AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been mired in the Senate for months. Last week finally brought signs that a vote, and passage, could be near. The program would cost $50 billion -- that's $165 from each American to fight AIDS, or $1.3 billion from New York City alone. But will the money allocated for AIDS stop the spread of the virus in sub-Saharan Africa, where 76 percent of the world's HIV-AIDS deaths occurred last year?

Not if the dark dealings I've witnessed in Africa continue unchecked. In the fight against AIDS, profiteering has trumped prevention. AIDS is no longer simply a disease; it has become a multibillion-dollar industry.

In the late 1980s, before international experts arrived to tell us we had it all "wrong," we in Uganda devised a practical campaign to prevent the spread of HIV. We recognized that population-wide AIDS epidemics in Africa were driven by people having sex with more than one regular partner. Therefore, we urged people to be faithful. Our campaign was called ABC (Abstain, or Be Faithful, or use Condoms), but our main message was: Stick to one partner. We promoted condoms only as a last resort.

Because we knew what to do in our country, we succeeded. The proportion of Ugandans infected with HIV plunged from 21 percent in 1991 to 6 percent in 2002. But international AIDS experts who came to Uganda said we were wrong to try to limit people's sexual freedom. Worse, they had the financial power to force their casual-sex agendas upon us.

PEPFAR calls for Western experts to work as equal partners with African leaders on AIDS prevention. But as co-chair of Uganda's National AIDS-Prevention Committee, I have seen this process sabotaged. Repeatedly, our 25-member prevention committee put faithfulness and abstinence into the National Strategic Plan that guides how PEPFAR money for our country will be spent. Repeatedly, foreign advisers erased our recommendations. When the document draft was published, fidelity and abstinence were missing.

And somehow, a suspicious statistic attacking marriage appeared. The plan states that the HIV infection rate among married couples is 42 percent, twice as high as the rate among prostitutes. Our requests for the source of this statistic were repeatedly ignored. In fact, the 2004-05 Ugandan HIV/AIDS Sero-Behavioral Survey found that HIV prevalence among married couples is only 6.3 percent, far lower than infection rates among widowed (31.4 percent) or divorced (13.9 percent) Ugandans.

When Washington insiders were alerted to these scandals, the words "abstain" and "be faithful" were quietly reinserted into the plan -- on paper. But that doesn't guarantee these methods will be implemented or promoted. Meanwhile, the dubious marriage statistic remains.

As fidelity and abstinence have been subverted, Uganda's HIV rates have begun to tick back up.

Western media have been told this renewed surge of HIV infection is because there are "not enough condoms in Uganda," even though we have many more condoms now than we did in the early 1990s, when our HIV rates began to decline. Condom promotions have failed in Africa, mostly because fewer than 5 percent of people use condoms consistently with regular partners. Indeed, the loudest HIV-prevention message in Africa is "universal access" to condoms, testing, anti-retroviral treatment, and assorted other drugs and devices. All these commodities must be transported, stored, distributed, advertised and resupplied endlessly.

Meanwhile, effective HIV prevention methods, such as urging Africans to stick to one partner, don't qualify for lucrative universal-access status.

Do not misunderstand me: Treatment is good. But for every African who gains access to HIV treatment, six become newly infected. To treat one AIDS patient with life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs costs more than $1,000 a year. Our successful ABC campaign cost just 29 cents per person each year.

International suppliers make broad, oversimplified statements such as "You can't change Africans' sexual behavior." While it's true that you can't change everybody, you don't have to. If the share of men having three or more sexual partners in a year drops from 15 percent to 3 percent, as happened in Uganda between 1989 and 1995, HIV infection rates will plunge. It is that simple.

We, the poor of Africa, remain silenced in the global dialogue. Our wisdom about our own culture is ignored.

Telling men and women to keep sex sacred -- to save sex for marriage and then remain faithful -- is telling them to love one another deeply with their whole hearts. Most HIV infections in Africa are spread by sex outside of marriage: casual sex and infidelity. The solution is faithful love.

So hear my plea, HIV-AIDS profiteers. Let my people go. We understand that casual sex is dear to you, but staying alive is dear to us. Listen to African wisdom, and we will show you how to prevent AIDS.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Is Uganda a Failed State?

Uganda was last week ranked among the top 20 countries most vulnerable to state failure, according to the 2008 Failed States Index, produced by the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine. With a score of 96.1 out of a possible worst of 120, Uganda ties with Ethiopia for 16th most vulnerable, and fairs just marginally better than North Korea (97.7), Haiti (99.3) and Burma (100.3). Shocking? Not to Leader of the Opposition, Professor Ogenga Latigo. “I am not surprised,” he says, given the current political situation where rule of law is often non-existent and where the government is king. “Even police say they are acting from above, not according to the law,” says Latigo. The index comes to similar conclusions, ranking the military, judiciary, police and civil service as “weak,” and the quality of leadership as “moderate.”

Countries were scored based upon twelve social, economic, political and military indicators, and data was collected between May and December 2007 from over 30,000 open-source articles and reports. Uganda has barely improved since the 2007 Index, where it was ranked 15th most vulnerable. Does the Failed States Index do the country justice? Is Uganda in critical danger of becoming a failed state?

Of the twelve indicators, Uganda ranked the worst by far in the category of Refugees and Displaced Persons. Uganda is the third worst performing country worldwide in this category, only above Somalia and Sudan. According to the Uganda country profile compiled by the Fund for Peace, Uganda’s score is attributed to high numbers of refugees and people residing in internally displaced person’s (IDP) camps. The report states that Uganda hosts nearly 270,000 refugees from Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, and that there are nearly one million IDPs in Northern Uganda.

Uganda has been host to refugees from around the region for years as its neighbors have fallen into full fledged state collapse. This, however, would seem to indicate that the country is a safe haven for the region, not that Uganda is on the verge of state failure. Nevertheless, Nate Haken, an associate at Fund for Peace, explains: “If a country hosts a large number of displaced people, it puts pressure on the state because of the logistical challenges involved in feeding, housing education and protecting them. Additionally it puts a drag on the economy because when people are displaced, the community structures break down and people are unable to meaningfully participate in the workforce. All of this increases the potential for instability…”

State Minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Francis Musa Ecweru, does not believe this to be true in the case of Uganda, “The influx of refugees has done nothing to compromise our stability as a country,” he says. Although he adds, “It only puts pressure on law and order enforcement, because not all refugees are law abiding people.”

Roberta Russo, country representative for UNHCR, agrees with Ecweru. “I wouldn’t say it increases vulnerability,” she says, “but rather the opposite,” especially in light of the fact that sometimes Ugandans themselves benefit from the provision of services provided to refugees. She also says the situation with regard to refugees is improving. “First of all,” she says, “from Sudan we are repatriating a lot of refugees – over 60,000 since the beginning of the year, and many have returned spontaneously. In DRC the situation also seems to be improving since peace talks in Goma began.”

Moses Okello, head of research and advocacy at the Refugee Law Project, agrees that the ability of refugees to destabilize a country is an “overexageration,” particularly in Uganda. Rather, “What has been problematic,” he says, “is the government of Uganda using refugees for their own political purposes.”

The Fund’s Uganda country report rightly points out the fact that hundred of thousands of Ugandans are themselves displaced as a result of the over 20 year war between the government of Uganda and the Lords Resistance Army. But the miniscule improvement in Uganda’s score for this indicator since last year perhaps does not give enough credit to the very real progress that has been made in Northern Uganda. “The number of IDPs is decreasing extremely,” Russo says, “We now have less than 700,000 in camps.”

This is still an unacceptably large number of displaced people, but does it mean that Uganda deserves to be ranked third worst in the world? Okello says, “To a large extent I think that’s really fair…the government of Uganda for a long time managed to keep it [the conflict in Northern Uganda] under wraps…For a long time the international community did not know the scale of the conflict.” He argues that the government of Uganda was so concerned with perfecting their own image that they refused to call the conflict an emergency situation, which would have allowed international intervention at an earlier stage.

Despite the past mismanagement of the conflict, however, the government of Uganda is now well aware that there is much work to be done. Ecweru readily acknowledges the lack and inadequacy of public services in Northern Uganda, such as health facilities and basic infrastructure. Recovery of the north is next on his agenda. “We have to prepare them to recover…before they can graduate to development.” Perhaps with the recovery and resettlement of IDPs over the course of the next year, Uganda’s score will improve next year.

According to the 2008 index, Uganda has improved, albeit marginally, on a number of indicators since 2007 such as Group Grievance, Legitimacy of the State, Public Services, Human Rights and Security Apparatus. The indicators for which it has worsened are Demographic Pressures, Economy and External Intervention.

While demographic pressures are apparent in Uganda, with a population growth rate of around 3.6% -- one of the highest in the world – it is less clear that the economy and external intervention have worsened in the past year. During his June 2008 Budget Speech, Minister of Finance, Dr. Ezra Suruma announced that real GDP growth in the fiscal year 2007/08 was estimated at a whopping 8.9%, much higher than the already commendable 6.5% that had been projected in the previous year’s speech. Though the Fund for Peace arguably did not have time to include this re-estimate in their calculation it was still clear during the research period that the Ugandan economy had been experiencing tremendous growth.

Nevertheless, the country report justifies its reasoning in assigning Uganda a worse score for its economy this year by stating: “…despite the country’s wealth in natural resources and a high GDP growth rate of 6.5%, political instability and mismanagement have left the economy undeveloped and poor.” To be certain, Uganda remains a developing country with a still nascent economy, but with a real GDP growth rate of 8.9%, it seems wildly unfair to even hint that the country is in “sharp and/or severe economic decline.”

In terms of the External Influence indicator, the Fund for Peace explains Uganda’s worsening score by stating, “The World Bank has 20 active projects in Uganda, with $1452 million committed in all sectors. In addition to foreign aid, Uganda has received considerable international attention due to the conflict with the LRA.” There is no doubt that Uganda receives a massive amount of foreign aid, but as a percentage of Uganda’s total budget, this figure has been decreasing. Whereas only a few years ago around half of Uganda’s budget was donor funded, according to this year’s budget speech, that figure is now closer to 30%. While Uganda still has a ways to go in making itself completely independent of donors, it may be unfair to say that the situation has gotten worse in the past year. Additionally, it is hard to see why Uganda should be penalized for the increased international attention the conflict in Northern Uganda has received and which very may well have assisted in finally bringing peace to Northern Uganda.

Ranked in the top 20 most vulnerable states, Uganda is in the “critical” zone for state failure. The Fund for Peace emphasizes, “It is important to note that these ratings do not necessarily predict when states may experience violence or collapse. Rather, they measure a vulnerability to collapse or conflict.” The Failed State Index is useful in that it looks at a broad range of factors that have the potential to induce or reduce the chance of conflict or societal deterioration. If the index can be used to accurately predict conflict, perhaps countries and regions can use it to prevent or mitigate violence, which, for example, could have saved hundreds of lives in Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe in this year alone.

Nevertheless, “failed state” is a loaded term. The fact that seven out of the ten worst performing countries are located in sub-Saharan Africa paints a bleak picture of a continent already heavily burdened with negative stereotypes. Organisations like Fund for Peace, “are totally out of touch with the realities here,” says Ecweru. This may be hyperbolic, but the point is clear. No matter their intentions, insinuating from an Ivory Tower that countries are “failed states,” and understating or failing to give due credit to countries who have impressive gains in development is unfair, misleading and dangerously discouraging.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kony Stalls Again

Exactly one month after Joseph Kony failed on the signing of the final peace agreement between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government of Uganda, he again failed to meet a delegation of mediators and leaders from northern Uganda who traveled to meet him at the Sudan-Congo border on May 10. At Kony’s request, the team was meant to explain to him how traditional justice and the special division of the High Court would function following the signing of the agreement. His supposed confusion regarding these specifics was his most recent excuse for reneging on his April 10 commitment. Anyone surprised by the delay of this most recent meeting is hopelessly na├»ve about the motivations driving this process or has simply not been paying attention.

In our last interview with current LRA chief negotiator, Dr. James Obita, he told The Independent that “May is the D-Day” for Kony to sign the final agreement. But as Kony continues to dawdle and delay, no one has proven willing or able to hold him accountable to his increasingly meaningless commitments. When asked about the limits of patience for dealing with Kony diplomatically, UPDF/Defence spokesman Maj. Paddy Ankunda replied, “I hope you’re not asking me for a deadline.” This is precisely the problem. There is no deadline for Kony even though it may be the critical point in time to enforce one.
Principally responsible for what was once termed "the biggest forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world," the LRA, with its band of elusive and internationally wanted war criminals, has today devolved into a festering regional force at once coming apart at the seams while simultaneously maintaining its infamous capacity to wreak havoc on innocent civilians.

With his failure to sign the final peace agreement, Kony unsurprisingly succeeded in further drawing out the "peace process" that has done everything but ensure that everyone involved take decisive steps to bringing peace and reconstruction to the region. Yes, the war as it was known in northern Uganda for over two decades appears to have ended but in the process, a new force has been spawned.

While the LRA of old was an isolated and relatively unknown force allowed to terrorise northern Uganda – through either the lack of capacity or lack of concern of the government of Uganda – the new LRA finds itself very much in the spotlight and unable to maintain the almost mystic aura that once surrounded Kony and company. Penetration into the once isolated bubble that was the LRA force has demonstrated to both the rebels and outsiders alike that despite his spiritual claims, Kony is after all just another man. There are signs of cracks forming among LRA leadership though rumours of infighting and Kony's slaying of underlings may sometimes be exaggerated or even complete fiction.

The death of Vincent Otti last year was one of the first such cracks. Then came the almost comically frequent change of guard of the LRA chief negotiator. Martin Ojul was whisked away and replaced by David Matsanga who fumbled and fell, paving way for the entrance of James Obita – all in a span of five months.

And the LRA itself has been playing musical chairs across the region trying to locate itself in the most secure and strategic jungle spot, while hoping the music that is this bumbling peace process won't stop playing yet. It darts from Garamba to Ri-Kwangba to Southern Sudan to Central African Republic (CAR) and back again, leaving behind smatterings of LRA camps and attacking and abducting as they go.

And whereas abductees and lower ranking rebels once feared defection – out of punishment by either the group itself or by the communities to which they would return home – a number of events and factors have succeeded in making rebel reintegration into society a much more attractive option for would-be defectors. It is perhaps the de-mystification of the LRA, together with increasing impatience with the drawn-out peace process, which has put Kony on the defensive and led to a spate of abductions throughout the region in the past few months.

Leader of the Opposition, Prof. Ogenga Latigo, thinks the cracks in the LRA are because its myth of invincibility has been shattered and Kony is no longer perceived as "godlike." His followers and comrades have seen him very much humanised, interacting with local leaders and government officials who treat him as just another man and not the mystic spiritual leader he was once perceived to be.
Maj. Ankunda agrees. "His followers thought he was untouchable, unreachable," he explained, but in recent years and largely as a result of the peace process, they have seen that "he can come out, he can talk…he is human."

Kony himself is very much aware of his mortality and vulnerability, or else he would not be so concerned for his personal security. This has been the major stumbling block throughout the peace process. With an arrest warrant hanging over his head, issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Kony cannot be certain that if he surrenders he will not be immediately picked up and taken to The Hague, where he will most certainly be found guilty of committing the crimes of which he is accused.
The perceived vulnerability of Kony and his rebels has implications for the behaviour of the group. More members could see defecting or surrendering as an attractive choice in the months to come, even if Kony himself does not surrender. If these defections do occur, it may mean a weakening in the cohesion of the group. Kony could react with an upswing in abductions to rebuild his strength.

A UN report recently stated that 300 to 500 abductions had occurred in the region over the past few months. How well these new abductees will be able to build military capacity for the group remains to be seen. Though certainly cause for alarm, a heterogeneous group comprised of members largely uncommitted to a cause and under the leadership of a man increasingly perceived as vulnerable and paranoid may mean a new LRA that is more unstable. This does not necessarily limit Kony's capacity to wreak havoc, but certainly suggests a new version of the LRA, and one that is not necessarily new and improved.

The vulnerability and incentives for the defecting of lower rank LRA should be an opportunity for interested parties to deal with the rebel group once and for all. Instead, the floundering of key players has all but ensured that this opportunity will be missed. The relative peace in northern Uganda today should not be taken as evidence that the government has done everything in its power to end the LRA insurgency.

In fact, the migration of the LRA has presented a convenient opportunity to deflect responsibility for dealing with the rebel group. As Maj. Ankunda explains, "Kony is no longer our problem, he is a regional problem." Point taken: Recent abductions have occurred practically everywhere except Uganda. Unfortunately this has created a fabulous recipe for collective action failure. Kony is now both everyone’s problem and no one's problem.
Pressure is mounting for Kony to sign, but he may have some time left to stall. The NGO community remains characteristically and naively optimistic abut the whole process, and though MONUC has threatened to take military action against the LRA, no one seems ready to pull the trigger and sanction or support such an attack.
So as the music continues to play, the LRA continues to frolic around the region stepping on toes, but never hard enough to elicit any consequential reaction. In fact, in some cases open and profiteering arms may even welcome the would-be mercenary force. And those who lie in the wake of the cavorting LRA are also those with the least power to do anything to stop them. With no government as yet severely encumbered by LRA occupation (and with some distinctly aided), the manhunt that could wipe out a recently weakened rebel force has yet to seriously begin.

The good news is that while perhaps not under tremendous pressure to capture Kony, the government of Uganda should find it in their interest to begin development and reconstruction of the now LRA-free north. Many observers have suggested that the government of Uganda itself has been complicit in war crimes or at the very least allowed the war to continue as a way of suppressing northerners not supportive of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime. However, Professor Latigo suggests that with Museveni's slipping support in what were formerly NRM strongholds (such as Baganda and parts of the west), continued isolation of the north, intentionally or not, is no longer tenable. Indeed, Museveni's recent trip to West Nile and elsewhere in the region suggests his keen interest in gathering northern support. And increased international attention on the conflict in recent years, largely as a result of the peace process, all but ensures that the north will not remain the forgotten humanitarian crisis it once was.

Nevertheless, though the myth of the LRA has been shattered, the mystical Kony brought down to earth and signs point to the potential devolution of the LRA, there appears to be more dilly-dallying. The government of Uganda has played their hand particularly well – simultaneously relieving themselves of blame and responsibility for the whole affair. But few in the region seem especially interested in picking up the reigns.

If one were to do away with the LRA once and for all, now would be the appropriate time to do so. It remains to be seen whether involved parties will take advantage of this window of opportunity, or instead dither and dawdle pushing around responsibility until Kony becomes the regional warlord he still has the potential to become.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Journalists arrested, Independent offices raided

PresOur offices at The Independent in Kamwokya, Kampala were again raided yesterday, and this time three journalists arrested -- Andrew Mwenda, Charles Bichachi, and John Njoroge. Andrew was literally kidnapped as he was leaving his house -- surrounded by five security operative vehicles, removed at gunpoint from his car, and handcuffed. All three were taken to police headquarters in Kibuli, Kampala and held for several hours. Meanwhile The Independent offices were raided and searched by a number of security operatives, and all phones of staff members were confiscated. Three computers were taken, as were flash drives and other documents suspected as "seditious" material. Andrew and the others have been charged with sedition and defamation, as a result of publishing two articles, one on Maj. Gen. Kazini and one on torture in Uganda as told by a former UPDF soldier. The following are national and international accounts of the event:

Daily Monitor



Friday, April 25, 2008

Life after m7: No energy to generate energy

The following is a feature published in the Daily Monitor April 25, 2008, by Angelo Izama, a great friend and brilliant journalist and analyst.

Angelo Izama

Visitors to Uganda who fly into Entebbe International Airport at night are often struck by how dark the place is.
Night flights these days also show something else; the bright lights of the Chinese-rebuilt residence of the President which stands out in contrast to the kerosene powered homes around it.
Darkness could be amusing for tourists on their first trip to Africa who fantasize about elephants leaping out of roadsides and whose only introduction to Uganda are paperback digests ( mostly written by former tourists or resident ones) that fail to inform the thrill seekers that Idi Amin is no longer President here.
However the lack of electricity to light streets, homes and businesses is not a funny joke propped up as a tourist accessory. For its 31 million people Uganda generates and uses less electricity than a small division of Hyundai industries, just one of the many big enterprises in a country with which Uganda was at par a short forty years ago.
Since the use of electricity is an important measure of how economies are performing Uganda's case has been one of stagnation and regression.
Whenever critics of the government single out the power sector for bludgeoning the government at pulpits and radio studios, they are told to be optimistic because Uganda has made a "recovery" from a politically darker past when Amin was actually an Entebbe resident himself.
"You cannot always be pessimistic" said Energy Minister Daudi Migereko in a phone interview on Monday about the state of the energy sector. But even he admits the present situation is trying on the patience of the discipleship or cadres who are the foot soldiers of the revolution started by Yoweri Museveni.
Uganda has registered negative growth in the energy sector. Electricity production today is lower than at independence 45 years ago and much lower in the last half decade when a series of unpunished blunders turned load shedding into a way of life.
But a far more serious problem facing the country is not its candlelight economy: It is the affliction of low expectations and even lower standards that have made mediocre performance acceptable particularly within the government. Even if the administration wanted it simply does not have the energy to take the country to another energy production level.
It must be noted that the back peddling in the energy sector is occurring in a period dominated by what many Ugandans, their neighbors and the world community consider the most progressive government in the country's history. The World Bank, which according to Migereko (and his predecessor Syda Bbumba) has been a lousy partner, has been selling Uganda and its reform process one of the brightest spots in Africa.
However progress tended to be measured in terms of a stable currency, stable government and tons of paper reforms. Uganda remains one of the biggest missed opportunities in Africa and the energy sector is a microcosm of this colossal squander. According to Engineer Hilary Onek, a leading authority on hydro-power dams, the country's potential is in the region of 28,000 megawatts of electricity. The distance between the 120 megawatts being produced today and that potential is what a new government would have to cover.
Add to this are commercially viable oil deposits which could theoretically power the country, with its young and enterprising population into a truly great industrial nation. There is also talk of exploiting uranium for power generation, but this is viewed by some as an alarming prospect to allow a country that cannot not even keep inventory of military arsenal to handle radio-active material.
The crisis of Uganda has therefore been the inability of its managers to reel in progress and it is on the change in management and not the conditions that progress will ultimately depend. Ironically the hamstring on progress has come on the back of too much politics and too little government.
The Museveni government reaped where it sowed. Both human and material resources in the hands of the state have been disproportionally allocated to regime maintenance and if progress were to be measured by longevity in power then NRM and Museveni have been extremely successful.
The energy sector has been a victim of this politically purposed state which has prioritised spending on defence and political projects. The reality is that lack of electricity itself does not affect the stability of the state or Mr. Museveni's ability to stay on for 20 more years if he so wished.
Only 6% of the country is connected to the national grid - not enough to turn the lack of energy into an electoral issue but more of a middleclass nuisance. Uganda's rural electrification program has been an expensive joke, sucking in as much money as would build another dam on the River Nile.
Logic would have it in fact that rural progress is ultimately a political risk for states with weakening legitimacy like that of Yoweri Museveni whose electoral margins have been dropping by 10% in the last three elections. Peasant to commercial farmer transitions, which require increased electricity for semi-processed value addition, come with consolidated demands for better and more reliable services from the state which ultimately translates into political pressure.
Weak state structures in a fluid political system easily buckle under this kind of pressure.
The question then arises whether or not the current administration with its huge political wage bill which has been the price of stability will be able to mobilise future legitimacy on economic progress which would require re-awakening the economy with its potentially volatile political stakeholders without serious risks to regime stability.
The answer is no. Only a new administration will have the political capital to recalibrate the purpose within the state from one in which political stability is not an end in itself but simply a requirement for economic and social progress. Current energy projects can therefore not succeed in unlocking their own potential or the wider gains of reliable electricity for a country starved of it.
Framers of Uganda's soon to be launched National Industrial Policy have emptily written that the "political leadership in Uganda is unequivocally committed to industrialisation, economic transformation, modernisation, and diversification" on one hand and then go right ahead in the next section to say that "electricity [is] judged to be the most severe impediment."
The somewhat muddled policy paper has all the fluff that accompanies a dreamy government document but is a good example of how Uganda is running on optimism and little else.
In the energy sector these good intentions have been extended to sheer fantasy.
Uganda has drafted a nuclear energy bill even if just a quarter of a million Ugandans have a power connection compared to over 3 million who carry cellular phones and can therefore afford electricity connection if only they had access. The nuclear generated electricity would be transmitted by wireless, perhaps? The demand is there but without mobilising it through a grid, it remains a dream.
According to Migereko the strategy of the country is to generate enough electricity from the various hydro, thermal and biofuel projects so that supply is forever ahead of demand but the truth is that government today subsidises power consumption in billions of shillings every year- in effect sustaining demand by paying for it.
So what is this talk of 11% growth in demand? Clearly demand itself must be mobilised. Official figures in "Discover Uganda" a public relations document produced for the Commonwealth Summit last year puts Uganda's labor force at 13 million. It is anyone's guess what percentage of the able and willing do work in an environment where there is at least one light bulb.
One of the biggest scandals in Uganda is not the corruption or impunity of state-based actors but underemployment of those able and willing and skilled which like the country's vast energy potential remains locked up and chained to the vagaries of leadership in government.
Most Ugandans may have only heard of the National Oil and Gas Policy which is the framework for managing the exciting prospect of oil in the Albertine graben (western Uganda). Again the policy itself has been excellently written but the potential problems in the sector [which have all to do with the politics of oil in Uganda] are telling of what is to come.
Some of these problems are immediate. According to the government it will build a mini-refinery by Christmas next year. Such aggressive timelines have dominated the rhetoric of President Museveni and in the energy sector embarrassingly so. The Oil and Gas Policy requires setting up of a national petroleum company and a regulatory agency first. This is unlikely to be accomplished properly in the next 18 months.
The proposed refinery according to Migereko will "happen" on time but judging from the speed with which procurement of badly needed thermal energy has taken (an average of 3 years for heavy fuel generators which are yet to be set up) there is very little hope here except for the uniquely optimistic.
The Minister admits that the capital intensive sector he is heading attracts the corrupt like hyenas to a deer feast – one of the major headaches for any Ministry - but truth be told, a serious government or one desperate to succeed would not be stopped by rent seekers who are everywhere in the world.
Instead corruption-inspired load shedding has become a Ugandan way of life. One of the biggest heists in Ugandan history will be the fake dam extension project at the Owen Falls Dam for which reliable information suggests Ugandan officials from the Ministry simply (hopefully inadvertently) acted to avail more water from Lake Victoria to downstream countries.
The dam extension known as Nalubaale has been draining the water from lake leading to a drop in levels but despite all the blabber about fighting corruption, no investigation was instituted and the Minister in charge at the time (Syda Bhumba) was sent to the Labor and Gender Ministry instead.
This scandal is a low even for the notoriously corrupt Ugandan government described by peer reviewers at the World Bank as a government of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves."
When a new President sits at Mr. Museveni's desk his biggest challenge will be to inspire genuine change, something Mr. Museveni has been talking about for 21 years.

Education in Uganda: The Cost of Collective Action Failure

It is hard to say whether there are more questions or more accusations flying around the country in the weeks since the fire that broke out at Budo Junior School, killing 20 young girls. No one wants to take responsibility and everyone has a different idea of whom to blame. The Ministry of Education points at the local government, local government at school administrators, school administrators at guards and matrons, and the president at all of the above and everyone else in between.

Blame for the Budo incident and the consensus that someone must pay for it has resulted in the prosecution and jailing of some Budo staff. Few, however, have questioned the role of parents and the general public in this and, more generally, the deterioration of the educational system as a whole. The assumption is that parents take actions they perceive to be in the best interest of their children. It may be argued that parents brought their children to board at Budo, for example, because they perceived this school to be the best attainable learning environment for their children.

Many were likely aware of the overcrowding but nevertheless trusted that their children would be in safe hands. A letter written by a parent a few months ago demonstrates this awareness. It was circulated around Ugandan media houses in early February and published in The Daily Monitor, complaining of “buildings being run down, pupils being fed poor and late meals…[and] tap water being available only during the day when parents visit school.” Thus, though concerned parents had evidently been making noise about poor conditions, it was not until disaster struck that all of those involved began to take concerted and expedient action to solve some of the most critical problems. But given the fact that this is not the first, second, or even tenth school fire to occur in the past several years, what reason is there to expect that action will be taken outside of Budo to improve conditions in schools?

A primary issue, not just in education but also in nearly all public service sectors, is the lack of collective action. It is easier for parents to take care of the immediate needs of their individual children – for example, bribing teachers to give their children special attention or extra lessons – than to work collectively to demand that services be improved for the good of all the children. Likewise, it is easier for those with clout to buy a Land Cruiser rather than to demand that roads be constructed for which one does not need a 4-wheel drive simply to navigate potholed city streets. And it is easier to send a family member to South Africa for treatment than to revamp Uganda’s ailing healthcare system. Yet opting to act individualistically in matters regarding public services can actually backfire – catastrophically in the short term or incrementally in the long term.

This is not in any way to suggest that parents are to blame for the deaths of their children. It is merely to show the level to which the collective action of all those concerned has failed with disastrous consequences. This collective includes not only parents, but the larger society that should have a vested interest in ensuring its children are safe, healthy and receiving quality education. It is not news to anyone that public services in Uganda such as education, roadwork and healthcare are in shambles. What is less clear, however, is why in so many cases the collective whole has allowed these systems to flounder and fail.

There is a danger that lies in a myopic investigation of the Budo fire and other incidents symptomatic of wider structural failure. Focusing on the prosecution of individuals and on the details surrounding the Budo fire is ultimately obstructing the larger picture – that the educational system in Uganda has degenerated quite literally into a powder keg threatening both children’s lives and opportunities. The endemic and monumental problems facing education in Uganda require both a vision and collective action.

The educational system is flush with cash when compared to other sectors, receiving around Shs 767 billion in 2007/8 – 16% of the total budget and significantly more than any other sector. Yet in lieu of a vision for what education should provide, the focus of policy appears to be increasing the percentage of children that can fit in a classroom and be passed along from one grade level to the next. Around 7 million children are estimated to be enrolled in Uganda’s primary schools, and this number is expected to increase in the next few years to meet the target of 95% primary enrolment, up from 91.2% currently. High rates of enrolment in P1, though a seeming positive achievement, may distract the public, government and donors from serious structural and substantive issues facing primary education. Aside from the oft quoted statistics on low rates of primary school completion – for example that only 22% of students who began P1 in 1997 reached P6 by 2002 – there are quality and safety standards which are often breached in the few cases where such standards exist at all. Literacy rates have remained stagnant for the past few years, and in 2003 only 20% of P6 students were achieving minimum literacy or numeracy rates.

In addition to quality concerns, a commercialisation of education has resulted in an attempt by schools to pack as many students as possible within their walls, regardless of their capacity to manage and teach these children. Mr James Collins Dombo, Under Secretary of the Public Service Commission and parent of a Budo Junior pupil expressed concern regarding such commercialisation, explaining the perception of some school staff that “the bigger the numbers [of pupils] the more you earn.” And indeed, when asked about the condition of Budo Junior School, one teacher interviewed by The Independent mentioned the first “positive development” at Budo to be the ever increasing number of pupils.

Quality of content is also an issue. A premium is placed on memorising information from textbooks and churning out high scores on tests, without a critical examination of what this crammed information will provide. Since passing these tests is a prerequisite for continued study, however, parents will pay a high price to ensure their children are prepared to perform well by this measure, even if it is at the expense of ensuring quality in other areas, such as the conditions in which these children must live and study. Parents at Budo Junior, for example, pay approximately Shs 400,000 per term per child, and there are over 1300 students in attendance. Nevertheless, there had been no electricity in the school for several days leading up to the fire, children were sleeping in triple-decker beds, and Budo teachers had recently gone on strike after failing to receive their pay cheques. If Budo, one of the “best” primary schools in the country is facing such blatant administrative, financial or managerial problems, what must be the condition of primary schools elsewhere in Uganda?

Serious challenges thus face the primary education system in terms of vision and capacity. But before it has even resolved these critical issues, the government is again off and running with a new campaign, this time for Universal Secondary Education (USE). Though an admirable idea, it is hard to see how USE will not further distract those involved in the educational system from the many problems that already exist. The Ministry of Education, local governments, and schools themselves have repeatedly demonstrated their inability to effectively manage the burgeoning population of primary students – how will they possibly manage a growing population of secondary students as well?

Organisation and management within the sector will have to be addressed. In fact, the disorder within the educational system as a whole is largely responsible for the circular finger pointing that took place at Budo after the fire. Possibly because of the existence of so many institutions and people charged with various responsibilities within the educational sector, each assumes that a lapse in their contribution will not make a meaningful difference. It is perhaps when everyone – central government, local government, school administrators, school staff, parents, etc – is depending on someone else to run the show that the whole system falls to pieces.

For example, on his visit to Budo following the fire, President Museveni called upon the Ministry of Education and minister herself to carry out quality control measures saying, “You [Ms Bitamazire] are the quality controller and you should set the standards.” Yet at a press briefing two weeks ago Ms Bitamazire deflected responsibility, instead stating that as a result of decentralisation in 1997, the local governments and not the Ministry of Education had a “100% mandate to run primary schools.” Ministry officials admitted that there had been a weakening of inspection as a result of decentralisation and rather audaciously requested “stakeholders” help to make sure they enforce the law.

There was no specific mention of who these stakeholders are, but in any case, the principle stakeholders should be the Ugandan people and parents in particular. Granted, the ministry officials should not require stakeholders to breathe down their necks in order to ensure that the laws protecting children are enforced. Nevertheless, this is the state of affairs with which the country is faced.

The minister of education recently tried to assuage concerns regarding school safety by announcing a new education bill creating a “Directorate of Inspectorate,” which would be allocated a starting sum of Shs 2.5 billion. But the creation of even more oversight bodies will not solve the fundamental problems that exist. It may even further dilute the responsibilities that already existing institutions and officials have, creating even more opportunities for free riding within the educational sector. It will take not more institutions working separately, but collective action that will improve education in Uganda. One must hope that the Budo tragedy will not end with the punishment of a few underpaid school staff, but rather will lead to a realisation that acting individualistically within the current system is in the best interest of neither the children nor the society, both of whom have already paid too high a price for systemic failure in education.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Who is responsible for these children's deaths?

A fire in a dormitory at Budo Junior School in Wakiso, Uganda, claimed the lives of 18 children and 2 adults on Monday night, April 14, 2008. Much confusion still surrounds the cause of the fire, though there have been claims that it was the result of arson. The doors to the dormitory had reportedly been locked from the outside, trapping the children inside the burning building.

Sadly, this is just one of the many school fires that has broken out in Uganda in the past several years, although it is possibly the most costly in terms of loss of human life. The Daily Monitor reported that 33 fires have occurred in schools since 2003, and schools seem ill-prepared for such emergency situations. Did Budo have an emergency plan in case of fire or other disaster? If so, why did it fail? Why did it take fire fighters 90 minutes to arrive on the scene?

Why do disasters like this happen over and over again? Fires, collapsing buildings, major road accidents -- everyone seems to shake their heads in sadness, splashing the papers with graphic images for a few days, and then little or nothing is done to prevent future tragedies from striking.

My editor at The Independent has a child who attends Budo. She lived in the now-burnt dormitory two years ago. I am so thankful her life was spared, but grieve for the children who were not lucky enough to escape. I know their families will remember and miss them always, but I hope the country will also not forget them and demand the protection their children deserve.

Patience Namukoye ---------- P4C
Yvonne Namaganda ---------- P5C
Tendo Sonia ---------- P4E
Evlyne Zawedde ---------- P4C
Patricia Namuyanja ---------- P4W
Juliet Nambalirwa ---------- P4E
Sylvia Nakandi ---------- P4E
Juliet Lunkuse ---------- P4W
Samantha Ntudhu ---------- P4C
Judith Nakavuma ---------- P4W
Latifa Namuleme ---------- P4W
Joan Nabbosa ---------- P4W
Faith Asiimwe ---------- P4C
Elina Nalwoga ---------- P4W
Patricia Nakkazi ---------- P4
Mercy Akite ---------- P4E
Barbara Natungonza ---------- P4
Mariam N. Nakato ---------- P5

As reported in The Daily Monitor:

Monday, April 14, 2008

Collapsed Juba Peace Talks: Who is Responsible?

April 10 marked yet another impasse in the protracted posturing formally known as the Juba Peace Process. Kony balked, Matsanga split, and much of the delegation that had traipsed to Ri-Kwangba to witness the signing of the final agreement of the process returned home disappointed but unsurprised.
In fact, the absence of key participants on the day of the scheduled signing, including Norbert Mao, Walter Ochora, and Joaquim Chissano, could have been a hint that those in the know did not really expect Joseph Kony, leader of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), to come through. But does Kony’s failure to sign this final agreement mean that the peace process is over?
The patience of many is wearing thin with the incessant foot-dragging and flimsy excuses. A return to violence has always been an option for both the LRA and the government of Uganda, but is this the desirable or most attractive outcome for either? At this point the parties appear content with the status quo, suggesting that the process may drag on until outside pressure builds.
Over US $10 million has been spent to date on the “peace process” between Kony and the government of Uganda. Kony’s apparent distance from the peace process as a whole could suggest a lack of commitment, fear for his personal security, or both. The long life of the process and its failure to result in any meaningful commitments by any party begs the question of not only what those involved stand to gain from its resolution, but also how they benefit from its continual delay. It may not actually be in the benefit of Kony to conclude the process that has provided both money and a cessation of hostilities with the government of Uganda.
Those involved include not only the obvious parties, namely Joseph Kony and the government of Uganda, but all of those involved in this multimillion dollar endeavour – from mediators to negotiators to leaders in northern Uganda. There are political, security and financial interests at stake for all in this process. The major stumbling block would appear to be Kony himself, who has remained virtually perpetually elusive, but evidence may cast doubt on the commitment to peace of other key players.
Former LRA chief negotiator Martin Ojul and several others were fired by Kony, allegedly for using the peace talks for personal financial gain. All members of the LRA delegation reportedly received US $150 (approximately Shs 250,000) for their work daily, an indication of just how lucrative involvement in the process can be. Just last week Ojul’s replacement, David Nyekorach-Matsanga, was also sacked by Kony and reportedly arrested in Juba with $20,000 in cash. On March 21 The Independent quoted sources saying Matsanga was squeezing money out of the peace process. Matsanga’s apparent lack of communication with Kony also casts doubt on how committed both men were to seeing the peace processes quickly concluded.

Is it Kony or Matsanga to blame?

The questionable motivation of negotiators notwithstanding, it is Kony who would appear primarily responsible for causing the most recent setbacks. After delaying the signing for a supposed outbreak of gastrointestinal trouble, Kony’s most recent excuse for postponing was technical. Observers say he claimed he did not know what was written in the final agreement, and therefore requested that Acholi paramount chief Rwot Achana and religious leaders come and explain it to him. He specifically wanted clarification on mato oput and the special division of the High Court that would handle LRA cases.
If his claims are true, why is it that Matsanga did not discuss the details of the agreement with him?
But is it likely, as he claims that Kony had not seen the agreement? Onyango-Obbo is doubtful that this is the case. “In many ways he is like Museveni,” he explained, “They are control freaks,” and therefore it is highly unlikely that Kony was unaware of what was going on or what was written in the agreement. What is more likely is that there is something Kony wants from the agreement that he has not yet gotten. One can speculate as to whether this is monetary compensation, security assurances in the form of third country exile, or something else entirely.
In interviews following his sacking, Matsanga said Kony had instructed him to tell lies on his behalf. Was Matsanga telling the truth? It is difficult to be certain – of all the things he is known for, honesty is the least of them. After Matsanga met Kony in Ri-Kwangba on April 10, Kony reportedly kicked him out of his role as chief negotiator, ordering several of the rebels to escort him out of the LRA camp. Following his dismissal, he told the Daily Monitor, “I am tired of telling Kony’s lies to the world. I am very sorry I lied to all of you when I was asking for extensions for four times. Kony called me four days ago and told me to bring his sister, his uncle, and his wife but when I took them to his base in Garamba, he was not there.” But Martin Ojul has told The Independent in a recent interview that at least up until the end of March, Matsanga had never met Kony in person.
As The Independent has reported before, the history of his relationship with the LRA also casts doubt on how closely Matsanga would have worked with Kony on the negotiations. He had resigned as LRA spokesperson in 1998 and was interrogated by American intelligence services, reportedly telling all he knew about the LRA. Matsanga was known as a skilled debater and would have been a masterful negotiator, but some suggest that Kony never trusted him. Charles Onyango-Obbo, journalist and renowned commentator, described Matsanga, whom he knew personally in high school, as “ambitious in his own life,” but went on to say he thought “Matsanga would not be the kind of person Kony would trust.”
In any case, whatever Matsanga’s prior intentions, he is now, for all intents and purposes, out of the picture. Long-time chief mediator and Vice President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, now remains at centre stage. Though sources say Machar had not talked to Kony since December, contact between the two men resumed immediately preceding Matsanga’s dismissal. He now stands as the primary link to Kony. Despite his role as mediator, however, he may not be an entirely neutral figure. Some suggest he has hopes to lead an independent South Sudan in the near future. Kony and company could be potentially useful allies to have in this endeavour. Will he be able to deliver Kony to future peace talks? Is it in Machar’s interest to see the peace agreement signed?
It is unclear what the signing would mean for those involved. Kony has said that he will not disarm or come out of the bush until the arrest warrants for him and other top LRA officials, issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), are revoked. The question of the warrants has become a sticking point between the government of Uganda and the ICC. Museveni has suggested that if the peace agreement is signed he will not send those with warrants to The Hague but instead use Ugandan courts and traditional systems of justice to resolve the matter.
State minister for Foreign Affairs, Okello Oryem has explained, “The traditional justice is in line with the ICC statute which emphasizes addressing justice and impunity. This is what we are going to do under mato oput and there is nothing irregular.” This explanation sidesteps the issue however. Uganda signed and ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which requires that states parties “comply with requests for arrest and surrender,” regardless of who referred the case to the Court.

Is ICC stumbling block or Uganda govt?

What is the position of the ICC in this case? Maria Kamara, Field Public Information and Outreach Coordinator for the ICC in Uganda, spoke on radio April 12 saying, “The matter came to the court through a legal process and it can only get out of the Court through that same legal process…if the government of Uganda or the LRA are seeking a withdrawal [of arrest warrants] they have to challenge this through the legal process.”
According to Article 57 of the Rome Statute, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC may, “Where a warrant of arrest of a summons has been issued… seek the cooperation of States…to take protective measure for the purposes of forfeiture, in particular for the ultimate benefit of victims”. This suggests that the Court could conceivably withdraw the warrants, but this power lies with the Pre-Trial chamber, not with the government of Uganda. Ms Kamara also noted that the judges of the Court have asked whether the courts of Uganda have the capacity to try those accused according to the provisions stipulated by the Court. “I don’t know how far the government has gone in responding to the questions put before them by the Court,” she said.
Though Kamara claims the ICC and the government of Uganda have “good working relationships” and that “the government of Uganda has cooperated with the Court so far,” the extent to which the government will carry out the mandate of the Court with regard to the warrants is unclear. Kony clearly feels threatened by the warrants and his failure to sign the final agreement last week may be a sign that he feels his security needs have not yet been fully addressed. His stated reservations seemed to hinge on how justice would function in the absence of the ICC, namely through mato oput and the special division of the High Court.
The fact that Kony has not come out of the bush and did not sign the agreement on the arranged date indicates that he is not satisfied with the agreement as it stands, but what has the government of Uganda gotten out of the peace process? What strategic value was there in participating in these talks?
It is true that since the talks began in 2006 significant changes have been taking place in northern Uganda. While a return to war is not yet out of the question, observers note that the war in the north as it was known now appears to be effectively over. Minister for Internal Affairs, Ruhakana Rugunda told The Independent, “The peace process has accomplished what it has set out for. It has consolidated the peace and security that has been brought there by the UPDF. The peace and security in northern Uganda has reached irreversible positions – the people of northern Uganda and the UPDF and the whole country will not allow the insecurity of the past to come back – they will work together.”
A phase of the LRA insurgency may indeed be over, meaning peace for northern Uganda, but the LRA still remains a regional player that may be strategically beneficial to a number of parties who are now competing for its services as an effectively mercenary army. Some analysts have charged that the government of Uganda effectively permitted the war in the north to continue as a means of oppressing northerners who were a potential threat to Museveni’s power. Whether or not this was the case, increased international attention on the conflict in recent years made it politically injurious in the global arena for Museveni not to make a more concerted effort to bring peace to the north of the country.
Despite and perhaps because of the fact that Kony did not sign the agreement, the government of Uganda may be widely perceived to have the moral upper hand, which was once in question. By participating in the talks, regardless of Kony’s involvement or lack thereof, it appears as though the government is committed to peace in northern Uganda. They have largely appeased those who claimed they were neglecting or not adequately addressing massive human rights abuses and have essentially shoved the LRA out of Uganda and into the surrounding countries.
The government of Uganda may now have little interest in further cooperation with the ICC. The Court by itself has little power and depends on its signatories to enforce its mandate. If Uganda does not cooperate in apprehending Kony et al, it is unlikely the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Central African Republic, also signatories, will be successful in capturing them either. Sudan, for its part, would have little interest in dismantling such a useful mercenary army even if it were a signatory. The United States, perhaps the best equipped to do the job in terms of intelligence and military strength, has also unsurprisingly refused to sign the Rome Statute and is not beholden to its mandate.
Kony’s failure to sign the final agreement must therefore be seen in the context of multiple and conflicting interests at play. Peace processes are rarely concluded swiftly, much less so when so many actors have so much at stake. The process is not really confined to the maintenance of peace in northern Uganda, as arranged between the LRA and the government of Uganda. On a broader scale, it is a reorganisation of alliances and consolidation of interests across the entire region.
It is no surprise, then that this “peace” process will take even more time and deliberation, particularly if those involved stand to lose more by concluding rather than prolonging it. A return to violence is the logical outcome of a complete collapse of the process. This may be avoided, however, with a careful reconstruction of alliances that determine what role the LRA will play or not as a regional force.

Melina Platas
The Independent

Is Industrialisation being taken seriously in Uganda?

The library of the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry (MTTI) is hot, and the paltry breeze wafting in from its windows is hardly relief for anyone who has just climbed the six flights of stairs to browse its dusty shelves. On these shelves, if you ever make it to this corner of the ministry, you will find thousands of documents, policies, manuscripts, and reports, which, after the hundreds of thousands of work hours put into creating them, now sit idly collecting dust and are often all but forgotten. One document has not yet made its journey to these shelves. It is hot off the press and fresh in the minds of its creators and President Museveni himself.
“The National Industrialisation Policy: A Framework for Uganda's Transformation, Competitiveness and Prosperity” is the latest in a string of industrialisation policy plans for the country, and was recently approved by Parliament. Is it, like so many others, destined to end its short life in the policy document morgue that is the ministry library? Or will it play a more central role in the making of the future of Uganda? "Transformation of Uganda's economy is one of the fundamental goals and commitment of the National Resistance Movement Government," writes President Yoweri Museveni in the policy's forward. "Uganda's economic transformation will critically hinge upon industrialisation, and the application of Science, Technology, and Innovation, as the main driver and prime agent." But what kind transformation is really being envisaged here? And what evidence is there that the NRM is committed to this transformation, whatever it may be?
A transformation involves both a starting and ending point. The starting point is Uganda's economy as it stands today. Uganda's economic growth performance is generally strong, with an average growth rate around 6 percent for the past 20 years. But the population has also been growing at a rate of between 3 and 4 percent, meaning that GDP per capita is not increasing as fast as overall GDP growth. Uganda's labour force was 10.9 million in 2005/6 and is projected to be around 12 million today. Approximately 65 percent of this force works in agriculture, 25 percent in manufacturing, and 10 percent in industry. Contribution of industry to GDP increased slightly from 2001/2 to 2005/6 from 18.9 percent to 20.5 percent, but the contribution of industry to GDP growth rate actually declined from 2.1 percent to 0.9 percent between 2004/5 and 2005/6.
Though agriculture has long contributed the most to Uganda's GDP, as a percentage of GDP it has been decreasing for the past few years. However, 88 percent of the population resides rurally, the majority of whom engage in some form of agriculture. Moreover, these agriculturally based rural populations have a much higher population growth rate than urban populations. In rural populations, women in Uganda have an average of 7.1 children, while in urban populations the average is 4.4 children per woman, according to the 2006 Demographic and Health Survey. What will this rapidly growing and primarily rural population mean for the economy?

Although the industrialisation policy sets a goal of 25 percent of total GDP to come from manufactured products within 10 years, it does not address how the millions of children who will enter the labour force during that time will be able to meaningfully contribute to that goal. What kind of education will they have access to and what skills will they have acquired? Nearly 25 percent of Uganda’s population is currently in primary school – how will they be not just surviving, but actively contributing to the country’s industrial development? None of this is clear from the policy. Agro-processing will be a principle focus of the policy, but what impact will the growing population have on the country's ability to export agricultural products that its citizens also need to survive?

Other target indicator goals by the tenth year of policy implementation include a 30 percent contribution of manufactured exports to total exports and 30 percent value added in industry as a percentage of GDP. Along with these come a long list of policy actions – everything from infrastructure development to skills and human resource development to gender balanced and sensitive industrial transformation. But amidst all the ideas, it becomes easy to lose focus and “prioritisation” ceases to retain meaning. For all the policy rhetoric, what evidence is there of commitment to industrialisation, as it has been defined by certain target indicators, which may or may not be adequate or attainable?

The policy itself notes that "Government is yet to invest adequately in Industry and Technology and meet the AU set target of allocating at least 1% of GDP to this sector." Granted, foreign investors will be critical to the so-called economic transformation of the country, but the government will likely need to take a more active role as well and not rely solely on foreign direct investment. The Ministry for Tourism, Trade and Industry, chiefly responsible for coordinating the industrialisation effort, receives a budget of less than Shs 40 billion, even including donor assistance. This, when compared to the budget for Defense for example, over Shs 400 billion, is simply laughable. Collaboration with better financed ministries like that of Works and Energy, with budgets of around Shs 570 billion and Shs 330 billion respectively, will help, but it does not excuse the fact that MTTI works on a budget similar to that of the Office of the President.
Heartening, however, is Uganda's recent Export Performance Analysis, which indicates increasing investment in the re-export sector and increasing industrial output. Formal merchandise exports in the country grew by 39 percent in 2007, from US$962 million to $1.34 billion. The largest share of total exports, 39 percent, went to COMESA. Trading with COMESA grew 78.9 percent between 2006 and 2007, from US$283 million to $500 million. This suggests that so-called economic transformation may lie in further developing regional trade, a point which is noted though not particularly emphasized in this most recent industrialisation policy.
Uganda's economic success, especially when compared to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, is impressive, but it does not in and of itself indicate a commitment to industrialisation on the part of the government. Neither does the production of this latest industrial policy. As it stands there is not yet a comprehensive implementation guide and it is hard to see how MTTI, with its scant budget, will be able to effectively implement the policy even with a guide. Economic growth is likely to continue with or without this industrialisation policy document. The real question is not whether these pieces of paper will sit collecting dust in a few years time, but how the country will address the issues that may ultimately threaten continued economic growth like food security, population growth, and an increasingly competitive market.

Melina Platas
The Independent