Sunday June 8 2014

The State-of-the-Nation, 2014

By Timothy Kalyegira

Abundant agricultural land, most of it fertile, across the country. Also abundant fresh water sources in at least 80 percent of the country.

Agriculture dominates the economy, unprocessed and semi-processed produce such as fish, flowers, coffee and vegetables leading in exports.

Production volumes of edible crops (different from beverages like tea, coffee, sugar and others like flowers), not enough to consistently meet international demand.
Ankole, particularly the area between Mbarara and Bushenyi, now the breadbasket of the country for the staple banana (matooke) crop and milk.
Most companies operating in Uganda by a global measure would be defined as small businesses, including several major telecoms companies.
Almost all major national investments and construction and rehabilitation projects are now in the hands of foreigners or foreign-owned companies.
Low-cost Chinese merchandise forms the bulk of trade in the country. The credit card payment system is next to non-existent. Easiest investment for many in recent years is in hotels, guest houses, inns and lodges.

Commercial banks’ lending attitude now more relaxed, clients encouraged to take out loans but often against forbidding interest rates.

Mobile phone money transfers now the backbone of national cash transactions.
However, imports roughly 10:1 against exports.
Internet use the fastest-growing medium of communication, but advertising online still negligible. Design of mobile apps at an early, hesitant stage.

Internet speeds, despite the undersea fibre optic cable off the Mombasa coast in Kenya, still slow for wireless delivery. What is sold as 3G+ Internet is often little more than the older GPRS/EDGE.

4G/LTE Internet recently introduced is essentially what in Europe and North America would be 3G speeds.

The media, even the private newspapers and radio and television stations, still report and analyse the news from the government point of view as would government-owned media, and a view of government as the centre of national life.

Radio, the largest media form, now at a plateau. Television broadcasting growing in recent years, although more in form than in substance and in creation of original content.

Average circulation of print newspapers and magazines little changed and still as low as during the 1990s, despite the increased population and education levels.

Data collection, archiving and record keeping is still historically weak across the country.
Creative industries
Local music industry dominated by Kampala-based and Luganda language songs.
Data on actual sales of cassette tapes and compact discs uncertain, but most artistes making their money through live concert performances and corporate endorsements.

Crafts and art market limited to cottage efforts and European and Asian tourists, the main clientele. Book industry still very weak, with not more than an approximate 120 new titles published in the country per year.
Society and the labour force
National attitude is largely cynical; few long-term plans are in place in any area of public life. Very little commitment to the broad, abstract good at work and in political life.

Education system still largely the chalk-and-blackboard grammar kind of the 1970s, but basic computer skills now common in many urban schools.

Major shortage of skilled service sector workers. Customer care and after sales service extremely poor across the country and across the board in all sectors of this, the extremely uncompetitive and inefficient Ugandan economy.

Ugandan workforce, in general, well short of the standard of international quality control and best practices.

The society still emphasizes the practical and material as a sign of success. A car, house, land and shop are the main economic and social aspirations, be it elite or peasant.

The Euro-American mental rigour and dexterity largely absent in Ugandan society, as in most other African societies. Most of the society finds it difficult to mentally concentrate.

The Ugandan community resident abroad plays a key economic part in the country’s affairs, chiefly through remittances of surplus cash to relatives and in some of their private home building efforts.

Politically, though, the Diaspora lacks significant influence both in their countries of residence and in Uganda.
Government and national planning
Corruption permeates entire society, with much of population on one hand grumbling about it while on the other fully expectant of and party to it, without which it is believed one cannot move anything to one’s advantage.

There is no single centre of thought, planning or intent in the government and corporate sector for the country’s welfare.
Feudal presidential rule now established, with a mostly ineffectual Parliament and a civil service-like judiciary that usually acquiesces to presidential wishes, although for cases not very politically sensitive, judiciary can be independent-minded.

Government generally maintains effective internal state security, while non-political violent crime common. Investigation of serious crime by police, weak.

State security agency ISO concentrates on protecting NRM government from internal political dissent and challenge, but borders are porous and easily penetrated by refugees, human and drug traffickers and car robbers.

Uganda Police now effectively the fifth army division, with some units acting like and equipped with resources akin to an elite military force.

Public transportation still mainly in private hands and disjointed, with the capital city Kampala lacking a centrally-planned and affordable mass transit circuit.

Public hospitals in a dire condition, with drugs and bedding often in short supply. Private hospitals sometimes are as poor in service as government hospitals.

Some centres of authority, such as the Buganda Kingdom seat at Mengo, demonstrate more commitment and central coordination and intent than the central government.
Evangelical churches, especially the Pentecostals, gradually becoming mainstream and in proportion to their numbers, more vibrant and influential than the traditional Anglican and Catholic churches.
However, in all smaller towns in the country, the few islands of neighbourhood planning and beautified surroundings are Anglican and Catholic church parishes, shrines and schools.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or Mormons) and the Jehovah’s Witness also maintain clean and well-groomed church premises in the various towns.

The Muslim community in recent years gaining a foothold in the local tiers of elective office at the village and town councilor level.