The growing centralisation of the Republic of Uganda
Posted Tuesday, March 5 2013 at 02:00
The central region (Buganda) is taking an increasingly more (some would say lopsidedly) central role in Uganda.
On the day the Senior Six examination results were released last week, there was also a strong pronouncement on the security of land occupancy in this country. The two are nominally different, but they had one streak stringing them together.
The results showed the routine excellence of schools in the central region, trumping, by far, the other regions. The warning against the eviction of peasants was sounded principally in defence of ‘bibanja’ (untitled land) occupants in the very same region, and from that central-most of authorities, the President. He is trying to prevent the emergence of a landless class, ‘evicted’ by a comprador group, the ‘nouveau riche’ (newly rich), and the politically-connected, that could spark social unrest.
For better or for worse, the central region (Buganda) is taking an increasingly more (some would say lopsidedly) central role in Uganda, more so with the capital city, Kampala, enjoying a particularly asymmetrical relationship with the rest.
With nearly three million people, the next four urban centres (Jinja, Mbarara, Mbale, Gulu) can barely master a combined total of one million. Much more frightening (or enlightening?) is that an estimated 65 per cent of Uganda’s GDP (manufacturing, trade, services, consumption) without agriculture is within a 50km radius of Kampala, spreading out from the capital to the heartland of the central region.
In economic development, that may be good for manufacturing-led growth, but it is probably not good for social stability. It is significant that the President’s task force should focus on rationalising land issues in the central region for, in view of the above, that is where key economic activity is, like construction for industry, commerce, and residential real estate, alongside farming and forestry. It is inevitable that land issues will be especially intense in this region.
The disequilibrium started gaining ground 20 or so years ago, when manufacturing begun migrating from the industrial hub of Jinja to Kampala. To-date, the otherwise wonderful industrial infrastructure in Jinja has gone to waste; the industrial areas of cities like Mbale, Kasese and Tororo have collapsed over the last 40 years. They are relics of long-gone government planning, now victims of Kampala agglomeration, or economies of scale that investors find in large concentrations of population and economic activity.
In education, the best schools in the central region have consolidated and been supplemented by many excellent private ones, while those in the provinces that used to be very good, and therefore would attract a nationally-representative spread of students and (public and private) investment, have been steadily falling. This, certainly, is not good for nation building.
While there are hospitals (buildings) spread all over the country, the only really worthwhile medical service that would take you outside of greater Kampala is the cancer treatment offered in Gulu, at Lacor Hospital. The otherwise superb hospital structures in Nakaseke, Bugiri, Iganga, Kawolo, Nebbi, Yumbe, Itojo, Bushenyi, Kiryandongo, Atutur, Apac, Kagadi, Pallisa and Kayunga, never consolidated. Instead, they have been either backsliding or barely holding their own, and so any good secondary health care will have to be sought in Kampala and its environs.
Think of the potential that Tororo and Mbale’s strategic location offers for regional export trade. Arua is a big trade hub; how much more would it make sense to manufacture right there for the export markets in South Sudan and DR Congo? Instead, most of the manufacturing is now done in greater Kampala (Ntinda/Kyambogo/Namanve/Seeta/Mukono/Lugazi, Kawempe/Kawanda/Matugga, etc) and trucked, at immense expense, to these far off markets. It does not make sense, at least to me.
The discovery of oil in the north-west and the north may just help decentralise things a little bit, but only if there is deliberate, well thought-out effort (but be warned that the oil industry does not generate many direct jobs, being capital-intensive). Is the centralisation the result of government ceding just about all micro aspects of economic growth to the Private Sector? The Private Sector does not share the kind of concern for social equity that is solely the government’s to mind; it (understandably) follows where the money is, where the profits are.
Could the solution lie in more Public Sector investment by the government; in greater involvement by the government in strategic areas, and not leaving them entirely to the vagaries of the Private Sector? I do not know, but we need both economic growth and social equity, and the stability they bring.
By now, the vote count in Kenya should be nearly done, and hope all ends well. Kenya is a bag of contradictions, as this election has shown. The presidential candidates debate was a mark of maturity not common in Africa; the tribal contours of voting patterns were that backward and unfortunate mark of ‘democracy’ that is very common in Africa. What will win in the long-run? The maturity, or the backwardness?