Focusing on infrastructure key for Uganda’s economic recovery

Monday May 18 2020

 

By Emilly Comfort Maractho

In April, Mckinsey and Company did an in-depth analysis of what they described as the health and economic crisis resulting from Covid 19.

Their analysis showed that in Africa, even though coronavirus was at the onset, it was already disrupting millions of people’s livelihoods with disproportionate impact on poor households and small and informal businesses. In Uganda, 203 cases had tested positive by May 15, many of them not Ugandans, but we continue to stay home and safe.

One does not need complicated algebra to know that this disruption to livelihoods is already a reality for many on the continent, if stories coming out of South Africa or Nigeria due to their lockdown, are anything to go by.

In Uganda, some analysts also suggested that the economic cost of Covid-19 will be difficult to recover from. Still, one does not need skills in econometrics to appreciate that many in our communities have lost their livelihoods.

Indeed, those who were poor before Covid-19 can either stay there or forget any hope of getting out of poverty after.

Fortunately, President Museveni has dispelled fears that the economy will suffer as much as experts seem to suggest. He has in fact submitted that we may do much better than we have been doing, although some sectors will suffer.

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The areas that will suffer, are likely to be the recreational ones such as bars, restaurants and discos, rather than productive sectors such as agriculture. Given the President’s new found love for science, it may be good riddance for some of those areas.

Many of the lockdown exceptions ensured that factories could still function and those that needed opening were not hindered. Life first is our goal.

I would like to share in the President’s optimism with all my heart. The reasoning that we can now be self-sufficient- enforce import substitution, focus on our own production and revive industries we had discarded in favour of imports like textile, now ear marked for making Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), makes sense.

As such, we may not miss the consumption sectors that will suffer as people may find other things to do in the new found areas of production.

Yet, for that change to happen, we will need to refocus the current set of enabling infrastructure and how we have been utilising them. We may be living in the era that Alvin Toffler described in his text Future Shock as an era where the illiterate, are not those who have not gone to school, but those who cannot harness the power of information to their advantage.
In less than two short months since the first day of lockdown, the way we work is changing right before our eyes. There are no absolute guarantees that we will return to the old ways of working for most of us.

For instance, many journalists are now dealing with changes in the way they collect stories, how they tell those stories and the ways they engage with each other or earn from it.
Eventually, even the way we teach, despite current resistance will change. The question is, what are we doing about the enabling infrastructure for our new way of life?

At the heart of much of the needed change are enabling infrastructure such as power or energy, the Internet and mobile phones.

For many who are working from home, that means higher costs of electricity, Internet and even investment in better smart phones as meetings have been brought to the living rooms via online platforms.

Even a good headset to improve sound quality as you have meetings while your neighbourhood is having a mind of its own is now a necessity.

It is clear that this crisis is redefining our priorities as individuals and households. That means, governments too or more generally public, private and development institutions will have to very quickly redefine their priorities and invest in areas that can enable production and foster substitution of both skills and products.
If the President’s optimism is to be realised, then we need to ask ourselves, which areas need urgent investment or fast tracking, if already underway? One does not just wake up and decide because there has been an emergency that going forward, we will focus on our own production.

Is that not the reason we are stuck with truck drivers despite the dangers they present? It needs planning, the right conditions and appropriate regulatory and enabling environment.
As Sun Tzu rightly puts it in the Art of War, one cannot depend on the enemy not coming, but depend rather, on being ready for the enemy.
While it is possible that our economy will not suffer as much as experts feared, we ought to be prepared if that happens. This should be our season for strategy, and cleaning up at various levels.

May this season of staying in our homes while our leaders are not sleeping bring something good to us as given the pain of it all. Somethings should surely work better and the non-essentials discarded.

Dr Maractho is the head and senior lecturer, Department of Journalism and Media
studies at UCU.
emillycm@gmail.com

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