Critical reading of State-of-the-Nation Address 2019

Monday June 17 2019

Daniel Lumonya

Daniel Lumonya 

By Daniel Lumonya

The State-of-the-Nation Address is a very important statement. It gives an account of the state of the economy. It provides the yardstick by which we hold our leaders accountable and the data by which we may assess their commitments and performance. It also sets the national priorities and goals for the coming year.

It is for this reason that we must read it seriously, purposeful and carefully. We must crosscheck the data it presents, and the facts and assumptions upon which it makes its claims. It is especially incumbent upon those of us having the ability to perform this audit to do so in ways that are readable for the benefit of the rest.

The growth data that The-State-of-the-Nation 2019 cites are indeed extremely impressive; growth rates that are unrivalled anywhere since World War II. And yet, one notices that The-State-of-the-Nation Address 2019 selects data carefully and deliberately so as to paint what turns out to be a very rosy, and yet only partial, picture of reality.

First, one must agree that development has two separate but mutually constituted dimensions: One, the human dimension, is assessed mainly in terms of maternal and child mortality, life expectancy, access to safe and clean water. Two, the economic dimension, is assessed mainly in terms of physical infrastructure - roads, power lines, industries, etc.
One must then also note that while The-State-of-the Nation Address 2019 is very strong on the economic dimension, it is extremely weak on the human dimension.

The State-of-the-Nation 2019 does not mention that our infant mortality rate, at 35 per 1,000 live births, is among lowest in the world and, in East Africa is only slightly better than Tanzania’s at 38 (Unicef). Nor are we told that our maternal mortality rate at 336 per 100,000 live births, is 172nd of 183 countries.

We are also not told that at only 5 per cent, Uganda sits at the bottom of the pack on use of piped water, compared to 22 per cent in Kenya, 13 per cent in Tanzania and 9 per cent in Rwanda. We are not told that our fertility rate at 5.82 per cent is the highest in East Africa and certainly one of the highest in the world and, neither are we told that our population growth rate, one of the highest in the world, places a very heavy burden upon our mothers.

We are told that between 1986 (never mind that 1986 is such a misleading benchmark) and 2015, the economy grew at an impressive annual average rate of 6.92 per cent, and that per capita income grew at rate of 3.6 per cent over the same period. However, we are not told that the Gini Co-efficient for income inequality has increased from 0.32 in 1990 to 0.45 today, implying that the wealth and power have become increasingly concentrated in fewer hands. Neither are we told, for example, how the state of health units in our villages compare to the state of health units in the cities, and among our peers in the region.

One has to be extremely impressed by the fast-paced implementation of infrastructure projects. The State-of-the-Nation Address 2019 lists several of these completed national and district urban and community access roads, and mentions that 206.6MW were added to the electricity grid, among several other infrastructure improvement achievements.
However, we do not know the extent of our capacity to maintain this infrastructure, nor that the size of our public debt, at Shs41.51 trillion in 2018, increased 22 per cent from Shs33.99 trillion in 2017, nor are we told about our capacity to repay that debt. In fact, we are not even completely sure that the high growth rates cited above have been pushed largely by loans and grants!

One also notes that The State-of-the-Nation Address 2019 deliberately manipulates the data in many places so as to tell a very partial story. Take, for example, the data on primary and secondary schools that it presents. We are told that many old villages, (not the new villages), have a primary school and that many old sub-counties (not the new sub-counties) have a secondary school. And yet more villages and more sub- counties have been carved out of the old ones on account of population growth! We, therefore, do not know if the number of schools and the number of classrooms and teachers, relative to the population, have increased, remained the same, or decreased. One even wonders how The State-of-Nation Address 2019 could regard 48 classrooms added since 2016 (16 classrooms per year) as impressive (page 31)!

It should be concerning to us that The State-of -the-Nation Address 2019 presents very little data on the state of the human condition. We do not know, in real terms, if we have improved, remained the same or declined. The State-of-the Nation Address 2019 has not given us sufficient benchmarks by which to assess the performance of our esteemed ladies and gentlemen.

It seems to me that The State-of-the-Nation Address 2019 is more an exercise in public relations and political posturing, than an honest attempt to present to us the state of our nation. But then, after all, it is all politics at its best!

Mr Lumonya, PhD, Cornell University.
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