We need to stabilise our governance platforms
Posted Saturday, February 9 2013 at 02:00
The people who make the plans for our health sector run abroad for treatment whenever they are beset with ailments that cannot be treated by doctors in private practice here.
In 1995 the Pirelli Tyre Company launched a campaign that was accompanied by a multiple-award winning poster created by American advertising gurus, Ewan Paterson and Graeme Norways. The poster featured the athlete Carl Lewis, then still in his prime, dressed in a black skimpy and tight lycra sprint suit.
Lewis was poised in the “get set” position, with his well defined muscles taut, looking like he was about to explode into a sprint. There was just one small anomaly. He was wearing a pair of bright red ladies’ stiletto shoes, rather than a pair of athletic track shoes. Below this image was the now famous slogan, “Power is nothing without control.”
This simple image and slogan made a very important point without much ado. A powerful car without the right tyres is about as useless as a powerful sprinter in high heels. The power of a car is only as good as its grip on the road.
The same image could also be used as an analogy for Uganda, which has some of the best laid policies and plans as well as a frequently articulated guiding vision but also has an apparent failure to consistently turn these into tangible and sustainable results.
Management consultants call it the “execution gap” and Paramjit L. Mahli illustrated it with the formula “Strategy + Implementation = Results”. It is obvious for all to see that Uganda’s lack of good and consistent results is because of a failure of implementation; Uganda is out there on the track, poised for takeoff with muscles bulging, but wearing black, yellow and red stilettos!
So what are the stilettos that are impeding Uganda’s achievement of success? In my view the first is our political and constitutional instability. We may be in the 21st Century but our politics and governance is still stuck in the mid-to-late 20th Century.
Everything is referenced to 1962, 1966, 1971, 1979, 1980, 1981 and, that glorious year when Heaven reached down and kissed Uganda, 1986. If Uganda was a motor vehicle, it would have a small slot, where the rearview mirror would be located in an ordinary car, through which the driver could look forward.
The rest of the windscreen would be one huge rearview mirror to enable the driver and the passengers to constantly look back at the Okellos, Obote, Amin, the colonialists and the so-called tribal chiefs. Hence in 2012, our politics is still highly militarised and based largely on personalities rather than civilian and based on issues. In 2012, we are still engaged in talk of coups and armed insurgencies. Political adversaries are “enemies” and their differing views are “lies” so that political discourse largely consists of exchanges of denunciations and name-calling. There cannot be effective execution of any strategic plans, when the governance platform is unstable.
The second problem is one that we probably inherited from the colonial establishment that set up this country. Despite the rhetoric, there is a large gap between the planners and the people for whose benefit the plans are purportedly made. The people who make the plans for education do not educate their children or grandchildren in government-run schools and have also mostly opted out of the Ugandan syllabus.
The people who make the plans for our health sector run abroad for treatment whenever they are beset with ailments that cannot be treated by doctors in private practice here. The people who plan for our infrastructure are insulated from the lack thereof by standby generators and luxury four-by-four vehicles. The result is that the planners do not feel the sharp end of the failure of implementation and thus are not strongly incentivised to ensure that plans are consistently and efficiently implemented.
Any government plans have to be implemented by the Civil Service. A large part of the Civil Service is overworked, underpaid and inadequately skilled to meet the task of effectively implementing the plans that we need to succeed in the 21st Century. The other part is morbidly obese with corruption and incapable of moving to do anything but stuff itself with looted funds. Like a fat, upturned beetle the civil service’s spindly are legs thrashing about but all this produces is pointless motion.
Lastly, efficient and consistent execution is hard to achieve in an organisation in which all praise goes up and all blame goes down. As I have said before, in Uganda blame always moves to settle at the lowest possible level whilst praise always rises very fast to the top.
Success is usually the result of a team effort and if successful results are the sum of strategy and implementation, then the glory should go to the team and not just a few players as it tends to do in Uganda. The consequence of the failure to equitably share praise and blame, is the increasing selfishness and “nze nfunira wa?” type of attitude, which is a major obstacle to implementation of Uganda’s strategic plans.
It is time our politicians stopped telling us about their plans and policies and started seriously acting on reducing and, eventually, getting rid of the execution gap. Power is absolutely nothing, without control.