At 48, we are maturing as a nation. There is much to look up to on the economic front. Over the decades, our economy has weathered many storms. We have registered a recovery that has received favourable reviews in the East African region and beyond.
This has given many of us reason to believe that the worst is behind us. Our sense of pride, optimism and even satisfaction was perhaps best captured by President Yoweri Museveni in his State of the Nation address in June.
New Vision quoted the President as saying: â€œSome people expressed pessimism when I said our economy would survive the global downturn. The economy has proved that what I stated was correct.â€
Senior officials at the Ministry of Finance have repeatedly said two key factors have underpinned the countryâ€™s rapid economic recovery and the attendant high growth rates. First, the implementation of sound economic policies and reforms. Second, that Ugandaâ€™s maintenance of macro-economic stability is laudable. These elements, they argue, accelerated the pace of Ugandaâ€™s economic recovery, especially since the late 1990s.
This recovery has manifested itself in a number of positive economic indicators: strong growth in gross domestic product, low and steady levels of inflation, rising per capita income and a significant decline in the incidence of poverty among Ugandans.
It is indeed commendable that Uganda has since the onset of its economic recovery posted annual growth rates averaging 6.5%. Hopefully, in the coming years we should see rates settling at more than 7% annually. That is the pace we would need to sustain to embark on the difficult journey to socio-economic transformation.
Nevertheless, it is rather disturbing to note that many of the tangible benefits of this commendable economic growth remain elusive to a significant percentage of Ugandans. It is disheartening to hear some people, especially from the conflict-ravaged â€œGreater Northâ€ region, reporting worsening poverty in their communities.
The key challenge lies in the area of how we can swiftly deal with the discrepancy between sound macro-economic policies and gaps at the micro-economic level.
This raises the need for us to consolidate our economic recovery by simultaneously paying special attention to three issues: penetrating export markets to stimulate domestic economic growth, strengthening the role of the private sector as the engine of growth, and mobilising producers in the agricultural sector â€” where Uganda has some comparative advantage â€” to produce for both the domestic and export markets.
To penetrate any market, we must get into the habit of meeting the standards required in that market. Ugandans need to pay attention to issues of quality assurance and certification if they want to get foreign exchange earnings from discerning markets such as the European Union, whose sanitary measures, for instance, are very high.
Ugandans also need to rely more on domestic savings for budgetary allocations. It is not particularly comforting for us to talk about 48 years of independence when donors continue to finance a substantial chunk of our national budget.
We need to make our cooperation with development partners healthier. We must rapidly get to a point where we get less hand outs and more foreign direct investment.
As we celebrate 48 years of independence, we should focus on attaining food security, industrialisation and diversification of the export base. Otherwise, we will continue to be highly vulnerable to external shocks and internal weaknesses.
The writer is the head of the Department of Mass Communication, Kampala International University
Exports, food security key to Uganda's continued growth