Thinking roads, mountains, and skills this uhuru week

Sunday October 6 2019



Bernard Tabaire

Bernard Tabaire 

By Bernard Tabaire

A recent drive around Mt Moroto revealed some more the beauty of Karamoja. The first drive was via the Rupa side, the second through Tapac. The highs of the mountain and the expansive lows of the savannah create an enchanting contrast.
My party crossed into Kenya. No hassle. No checks. No questions asked. No one to check or ask questions. No border. Okay, there is a border and the only reason we know so is because someone on the bus who lives in Moroto told us: this dry riverbed we are crossing right now marks the border between Uganda and Kenya.

About 5km to the border, we encountered a large group of Turkana herders encamped with their animals. For them, if there is good pasture in Uganda, which is most often, they will go for it. Finished. We chatted with them a little and went our way.
An SUV with Kenya registration number plates driving toward the border, presumably heading all the way to Lodwar in Turkana, passed us. A Turkana friend told me a few years ago that once in a while she drives from Lodwar to Moroto (a distance of about 150km only) to not only see relatives, but to also to buy fresh produce. The road is terrible, though.

I do not know the economics of roads, but I have liked very much to hear President Museveni talk about building a road linking Karamoja and Ethiopia through north-western Kenya. The road would be all of 3,000km long and cost quite a tidy sum of dollars, but governments exist to do some of these crazy sounding things. Roads linking Karamoja to the rest of the country are being fixed, and that would create a neat connectivity.

Tourism would benefit. Commerce would benefit. With mining companies presently pouring into Karamoja in frenzied pursuit of marble, limestone, and gold, life would potentially change quickly across that region.
It is independence week, and I am looking to hearing something big and potentially transformative articulated by the government in light of this year’s theme: consolidation of national unity, security, freedom and prosperity.

Jeez! We need to prosper like yesterday. And it should be prosperity for everyone, not for a few. Yet that seems not to be the case given what is unfolding as the New Vision reminded us two years ago, citing a report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa: “Although poverty levels have been falling, Uganda is now ranked 17th among the countries with the highest level of income inequality in Africa.”
As the government builds roads and power plants and dreams of a standard gauge railway and conducts reforms to make Uganda more business friendly, it also needs to think long and hard about fixing education.

We need skilled people to work in the businesses that the friendly environment will attract. Even illiterate and semi-literate entrepreneurs need to employ people with high quality skills or else those businesses will go nowhere.
Besides, the fancy power plants and expressways we are building will need skilled engineers and technicians and others to maintain them. No?

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Education, however you define it, does a good job of reducing inequality. Economically prosperous countries also have highly skilled people. This means they have paid adequate attention to the education and “skilling” of their wananchi.
Our Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education need urgent quality assurance. Yes, the children are going to school, but what are they learning and how are they learning it and at what age? What is the quality of those teaching them stuff?

At 57, Uganda has reached “retirement age” if we borrow the language of the National Social Security Fund. So to what is it retiring: to prosperity, chilling by Mt Moroto and enjoying the magnificence, or to even more hustle that may bring depression and dementia in old age?
Hey, how about giving real thought to our education even as we build infrastructure to link the “wildernesses” of three countries?
Happy 57th, Uganda.

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.
bernard.tabaire@gmail.com
Twitter:@btabaire