g) Widening Road reserves
KAMPALA – One of the bottlenecks to economic transformation is absence of infrastructure. A lot has been done in recent years. In 1986 paved roads in Uganda were about 600 Kilometers. Today these stand at over 7000 kilometers! A lot has been achieved. But there are other challenges. Uganda has a policy of having road reserves and indeed these have been demarcated and gazzetted up to 2019, the reserve was 15 meters and increased to 40 meters. Tanzania is 60 meters. However, these road reserves are not sufficient for the future if you look 10-20 years from now. If our towns develop which they will, there will be need to be interconnected. Even the traffic for goods especially the internal one hoping that the railway would be in place. We will need bigger roads so that we avoid accidents and jam on the roads. It is therefore important that the country, (Parliament) now makes a law that increases the widening of roads especially towards towns.
Let us learn from other countries experiences as you approach towns you need wider Roads three – four lanes each side. This is very important otherwise the illegal structures and slums are growing to block access to towns and indeed these towns will remain Slums unless if we have a better plans now. Some of the towns are easier to do right now because there is no such development there. Government should initiate road reserves to be widened especially to accommodate more traffic. The consequences of not doing this will be traffic jams and inefficiency in the economic system of in the country. This is a constraint to and slows down growth.
h) The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR)
This has been on for a long time and because we have not be able to afford as a country, little progress has been made. Given the cost, we must think of alternatives. Uganda has unexploited iron ore, I believe that the government of Uganda could negotiate a batter trade with a company, Chinese, European, whatever it is, to exploit the iron ore. Part of the proceeds would go to building the SGR. There are over 260 million tons of iron ore in the country. It is worth US$ 15.6billion (estimate). The SGR is reported to cost an estimated US$ 12.8billion to cover 1,724 kilometers. Deal.
This railway is very urgent as the President indicated in one of his submissions recently that we don’t need all these lorries on the road. The lorries create a problem on the roads, they spoil roads, they cause traffic jams and accidents. Besides using lorries to ferry goods from Mombasa, Kenya to Uganda is very costly. It costs US$ 1500 per 40 feet by container on rail compared to US$3500 for a 40 feet container by road. It is important that the standard Gauge railway is built even if we do it in phases. Phase one should be Malaba to Kampala, this is very urgent, it will save the roads, it will ease traffic, it will also reduce on the cost of bringing goods into the town and the cost of road maintenance. I am sure there is a solution to this huge task. Decision must be made now.
i) Tourism, Exploiting the Source of the Nile
Tourism is a low hanging fruit for Uganda. It needs no sophistication and is a major earner of forex for the country. Uganda has failed to exploit the Source of the Nile as an international tourist attraction. I believe that if this was done the country would reap tremendous benefits from having an International attraction. There is only one Nile River in the world! The longest river in the world starts in Uganda! No doubt, this is an attraction. But the actual site of the source is in a pathetic state. We have eyes to see the money but we don’t see it.
It is true that right now many of our visitors have been coming to see the animals in the national parks, the gorillas and wish to thank the Ugandan Tourism Board and the Ministry and the local operators. They have put in a lot of effort. However, government needs to quickly put money in to the Source of the Nile and other tourism facilities and market them.
Source of the Nile, along with the Expressway from Kampala to Jinja should be priority. Encourage and support small airlines to bring passengers from Entebbe to Jinja. By road it takes somebody about 7-8 hours to get from Entebbe to Jinja. Whereas if there was a connecting flight from Entebbe to Jinja the transfer time would be about 2-3 hours and somebody is in the hotel safely. From Jinja, tourist can go West, North and North East by air. It saves their time.
The government should also support the development of the banks of the Nile River. It should acquire land and avail it to developers for hotel construction and other leisure activities. A good source of the Nile facility without hotels will be futile. Another Mini Land Reform. The private sector is willing to do it but the government must provide enabling law and enabling atmosphere for this to happen. There are various wealth people in the country who can do this all they need is government support and be able to do it. It is surprising that the Madhvan’s who own hotels around the world including Chobe and Para Safari Lodges in Uganda have no hotel in Jinja which is their home.
Tourism is a low hanging fruit for the country and the foreigners who come here don’t need sophisticated facilities. Many tourists operators can do much better if there is an enabling atmosphere for this operate. Tourism may be one of the most affected industries by the Coronavirus. Recovery will be slow since tourists come from abroad. It therefore needs more intensive planning and funding.
j) Minerals Development
Most African governments have got Ministries or Departments to license foreign companies to exploit minerals.
International capital will look around for minerals. These minerals are used by developed countries in their various processes and products. We have no use for minerals in Africa because we are not developed. What we do is that we give concessions to these companies and we earn some little tax!
The reason is that we do not have capacity to exploit and sell or use these minerals ourselves simply because, we are not developed and we haven’t paid attention to science. It is important that we develop academic programmes in these various minerals areas so that we understand them. We should promote science education to create demand. Then we should also establish companies that can mine these minerals. This is part of reforms government must make. There are various experiences in various places, South Africa, Botswana, Malaysia and other countries who have been able to mine minerals in the country and have benefited much more than having simply foreign investors
There is right now a rush in the country to secure licenses to mine Uganda’s variety of minerals. A number of investors prospecting for the various minerals in Uganda have been around. I know that the Busoga region is known to be very rich in various minerals but who has capacity to exploit them? So instead we shall issue licenses to foreign companies and the country will not benefit. This is something that requires detailed study to understand what it is and be able to exploit it. A country on path to growth understands its resources and plans how it will exploit them. Take no loans to develop minerals. Our minerals policy does not support development. We license and wait for tax and close the deal.
k) Building a National Identity.
I have elsewhere referred to the fact that all attempts to have our young people in an ideological training is always assumed to be training people in socialism, this is unfortunate. Many countries have got National Service Programmes. The Americans have the Corporation for National and Community Services (CNCS) which has the Peace Corps and the military. This service is mandatory. I remember this was also introduced by Obote in Obote l period and of course there was a push that Obote was introducing communism and this was abandoned. NRM pushed Kyakwanzi, it was also abandoned.
Countries need to have national pride and a national identity. Of course, we are a little problem because of the East African community. We want to push a federation among the countries. Today many Europeans are proud to be Europeans, but I believe this doesn’t remove the national identity as Germans, as French, as Belgians who also have a unique language that they speak. So the East African Community is not an issue. We should be East Africans first, then Ugandans! Tall order but it can be planned.
For the country to develop we must have a national identity, we must have national pride.
Americans are very proud of their flag, their national anthem and their country. You will find that invariably Ugandans don’t even know their national anthem! You will be disappointed that many Ugandans, like many other Africans would prefer to live abroad because they think it is better. Of course it is, but that is not your country. Create conditions in your country which you can enjoy. Abroad cannot be better when you have your own country unless if you have gone there for political reasons. No wonder Africans are dying in the Mediterranean Sea as the small boats capsize in they attempt to get to Europe.
So, it is crucial that we have a national identity and we have maybe 1-2 months training for young people completing ‘O’ level. The government should arrange different camps across the country and young people be trained in being Ugandan, being proud to be Ugandans. Be proud of our culture. The issues of upholding culture are crucial, the issues of corruption, the issues of loving the country all these issues can be discussed in the building a national identity. Buy Uganda, Build Uganda policy cannot work without national pride.
To be continued in part next part
The writer, Prof. Waswa Balunywa, is the Principal of Makerere University Business School