In the Traditional African society (TAS), a girl grows up, gets married and must produce children this is a normal routine. Parents on both side are over joyed to see grandchildren. In the TAS, a large family size was seen as wealth, you had many people tilling the land. Big families were the in-thing. You produced many children and named all grandies, uncles and aunts! With the modernization and collapse of prices of our products coffee, cotton in the international markets, this has changed. You need small size families. Society is in a transition from the TAS family type to a modern one that depends on salary. But as children drop out of school and with little education they produce children based on old thinking. They are producing “poverty” majority of 14-16 years old girls out of school in Uganda have children! This is a disaster for the economy. They are not literate, they are not productive but have dependents!
Government must introduce basic family planning tools. The simpler, the better. One keep every young person in school longer especially girls. Two keep girls in school longer, Three keep girls longer! Like we make campaigns for HIV/AIDS, Coronavirus, let us make campaign for “affordable family”. Education is the weapon. Evolve a simple education model.
Adopt the Modern Technologies
It is just logical that those countries that will emerge out of this pandemic successfully will be those that adapt these modern technologies. Technology and its adaption will be the key success factor. New technologies facilitates change and enables survival. But so will the leadership of a country and the willingness of the people in that country to change. Countries that will emerge out of the difficult times will adopt new ways of doing business. They have to break with the tradition and align their countries to changing conditions and changing technology. Leaders must be firm and direct effects of population to development. If not, people will commit suicide for lack of money to feed their families. Already there are reports a man killed his wife and two children in Bweyogere, suburb of Kampala for lack of money to feed them.
The other important factor that must be looked at is the technologies available. We are getting into the 4th Industrial Revolution, we getting into issues of 5G, the Internet of Things and the Robotics, the cryptal currencies and 3D printing among others. All these are becoming important drivers of change and these should be incorporated in the revised “war” plan that we want to have. But how can this be done? Government has already adopted numerous technologies especially in the budgeting and payment systems. There is a committee to advise on the implementation of the 4th Industrial Revolution. The biggest target for 4th Industrial Revolution is education, agriculture and the finance sector. Curricula must be revisited, schools built and teachers trained. In agriculture target should be to increase the productivity of smallholder farmers. The supply of information about weather, reducing harvest loss are curial. The financial sector has moved ahead on its own because operating it requires that modern technology.
The smartphone has enabled us adapt many new technologies and use many services we didn’t have before. You can monitor your health on the phone, you can google directions, you can scan and send information cheaply. Photography, storage, campus, YouTube, television, banking, and mobile money and of course storage of information. All this is possible today with a smartphone in your hands. The Coronavirus is revealing more technology China and South Korea have already broke through technology to trace those infected once they have been tested. This is a benefit of 5G preliminary technology. 3D printing is enabling printing of protection gears, masks for healthy workers in hospitals beside a host of other products. Of course all technologies have shortcomings, these are things to be aware of that may hurt rather than facilitate.
Many countries have adopted a different approach to government intervention in the economy. The Japanese have a partnership, the Nordic countries use taxes, most big European countries have their government owning and running certain industries. Uganda has to establish organizations to lead the change. Uganda’s leadership must decide. With a young population 70% of Uganda population is below 30 years of age, it is an opportunity to adopt modern technologies early. But with a semi-illiterate population, no internet, we shall loose the opportunity! Education is key.
Never the less the lockdown has already led to many changes in the country and abroad leading to adaption of the new technologies. The latest catch is Zoom meetings. I have been to several of them addressing Rotarian meeting, with colleagues at work and most outstanding was the E-conference organized by PSFU and NBS where President Museveni was chief guest. Millions watched the conference.
Schools have already initiated online classes. It would be skeptical to adapt this as a nation-wide policy for schools both primary and secondary because of limiting factors, electricity, bandwidth, and computers. Regarding access to electricity, 60% of Ugandans have access in urban areas and 18% have access in rural areas. Urban area has 20% of population. Only one million people out of the 45 million have access to a computer. In 2018 Uganda had approximately 7 million people users of phones. In 2019 Uganda had 13.5 million users of the internet, while internet usage appears high, it is for simple WhatsApp! It is evident that access and adaptability of e-learning in rural area will take time.
Drones are being used in security management and so are police cameras. UBER, Safeboda have changed transport. Jummia and many other smaller companies have introduced online shopping. Chip chap is a software application for accounting. The country must officially support certain technologies and organizations must introduce deliberate change to apply these new technologies. I hope the committee makes the right recommendations.
The Action Plan for Unique Dysfunctional Economic Activities.
While there are many other policy issues that need to be brought out, there are a number of issues that require immediate attention. There are a number of issues and activities in the economy that work dysfunctionally. They are an impediment to economic growth and development. Unfortunately we see and know them but we don’t address them. If addressed, these would possibly improve on efficiency and functioning of the economy and economic growth will be higher. This should be part of establishing the new thinking in the country, a new planning system to review and streamline areas where either for lack of policy or for poor implementation of policy or where corruption has interfered in policy implementation and some of these things have not gone well. The issues I have mentioned include among others the following
- Food Management
- Boda Boda
- Planning of towns
- Building in wetlands
- Farming in forests
- Importation of unskilled labor.
All these, and many other issues that are contributing to the economy not growing as is expected and the country (government) needs to do something about them. Addressing them will unlock the country’s economic potential and also correct policy errors. These are low hanging fruits that can be harvested as a result of or as part of the Coronavirus pandemic affect changes. These are short or medium-term decisions and strategies.
Today Kampala and other towns in the country are huge markets by themselves. All streets are full of vendors. We cannot distinguish the roads and markets. Everybody is on the street everywhere. That Jenifer Musisi, one-time Executive Director of KCCA had been able to remove vendors from the streets of Kampala, but they are now back! This is a major problem in the country. The slum has come to town. After the lockdown markets must move from streets.
Markets are extremely important part of our business structures because ordinary Ugandans given their understanding of business and hence level of incomes cannot afford big shops. It follows a traditional colonial government development policy. Africans were supposed to be in agriculture and their economic activities were through markets. Unfortunately, this continues and that is why change must take place. That is why you find in an African owned shopping mall there are small, small shops because individuals cannot afford big ones. In the big shops you see on high streets in most cases you find about 7-10 people sharing the shop. All our towns are full of lock-ups, that is the level of business activity in the country.
The concept of the market stall is the current ideal vehicle to deliver business in the country for most people. This is Uganda’s basic “business model”. While we must perfect it, we should grow it and change it if it does not promote growth. This model perpetuates smallness and poverty. How can a stall owner in Kalerwe grow? He/She cannot think much out of that small space. Of course, a few are able to expand their businesses. The government realized the importance of this model and has built formal markets in literally every town. The markets are not sufficient because of space, have no room for expansion and hence the flooding of streets. While small businesses are globally acclaimed for contributing to creating employment and alleviation of poverty, this kind of small business, which should be referred to as MESO, and informal is not growth-oriented! Admittedly a few people grow in them. The business model has to change. Vendors need education and funding to make their growing businesses.
Markets in Uganda today sell everything to everybody! They traditionally developed as places where African in urban areas could buy foodstuffs. There were owned by local governments. Today markets spring anywhere mainly on roadsides. Hawkers have joined them too to expand location of markets, they are everywhere! They sell everything from fresh food to manufactured products. If you observe the housing patterns in Kampala today, you will note that in the central district of Kampala there is hardly anybody who stays there anymore. It is mostly offices and shops and of course a few foreigners here and there. Nakasero, Kololo and Bugoloobi, the prime residential accommodation areas of Kampala have now been turned to shops and office! (This is also another problem of a dysfunctional society, but who cares!) A few wealthy people and top government officials still reside in these new converted office areas. Soon, there will be no African residing in these areas too! We have sold every plot to foreigners. What is wrong with us?
People now reside out of town and it is important that the government takes that decision to move markets to serve them there. All the major roads that get out of town should have markets but away from the central Business District. Why do the big markets exist, Kalerwe, Owino, Nakawa? Who are they selling to? They exist for historical reasons, that is where the low housing areas or slums were and a large number of people used to leave in those quarters and slums and buy there. While some of these slums still exist (Kisenyi, Katwe, Kamwokya) bigger slums have developed outside Kampala. Today, people who visit these markets are those who work down town. People come from different parts of Kampala and go to Kalerwe, Nakawa, Nakasero and Owino to buy products. They do so because the markets exist and are convenient from where they are during the day.
These markets must be relocated! They congest towns unnecessarily. It is because of the Coronavirus that they closed part of them, because we do not want people to have physical contact with each other. Develop markets a minimum 10 kilometers out of Kampala or smaller markets with 5-7 kilometers well-planned markets not make-shifts. The government must do this and must take a firm stand on it and do it. If they don’t do this then we shall continue to have unnecessary jam in town. These are potential Coronavirus or Cholera flush points. There are no resident buyers in town anymore, the buyers live outside town and therefore it’s important that this is resolved. It is also an opportunity to plan Kampala and its roads. Unplanned housing development including the location of markets is detrimental to economic growth.
The government should buy land some 10-15 acres on 10 to 15 kilometers away from Kampala on all major roads that go out of Kampala. The vendors in these markets in town don’t live in towns! So, this is something to quickly figure out and can be able to say yes. The coronavirus has given us the opportunity to rethink our markets and grow our markets a way that unlocks economic growth bottlenecks. If China could build hospitals in one week. I believe that there is no rocket science on markets. They can be done in a few months with loans! These can be done as quickly as possible, Coronavirus donations can help if sufficient. We also have the Coronavirus donor fund support. But given changing technology, what type of markets. 4thIR technologies should be incorporated. We need a new market concept. Safe, convenient and accessible.
b) Food Management in the Country: Silos
What is the Coronavirus pandemic telling us that the government of Uganda does not have food reserves? But do we have a food management policy? The government has to go out to buy foods and of course with corruption the food becomes very expensive! The government must have silos in place to handle an emergency. It must be able to buy the food from various farmers at leisure and must be able to store it and possibly use it for emergencies like now as we have the Coronavirus pandemic. Silos are also needed for strategic reasons, during war or poor harvest or draught. These are pointers to where the government must go. Pragmatism is called for in absence of ideology. People starving because of private sector led growth is suicidal. At one stage the country had food silos. Why did we get rid of them? I know why, but necessity is now of utmost importance. This is a priority.
Related to storage facilities is the challenge of management of food itself in the country. While we have had a lockdown, the government had to allow food vendors to be in the market in fact sleep there. Why food vendor? Because we do not have a food distribution system that can cause food to be delivered at a short notice with ease. We were exposing these people and they are our heroes, how can this be improved? We cannot expect small farmers to handle storage of bulk grain. This exposes the country to manipulation and corruption.
During the period of privatization, a group of us believed the private sector was more efficient, indeed it is. We pressured ideologically for dismantling of Marketing Board including the then Produce Market Board. Right now, we have to appreciate that certain sectors in the economy that are strategic, government must have a hand. We have to build silos so that we can have food reserves and be able to avail it in difficult times. That is not socialism but pragmatism of a responsible government. But we must have a system of moving to distribute the food. The usual suspect for bulk movement of goods is the railway. The suspect to be able to buy and store and distribute food in a marketing board! Silos and transport reform.
The writer, Prof. Waswa Balunywa, is the Principal of Makerere University Business School