Beyond bodanomics, piecemeal development plans

Moses Khisa

What you need to know:

The boda boda trade is incapable of making a substantial and long term difference in solving both the problem of mass transportation…

In the last three columns, I have forcefully argued that we need to confront head-on the tragedy of the boda boda trade. This is for two major reasons.

First, boda bodas as an increasingly predominant passenger mode of transportation present arguably today’s foremost public health emergency. We are a country numbed and insulated against reacting to tragic problems, otherwise the sheer magnitude of everyday road accidents and air pollution, especially in Kampala should spark a national reckoning and urgent push for reversal of the trend.

Second, and in my view more crucially and consequentially, the boda boda trade is driving us down the drain, destroying basic norms of decency, entrenching total disregard for rule-governed behaviour and adherence to law and order without which society is primed for lawlessness and disorder.

I have tried to articulate the crux of these two problems in this space. The issues are quite well-known and alive to Ugandans. What I have attempted to do is provide an intellectual intervention and hopefully rally Ugandans to better appreciate the full spectrum of the tragedy before us and why we need deep soul-searching.

Last week, I suggested some pathways out of our current situation where the passenger motorcycle trade is a dominant, and in fact default, option for youngmen seeking a source of livelihood.   As I underscored last week, the dominance of the boda boda and the extent to which this trade is defining and shaping our everyday engagements, including economic activities, was well captured in the notion of bodanomics, a word famously used by Prof Samuel Sejjaaka in a Saturday Monitor column he wrote for many years.

The case I have been making, and appealing to fellow compatriots to take seriously, is that bodanomics is in different ways bad, dangerous and destructive for our present and future as a nation.

There are many deleterious trappings of bodanomics, but I concentrated on shedding light on the two core issues stated above: the public health crisis and the destruction of norm/rule-governed behaviour.

These and other negative implications of the boda boda trade to my estimation far outstrip the positive side, which are primarily two core benefits: boda boads as highly needed mode of public transport and as a contribution to an endemic problem of youth unemployment.

As I argued last week, the boda boda trade is incapable of making a substantial and long term difference in solving both the problem of mass transportation, especially in metropolitan Kampala and curing youth unemployment. These two problems require radical solutions, big and bold, with an eye on the long- term and patient planning. Unfortunately, not unlike bodanomics thinking, our government has had the knack for piecemeal tinkering and ill-thought experiments with development blueprints and projects that ultimately lead nowhere. 

The latest is the Parish Development Model (PDM), about which I know almost nothing and will comment meaningfully in future after getting a grip.  What I have read from other analysts and commentators, however, casts a grim picture and appears to question the wisdom behind the whole initiative. The PDM seems to have more than passing resemblance with the sub-county level development plan proposed by former prime minister, Amama Mbabazi for his 2016 presidential bid.

If things don’t go as well, per the way critical voices that have already raised doubts, this will not be the first time that the Museveni government has purported to fight poverty through a programme that in the end delivers very little if anything.

Mr Museveni and his ruling group have had the proclivity for piecemeal and short-term plans, rather surprising and ironic for a president who is singularly focused on ruling for as long as he lives.

Museveni will soon make 40 long years of ruling us, and appears determined to press on and if by some miraculous dint he pulls through with his next term to make it to the 45-year mark, he will likely only be bettered by Theodore Obiang in Equatorial Guinea. Paul Biya in Cameroon, now at 42 years of ruling, may have something to say though. Time will tell.

For a ruler that right from the outset in 1986, we now can deduce in hindsight, had a grand strategy of ruling for life, why hasn’t Mr Museveni engineered a corresponding long-term project of socioeconomic transformation?

This is a puzzling question in part because Mr Museveni actually has an excellent grasp of the problems germane to a poor and socially backward country like Uganda, and how to transform it. Why then hasn’t he done much and instead has presided over bodanomics and piecemeal plans that have led nowhere? I will turn to this question next.

Obviously, given his messianic conviction, somewhat narcissistic streak and a knack for self-congratulation, Mr Museveni can waste no time arguing that he has done an outstanding job delivering Uganda to middle-income status!

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