Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has launched a New Development Plan that is aimed at catapulting the country from a a least-developed to a middle-income country. The five-year plan unveiled on April 18, 2010, reports ALLYN GAESTEL, specifies what to do to achieve the 30-year National Vision Framework.
Key tenets of the plan include development of infrastructure, particularly roads, railways, energy, air and water transport, and human capacity-building. The plan emphasises public-private partnerships and a continuation of export and market-driven development.
Successive national governments since independence in 1961 have struggled to develop the country, oscillating between wanting to nationalise the economy and relying on conditional foreign aid. In 1986, after having attempted to nationalise the economy, Museveni needed foreign assistance. Ever since, he has worked under structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Structural adjustment demands liberalisation of the economy, opening the country to exportation and tariff free imports, and balancing the budget, which has led to a decrease in state spending on social services.
Critics, however, claim that these policies do not benefit the majority of Ugandans and that they maintain a colonial model of exporting raw materials and importing expensive goods.
Eric Kashambuzi, a Ugandan activist and scholar and current senior policy advisor on the United Nations Millennium Promise Project, says, “The colonial policy of producing what we don’t consume, and consuming what we don’t produce in terms of manufactured goods has remained in place.”
Recent years have seen growth in Uganda fluctuating around 6-7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The government, the World Bank, and the IMF have hailed this growth as evidence of the success of the SAP. Kashambuzi, however, links this growth to an unsustainable reinvigoration of the industrial sector, which had been underutilised during years of instability in the 1980s and also to the presence of UN peacekeepers consuming in the country and thus feeding into the economy.
Presenting itself as a new strategy, at first glance the written document appears to distance itself from earlier strategies of deregulation of the economy: “Considering the magnitude of the transformation gap facing Uganda and the infancy stage of our private sector, it is inevitable for the government to play a more proactive role in the context of a quasi-market economy if the country is to achieve its vision.”
It continues, “The development strategies for the medium term will encourage growth in export-oriented industries.” Thus the emphasis on exports is a direct continuation of the earlier policies.
Professor Morris Ogenga-Latigo, leader of the opposition in Parliament, says, “My immediate reaction is that this is the previous Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) repackaged. It is not a specific action plan based on current realities, plausible progression targets, specific, tangible outputs; rather, it is the old development framework from which concrete action plans ought to be derived to constitute the development plan/agenda.”
Kashambuzi adds that the plan does not present policy innovations, but instead aims to increase Museveni’s public image ahead of elections in 2011. “This is just designed for election purposes,” he says.
International institutions have sought to minimise their visibility in directing Uganda’s economy, with help from President Museveni. However, Museveni asserted his sovereignty and autonomy in the creation of the plan. Speaking at the launch of the plan, the President said, “We invited development partners to feed into the plan so that they don’t direct it. There’s a plan here.”
Kathryn Funk, World Bank programme coordinator for Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi, reiterated the emphasis on Uganda’s ownership of the plan: “The NDP is a fully country-owned and led plan. The Bank provided advice and support whenever it was called upon to do so.”
But Thomas Richardson, senior resident representative of the IMF in Uganda, asserted more directly the IMF’s role in developing the economic aspects of the plan: “In line with our mandate, the IMF was involved in advising on the macroeconomic framework underlying the NDP.”
The question of international involvement in the creation and implementation of the NDP is relevant in the context of criticism about the effectiveness of World Bank and IMF policies have had on the well-being of ordinary Ugandans. Exportation of agriculture, timber, and fish have depleted natural resources and deprived Ugandans of the resources they need to support their own livelihoods.
Uganda mainly exports coffee, tea, tobacco, and cotton, none of which can double as food.
Kashambuzi notes the growing income inequality during the years of SAP and increases in the manifestations of poverty, including mounting rates of maternal mortality, malnutrition, and outbreaks of disease. Seventy percent of GDP is centered in the capital, Kampala, and surrounding areas, while 90 percent of the population lives in rural areas.
Structural adjustment was based on the assumption that economic growth will translate into poverty reduction. Yet the continuing daily struggle many Ugandans face questions the validity of this claim. By maintaining old policies while presenting them as a new plan, Ugandans may be forced to wait longer still for holistic and broad ranging development.
A MediaGlobal Article