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How Uganda has been performing exceptionally well

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Added 3rd February 2016 04:00 PM

With it, the president is not promising anything new or spectacular but to do more of the same. This shows a severe lack of imagination and has weakened the appeal of whatever message Museveni wants to put across.

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Andrew M. Mwenda is a journalist

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By Andrew M. Mwenda

President Yoweri Museveni’s campaign strapline “Steady Progress” sounds like a slogan from a communist pamphlet, not a marketing sound bite in a competitive election.

With it, the president is not promising anything new or spectacular but to do more of the same. This shows a severe lack of imagination and has weakened the appeal of whatever message Museveni wants to put across.


However, the leading opposition candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye, has the most powerful message that resonates with voters. Besigye claims that Museveni has mismanaged Uganda.

 

He points at poverty and poor delivery of public goods and services especially in health and education. He says this is a result of corruption and greed.

 

Besigye uses anecdotal evidence like Abim Hospital and Paya Primary School in Tororo to drive his point home and calls for radical change.

 

Nowhere is campaign rhetoric more appealing (and dangerous) than where it makes use of (and abuses) undeniable truths. Ordinary voters want a simple explanation. Besigye has it. The problem is Museveni. The solution is to get rid of the president.

This is where journalism has failed Ugandans. Rather provide context, journalists have been carried away by images of Abim and Paya to reproduce Besigye’s campaign rhetoric.

For example, has the Museveni administration been a disastrous failure? How do we judge this? You cannot judge something you cannot measure. Therefore, what should be the measurement to establish the validity of such claims?

Let me illustrate. New York is the richest city in the world and I visit it more than four times every year. While the per capita income of the USA is $54,000, that of New York City is $111,000. Yet when I walk through certain parts of Brooklyn, I see many homeless people begging on the streets. Does this anecdotal observation disprove the fact that New York is the richest city in the World? If Anecdotes told us all we need, then Museveni would use Ugandan tycoon, Sudir Ruparelia, as evidence of how wealthy all Ugandans have grown.

Therefore to test the hypothesis that Museveni has mismanaged Uganda, we need to find neutral indicators that have been developed scientifically. One such indicator is the annual growth of GDP. So I got economic growth data from the IMF for 189 countries to see how Uganda has performed under Museveni. Over the last 25 years, Uganda has had the 11th fastest growing economy in the world, the fourth in Africa. Indeed, if we remove oil and mineral rich exporting countries from the sample, Uganda is 7th in the world and 1st in Africa.

This is an incredible feat for a land locked country that had been torn apart by military coups and civil war leading to state and economic collapse. Indeed between 1989 and 2013, Uganda’s economy grew faster than the economies of Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Mauritius, Botswana, Thailand and Malaysia – the growth miracles of the last half of the 20th century. If elected, this is the standard we should demand President Besigye maintains and exceeds. But Besigye does not even talk about growth in his campaign.

I decided to use another indicator – export earnings. It tells us the ability of a country to earn foreign exchange. So I wrote to the IMF asking for the export growth figures of Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Senegal over the last 25 years. The three have never suffered military coups and dictators of the Idi Amin type or international military invasion and prolonged and brutal civil war (although Senegal has had a low intensity conflict in Casamance for quite some time). But these are not the reasons I selected these three nations for my sample. The reason will become obvious later in this article.

In 1991, Uganda was earning $200m from her exports. Kenya was earning $2.2 billion (eleven times more than Uganda), Tanzania $1.02 billion (five times more than Uganda) and Senegal $1.36 billion (almost seven times more than Uganda). According to IMF, in 2015 Uganda earned $5.4 billion in export of goods and services i.e. our export earnings have grown 27 times. Kenya earned $11.4 billion, Tanzania $9.6 billion and Senegal $3.8 billion. If you do your maths you will see that Uganda under Museveni has leap frogged Kenya and Tanzania and over taken Senegal. Is that disastrous failure?

There is an important message here. The biggest threat African economies have historically faced is heavy reliance on one or two major export commodities for an overwhelming share of their foreign exchange earnings. Each time such commodities suffered international price fall, the local economy would be hit hard. This is what is happening to Zambia today due to the recent fall in the international price of copper. It is also wrecking havoc to the public finances of Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria – the nations that depend on oil for a large share of their foreign exchange and budgets.

In 1990, Uganda faced a similar structural vulnerability. Coffee was our largest foreign exchange earner and we depended on it for 94% of export revenue. Today, coffee is still the nation’s leading foreign exchange earner yet it contributes only 7.4% % of our export earnings. Uganda under Museveni has successfully diversified her exports and cushioned herself against risks of single commodity price volatility.


The third scientifically generated indicator came last year when Stanbic Bank Group conducted a continent-wide survey of all the economies of Sub Sahara Africa. It aimed to provide a picture of the most reformed and best-managed economies where investors can put their money and expect the best rate of risk-adjusted return. It identified six countries – Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Mozambique.


For many who believe longevity of governments or lack of term limits on presidents are Africa’s biggest problem (as I used to think), these results are a reason to pause and reflect. All the six had not seen a change of government (ruling party) in almost three decades. Four out of six did not have term limits. Five out of six had governments with a military background. Four out of six had had long serving leaders. None had ever seen an opposition party defeat a ruling party in an election. Religious faith in these political dogmas fails to stand the test of evidence.

The fourth neutral indicator of economic performance is poverty reduction. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence of widespread poverty in Uganda that politicians can point at to make their case. Let us again use scientifically aggregated data that captures the overall picture of poverty. According to the Uganda Demographic and Household Survey for 2012, the number of people living in poverty has fallen from 56% in 1992 to 19% in 2010. This number could be much lower today.

And if you don’t trust government of Uganda figures, let us use figures of international organizations that compare Uganda with her neighbors. According to the joint IMF/World Bank Global Monitoring Report for 2013, the number of people living in poverty in Uganda is 38%, Kenya at 43%, Rwanda 63% and Tanzania 68%. Yet Uganda has the least public expenditure per person. This year, it will spend $150 per person, Kenya $436, Rwanda $208 and Tanzania $236.

But if Uganda has been performing this well in all these indicators, why is the state delivery of public health and education services so bad? The obvious answer seems to be that Museveni has been abysmal at managing these services because of the corruption and incompetence of his government. Indeed, even I have always believed this to be the case. But scientific data has been wrecking havoc to my assumptions.

The World Bank with the Africa Economic Research Consortium has done the most comprehensive qualitative and quantitative study of healthcare and education performance in Sub Sahara Africa. It covered Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Senegal – the reason I used these countries in my letter to IMF. The results are depressing and justify anger against Museveni if one looks at Uganda in isolation. For example, there is high absenteeism of teachers and medical works in schools and medical facilities. Ugandan doctors perform at the level of Kenyan nurses. And only 65% of our teachers passed the mathematics they teach, only 58% passed English.

If you think this problem boils down to Museveni’s personal leadership competences as I used to think and argue passionately, again you need to pause and rethink the foundations of this view. The difference in diagnostic accuracy, absence from health facilities, adherence to clinical guidelines, equipment and drug availability and management of maternal neonatal complications between government and private health facilities was statistically insignificant.

For a man like me who has been arguing for privatizing government facilities in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness, this was a total repudiation of my beliefs. If the mismanagement of public education and health is attributable to Museveni’s leadership, what explains the disastrous state of private sector institutions? The problem seems society-wide. Public sector failures are a reflection of the general problem in society. One could argue that it is the role of government to supervise both public and private institutions. That what we see therefore is the failure of Museveni to do its job.

Health indicators between private and public providers in Uganda

 

 

 

Public

Private

Rural

Urban

 

Diagnostic accuracy

56%

61%

50%

70%

 

Adherence to clinical guidelines

48%

52%

43%

61%

 

Management of maternal neonatal complications

19%

20%

19%

18%

 

Absence from facility

50%

38%

50%

51%

 

Drug availability

40%

55%

40%

56%

 

Equipment availability

78%

87%

78%

88%

 

Infrastructure availability

48%

80%

45%

74%


Education indicators between private and public providers in Uganda

 

 

 

Public

Private

Rural

Urban

 

Minimum knowledge

19%

20%

17%

25%

 

Test score (mathematics, English and pedagogy)

46%

45%

45%

47%

 

School absence rate

27%

14%

31%

19%

 

Classroom absence rate

57%

40%

45%

47%

 

Time spent teaching per day

2h 55m

4h 20m

2h 43m

3h 33m

 

Equipment availability

94%

96%

94%

95%

 

Infrastructure availability

60%

42%

57%

66%

 

The beauty of the World Bank study is that it also has data on Kenya, Tanzania and Senegal. And Museveni is not president in these countries. The other good news is that Tanzania, Kenya and Senegal have term limits and presidents change regularly and (for Kenya and Senegal) we have seen an opposition party and presidential candidate defeat an incumbent, and power changes hands. They therefore have the political systems and processes that Uganda lacks and which we believe are the magic bullet for good public sector performance.

 
Health delivery indicators between Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Senegal

 

 

     Uganda

Kenya

Tanzania

Senegal

Diagnostic accuracy

58%

72%

57%

34%

Adherence to clinical guidelines

 

48%

 

44%

 

34%

 

22%

Management of maternal neonatal complications

 

19%

 

45%

Unavailable

 

Unavailable

Absence from facility

45%

27%

21%

20%

Drug availability

40%

67%

Incomparable

Incomparable

Equipment availability

78%

76%

78%

53%

Infrastructure availability

48%

57%

19%

39%

 

Education delivery indicators between Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Senegal

 

 

Uganda

Kenya

Tanzania

Senegal

Minimum knowledge

19%

39%

Incomparable

Incomparable

Test score (Mathematics, English and pedagogy)

45%

57%

Incomparable

Incomparable

School absence rate

27%

15%

23%

18%

Classroom absence rate

56%

42%

53%

29%

Time spent teaching per day

2 hours 55 minutes

2 hours 40 minutes

2 hours 04 minutes

3 hours 15 minutes

Student teacher ratio

50

32

74

34

Equipment availability

94%

95%

Unavailable

Unavailable

Infrastructure availability

60%

59%

Incomparable

Incomparable

 
In nearly all the critical indicators Kenya performs better than Uganda. Yet the differences are not statistically fundamental. Museveni (and any reasonable analyst) can say Uganda has been digging itself from the ditch created by mismanagement under Idi Amin, our international war with Tanzania and civil wars that lasted 25 years. Indeed, Uganda’s performance is significantly brought down by statistics from the northern region, which has been under civil war until 2005.


But most critically, Kenya has a much larger budget $21 billion compared to Uganda’s $5.4 billion and spends thrice more money per person than Uganda ($436 against $150). However, Uganda performs better or the same as Tanzania and Senegal in most of the indicators. And both countries spend more per person than Uganda: Tanzania $236 and Senegal $333. Uganda has unusually high absenteeism rates even by African standards which Museveni and his government should be blamed for. Controlling for public expenditure per person, Uganda seems the most effective and efficient government.


Can things work better in Uganda? Yes of course. However, I have not heard or read any candidate explain with any specific details how they intend to achieve higher levels of performance at a budget of $150 per person per year. Instead all of them speak as if Uganda has enormous resources to deliver public goods and services at the quality of Norway. For an informed observer, Museveni’s promise of steady progress is reasonable even though it lacks imagination.

Here is the real problem with Museveni’s campaign. It is not that he has performed badly. Rather the president is poor on message. His campaign team has proven incapable of leveraging his achievements and – through skillful use of anecdotes, graphs, pictures and videos – show that his government is one of the best performing in Africa on many critical indicators. His team would then warn against listening to the angriest voices and mistaking Besigye’s bluster for vision. Then he should have used his record to make a big promise that shows foresight and imagination – a new deal that points the way to opportunities especially for the youths.

I have data on production and consumption, banking and telecommunications, housing and hospitality, exports and imports, lifestyle and the arts, mass media and social media, education and health, pensions and insurance etc. all of which show a rapidly growing and buoyant economic, social and cultural life of Ugandans under Museveni. These are the issues I felt the president’s campaign would use.

The writer is a journalist

 

 

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