Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|May 12, 2021|4 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

Uganda – potholes, profits, heaven and earth

As I write, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is being sworn in for another term in Kampala that’ll see him in power for the best part of 40 years. Six presidents were there from South Sudan to Tanzania.

Whatever the feeling maybe around the world about long-standing leaders – maybe the swearing in it is time for Ugandans to take stock of their economy and the progress of their once shattered country. Despite the political travails of Uganda, over the last half a century, you could argue that its economy is in fairly good shape and a great place for entrepreneurs to make their way amid a measure of stability and peace.

Surely, if Uganda were a person, you could put your arm around and say: “Take courage whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”

For the country has walked an often poorly lit path.

A hark back to the dim old days came in the hours before the swearing in on a live broadcast of UBC.

It came from the lips of veteran economist and former minister Nyombi Thembo a man – like his country – who has clearly seen a lot of life and also has the talent for quotable quotes.  He talked of the peace and stability of recent decades and pointed out that Uganda had suffered a lost two decades before Museveni swept into power, in 1986, into a capital city divided by warring factions.

“Losing two decades, pushes you back a century,” says Thembo.

“This country, by 1986, it was a failed state…This Kampala where we are today was divided into four sections and going from one section to another you needed a visa! “

“But since 1996 this country has been built brick-by-brick.”

When questioned about whether Uganda’s rebuilding had been fast enough – the critics say it has been too slow – Thembo replied.

“If you have this kind of journey without any contradictions, without any challenges, without nay negatives – possibly that happens in heaven, not on earth!”

Roads had been built.

“As recent as 1996, our national road network was almost non-existent. Even the road to the airport had more potholes than a road in the National Park!”

Thembo also claimed Uganda had an electricity surplus – rare in many African nations – with new dams coming on stream and the country exporting power.

The Ugandan economy was going like a train in 2019 – growing at 7.5% in that year – before COVID-19 forced negative growth in 2020. Debt to GDP ratio – a sign of economic health – is expected to rise to a concerning 50% by June 2023 and leaves the country little room to accommodate external shocks.

But the African Development Bank believes a pick up in the global economy this year could boost Ugandan exports and ease economic fears.

Maybe the swearing in is a time for reflection for Uganda. The country may have been on the canvas, more than a few times, but all the signs are that it has a fighting chance in this uncertain world we live in.