On Friday, this newspaper published a small but telling story. Apparently, residents of Nshenyi and Kyarwehunde parishes in Ruhaama County, Ntungamo District, have demanded to be part of neighbouring Rwanda because they cannot access social services in Uganda. They list lack of clean water, roads, schools and agricultural extension services as some of the services they get from Rwanda.
It is understandable that residents – as is routine at most border towns – cross into neighbouring countries to trade or, like in the Ntungamo case, to access social services. This story is not unique to Ntungamo but what makes this case distinctive is the residents’ demand to secede to Rwanda because of basic services – something our government can, and should provide.
Again, this is not the only border district where social services are lacking. So, why are people from border towns such as Arua, Koboko and Moyo in West Nile, for instance, not demanding to be part of DR Congo or South Sudan? The answer is simple: volatile eastern DR Congo and South Sudan are not Rwanda.
If social services in all our neighbouring countries were exceptional like in Rwanda, there would probably be more demands from people living in border towns to secede because the government has failed to live up to its obligation of providing acceptable social services, especially in the area of healthcare at community level.
Granted, more health centre IVs and IIIs have been established in hard-to-reach areas to take services closer to the people, school enrollment has increased under UPE, and NAADS was created to provide agricultural advisory services. But all these otherwise well intentioned projects have been dogged by massive challenges such as poor service, inadequate staffing and corruption.
Rwanda’s success story is well known. The country’s community-based Mutuelle Health Insurance Scheme has, for instance, registered impressive success in improving access and health outcomes. If a country that emerged from genocide in 1994 is now being held up as an example in Africa for being close to having healthcare access for all, there is no reason for Uganda – now stable for 28 years – to lag behind.
We should adopt simple but effective models that will improve access to social services right from community level. This, of course, will require more investment from government, transparency and accountability from implementing bodies, and active involvement of community members.