Dear Ugandans, To Whom Does This Country Belong?
During the independence bonanza there was a lot of looking back at the history of Uganda but rare were the voices that used the opportunity to take a pragmatic glance at the future of this country.In this category, one resounding proclamation was President Museveni when he said during his speech that Uganda would become a 1st World country within 50 years.
Many have brushed aside this speech as posturing or insignificant (after reading the full script, I personally thought it needed more inspiring input for the occasion) and party politics have sadly again taken the depth out of the one topic that stood out in the speech: 1st World Uganda.
Some commentators have questioned whether it was a genuine realistic pronouncement based on sound critical thinking, or had our president lost his bearings as poverty and lack of basic services is obvious to everyone else including the international guests who were in attendance.This has prompted me to consider the enormity of the task and the national effort required in order to achieve such a goal.
Shouldn’t we possibly start by evaluating the critical indicators that put a country in the category of the Developed World?Statisticians and economists would immediately look at the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the pace or prospects of economic growth say for the next five decades.
We could also look at the legal frameworks (or lack of them) like intellectual property rights, anti-monopoly laws, taxation, trade balance and inflation; basically all the legal and economic cornerstones that maintain developed countries.
Crucially, these countries create wealth through research and development that brings about global pioneering innovation with technological advances then being used to add significant value to raw or semi-processed products. They then use intellectual property laws to protect their advantage for an average ten to fifty years on any specific innovation.
Creating the industries and technologies that enable transformation of raw products into high value items is no easy feat as considerable investments in initial research and development are required in order to lead in specific sectors.
Budgetary allocations for the next five decades would also reflect the priorities that such a vision presents. For example, without a complete, high-tech, modern education system with institutions that churn out intelligent, highly skilled and multi-talented researchers, engineers and scientists that innovate and therefore create our progress, it is hard to think that we could achieve 1st World status.
With the advent of oil, we could improve only to a certain extent, but oil does not provide us with the, mentality and attitude that could turn Uganda into a developed country.For example, many oil rich countries are statistically better off than Europe if we consider their per capita income but that does not mean that they are 1st World.Their industries and services sectors depend heavily on foreign labor/skills and their progress is based on acquiring whatever innovations so as to at least improve their basic standards of living.
Their general attitude towards hard work, conducting research, and being innovative remains relaxed, thereby remaining categorized as Third World.
In my humble opinion, being in the Developed World is primarily a national state of mind that provides consensus for a strong urge to improve and excel in all fields.
It also comes with its own package of minimum acceptable standards particularly in education, infrastructure, nutrition, transportation, legislation, housing, government services, technology and even behavioral attitudes like self-respect, productive work ethics and personal hygiene.
The notion of private property and competition are the drives behind capitalism and the market economy that 1st World countries have relied on to thrive, but in order to achieve success, capitalism also implies that someone has to be exploited in order for the other to be successful.
So I am skeptical at how the millions of Ugandan peasants in the thousands of countryside villages and “trading centers” will attain Developed status given their current predicament where we depend on them to continue cultivating our staple foods and yet we have to uplift the downtrodden to the levels required by the Millennium Development Goals.
International industries aim at making products and services that have global impact and generally make life ever easier for those who can afford. That is why we look in awe at the standards of living in Western countries and find our youth struggling to get to the west without first pondering if they could afford those services and products.
Do we give due consideration to the considerable investment in time, money and hard work required to guarantee continuous international success, particularly how steadfast we actually have to be in order to maintain competitiveness if we ever achieved the required global standards in the first place?
Compare the citizen in the developed world to the jobless youth in our cities or to the hardly clothed poor farmer in rural Uganda, many of whom are only able to focus on whether some divine good luck will come their way for them to sleep on a full stomach that day.
At a national level, we hardly even look beyond our borders to compete with our neighbors who are also our partners in development.
Yet, believe it or not, capitalism is also a sport where national pride is at stake and where competition between countries creates progress.
As for now, the overwhelming perception is that we are already striving beyond the imaginable to make the best of our current predicament. However, if we don’t outshine ourselves even further by achieving beyond where we never thought we were capable of reaching, how will we attain this terrestrial glory?
Becoming first in the world is not a joke. Just ask any Ugandan living abroad what real life in Europe or the US is about? Getting there and struggling mostly in vain to live like the average European.
And that’s where I urge all of us to and sustain maintain our strife for achievements in our respective fields at home.Without attaining and surpassing minimum standards in our professions and different fields of expertise, an otherwise good idea remains in the realm of utopia.
If we took industrial, scientific and economic competitiveness more seriously, we would possibly be organizing programs for researchers, engineers, scientists and economists to train and collaborate with the best in the world.
Why wouldn’t a Ugandan be the one to discover a cure for cancer or HIV/Aids for example? Wouldn’t that be worth trillions of dollars if we went by international patent and intellectual property rights plus guaranteed production for the global market over say 50 years?
The word “Developed” not only means uplifting standards of living but also raising a critical mass of activities to standards of international excellence like South Africa is already on course of achieving.
It also requires that every Ugandan citizen represent this country at all times especially in the face of outside competition.But do Ugandans know that they also own this country and should be outstanding in order to uplift ourselves and our countries image?
Just ask why the Ugandan marathon runner grabbed the national flag from an onlooker in the last Olympics so as to complete the last few hundred meters with the Ugandan colors on his shoulders.
Fellow Ugandans, this country also personally belongs to you. And if there is anyone who will actually carry the nation to the 1st World, it is ultimately you who has to make the effort and behavioral changes necessary to achieve that goal.
Such an ambitious projection requires that we demand it from all leaders while doing whatever is necessary to at least head in that direction regardless of individual political inclinations.
President Museveni talked of “removing bottlenecks” in his independence speech. However, to attain 1st World status it would also require the local equivalent of a “Marshal plan” (the US Economic Support to Europe after the 2nd World War) to pro-actively transform this country.But ignoring or dismissing such an idea like many are doing, is exactly what this country has to immediately avoid.
As of now, I am not convinced that the Ministry responsible is working on any elaborate road-map that could provide the national progress that is sought.
While we might be thinking that we were already doing our level best, we could learn from our own success stories that there is still much more that we could achieve to improve our quality of life and that of generations to come.If only we could consistently excel at the local, regional and international level, and in all productive activities ranging from school performance, to good performance in our individual professions, in scientific innovation, sports, technology, business, creative arts and progressive national politics.
Unfortunately just a few weeks after the independence celebrations, are we or aren’t we back to “business as usual” as usual? For God and My Country
Hussein Lumumba Amin
Media Consultant & Son of Former President Idi Amin Dada