By Rose Kabagyenyi
UGANDA has just marked 50 years of attained Independence from Britain, in 1962. The nationwide festivities launched by the President on May 6, 2012 climaxed on October 9.
There are many achievements to celebrate and many blessings to count.
But there is also an undercurrent of lament about misfortunes and disasters and missed opportunities.
On average, the country has scored optimally in relation to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations in 2000.
The eight goals are: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; to achieve universal primary education; to promote gender equality and empower women; to reduce child mortality; to improve maternal health; to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; to ensure environmental sustainability; and to develop a global partnership for development.
In spite of the boom in the construction industry, particularly in Kampala and surrounding areas, Uganda still has a long way to go in tackling the problem of extreme poverty. This is as evident in the urban areas as it is in the countryside.
The Government efforts through programmes such as “Entandikwa” and “Bona Bagagawale” have made little impact, partly because of growing population, unemployment and underemployment, and corruption.
Household food insecurity remains a major threat as the youth have moved to urban areas for non-existing jobs.
The solution lies in empowering women and youth in agriculture since they are the majority employed in the sector.
Great strides have been made in the education sector, with the introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE), as unprecedented enrolment rates for children in schools have been witnessed in both education cycles.
The budgetary allocation for the education sector is currently about 3.2% of GDP as the average public expenditure, and the average adult literacy rate stands at about 70%.
Uganda’s achievement in the education sector has, in turn, reduced the gender gap that has hitherto been due to inequality of access to education because of gender.
Previously, the girl child, especially in rural areas like Kisoro, would have little if any chances of going to school, but with free education parents have no excuses to keep girls at home.
The reduction in illiteracy rates, especially among women, has propelled them to compete favourably in the political, economic and social spheres of life.
This has also been made possible by the Government’s affirmative action policies in all sectors at all levels, which have made this possible.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Parliament, where Uganda proud to have one of the highest female representation in Africa and in the world.
The health sector has in the past 50 years seen tremendous achievements, notably in the improved access to health facilities, particularly with the establishment of health centres at parish level.
The HDI puts Uganda’s life expectancy at 54.1 years while the under-five mortality rate stands at 128 per 1000 live births.
Public expenditure on health stands at 1.6% of GDP.
As we continue to celebrate 50 years of Independence, we should not forget the misfortunes and disasters that Uganda has weathered, as well as the missed opportunities.
These include military coups and military dictatorships, earthquakes and landslides, the AIDS pandemic and diseases like ‘ebola’, and terrorism attacks.
Ugandans are celebrating notable achievements and steady advances towards the socio-economic transformation of their country.
However, there are concerns that the struggle for development needs to be stepped up and intensified.
According to the 2011 Human Development Index (HDI) Uganda is ranked 161 out of 187 countries with comparable data.
The HDI of sub-Saharan Africa as a region increased from 0.365 in 1980 to 0.463 in 2012 but Uganda remained below the regional average.
Therefore, Ugandans should not only take note of the strides the country has made but also resolve to strive for greater heights in terms of human development during the next 50 years.
The writer is a development specialist and a politician