Uganda is gifted with much more resources than we realise

Emilly Comfort Maractho

What you need to know:

  • Driving through Karuma to Pakwach tests your patience severely. Going to Zombo is another one. I heard someone has warned the people of Omoro, to forget about services if they do not vote Andrew Ojok of National Resistance Movement party, the son of late former Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah in the upcoming by-election. Maybe someone should remind the people of Omoro, that sometimes, it matters little. 

The last few weeks have been challenging, reading about cancelled contracts, shady ones, those that seem to be failing and those costing us billions in arrears. There are also the ones just too difficult to understand how we went into them in the first place. 

Whether these happen out of sheer incompetence or design is immaterial, the point is the magnitude of it all, year in and year out is staggering. And it hurts all of us at some point, as tax payers and people who have to miss on services for one reason or another. 

These past few weeks have also shown Uganda’s resilience to all kinds of things wrong. We continue to move as if nothing is lost. We spend like we have unlimited resources. Those who suffer and pay the price largely do so in silence, and wait for lone known voices to make the noise. Those ofcourse, are quickly closed off and left alone. And life goes on. 

Driving through Karuma to Pakwach tests your patience severely. Going to Zombo is another one. I heard someone has warned the people of Omoro, to forget about services if they do not vote Andrew Ojok of National Resistance Movement party, the son of late former Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah in the upcoming by-election. Maybe someone should remind the people of Omoro, that sometimes, it matters little. 

This attitude that services are given in return for votes, or shall we call it blackmail, is disappointing. People of greater Nebbi vote themselves out to prove how much they love the NRM, but return for votes seem to say, maybe that is not the magic bullet. To be fair, the road from Zombo to Arua is better than I remember it in the early 1990s, when I went to Warr Girls SS.

But the people say it is still a nightmare when it rains. 
The presence of Zombo District Local Government headquarter has clearly made a physical difference, yet far in terms of real community change.

Spending sometime in West Nile this past week, in areas that I have known for years, makes seeing the transformation happening in these spaces amazing. It makes you wonder about where we would be if things were done to facilitates the existing progress in a meaningful manner.  

The potential of this country is seen in places like Zombo. With poor funding of local governments, and limited productive infrastructure, the place still produces so much food. The coffee grows almost effortless and is very healthy. I am told, it is also great quality coffee and the potential for tea is greater. 

Maybe the people of Zombo can invite Ms Pinneti of the Uganda Vinci Coffee fame to set-up shop here. The land is productive almost by itself. The bananas and all manner of fruits are in abundance. And of course, there is more cassava than all of Uganda might ever need. 

My friends and I bought a cluster of sweet bananas for Shs1,000, the kind of thing that makes you want to cry for farmers. Given the current rise in prices that people in most places are dealing with, Zombo is selling for so little. The village farmer gets almost nothing.

The change in livelihood remains minimal, despite the hard work. Contrary to popular belief that many Ugandans are lazy, spend time gossiping and playing by the road all manner of games, there are hardworking Ugandans in many villages. 

The challenge remains connectivity for many, both locally to markets and through larger networks. Along the road, you see women carrying heavy loads walking long distance to markets, men carrying sacks on bicycles navigating dangerous terrain amid trailers heading to the DR Congo. 

Driving from Arua to Nebbi, the mangoes that sellers could easily give for free, the cheap charcoal along the road, and local chicken selling for so little, all speak volumes of the dual nature of our economy, and how much of a peasant economy we actually are. 

The population is largely stretched. Whereas the gigantic Arua Hill developments depict growth in the city, the population largely remains rooted in a different era. With that, it is hard to imagine, that we speak of going into a middle-income status soon. 

There is no doubt, Uganda is gifted by nature. There is also no doubt that we have far more resources than we realise, given the wastage that we see all around, be they by honest mistakes or shady contracts. What is clear, is that Uganda has a deep potential for growth and development that we do everything to squander. 

If only we could put our house in order, we would be in position to achieve much more than we have in a fairly shorter period with less resources. The potential, from Kabale to Zombo, and everywhere else, is evident. How we make this potential a reality is our challenge. 

Ms Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.                       [email protected]

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