Where would you start if you were the one?

Friday May 14 2021
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Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE.

By Benjamin Rukwengye

It’s taken me a while to figure out what to write about this week. It happens, I gather, to every columnist. Sometimes there is so much happening and other times so little. If you write from Uganda, as I do, it can also feel a little draining when it seems like you are writing about the same – unchanging – things all the time.

Since it is swearing-in week, it probably makes sense to suppose what the next five years will look like. The good thing is that we sort of know what to expect, because the status quo has pretty much been maintained. So, instead, I’ll ask, what would you focus on over the next five years, if you were the one taking the oath of office as the next President of Uganda?

Mulling over that question makes you realise the complexities of running a country like Uganda – because where do you start? In only the last so many weeks, the men’s national football team nearly suffered the ignominy of playing its home game in a neighbouring country, because local stadia aren’t up to scratch. That’s just a microcosm of the malaise that is sports management in Uganda.

From boxing to basketball, to netball, rugby, cricket, athletics and everything between that – and the potential returns from tweaking and investing – where do you start?

You then think about Kampala, the nerve-centre of  Uganda’s economy, and the state of city roads. It’s inexplicable how they have all fallen apart at the same time, and how there is no explanation for when there might be respite. 

The traffic gridlocks that was already characteristic of  the city have near-tripled without the pace of reconstruction upping. It is clear that our socioeconomic structure means that boda-bodas, are going to be part of the fabric of our public transport system for a long time to come – yet they are ofttimes a traffic nuisance as well. Where do you start?

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There is a burgeoning vibe around entrepreneurship – mostly forced on young people whose dreams and expectations haven’t been met by policy and operational environment. Thousands continue to innovate and create in nearly every space and industry. Lack of capital. Limited technical capacity. Archaic and unfavourable policies. 

Restrictive tax regimes. Access to markets and other enablers. Where do you start, if you want to take advantage of this vibe and build on these dreams and passions as the answer to youth unemployment and growing political unrest?

How do you deal with public officials who are preoccupied with amassing wealth drawn from public resources? It’s part because they are paid peanuts; part because the system is deliberately designed to not catch them; part because there is no system, just individuals – family and cronies. 

You have major infrastructure projects in railway, air, road transport and oil mining coming up so you know that the candy-grab is going to be heady and unprecedented. You could jail them – but corruption seems to be the glue that’s holding everything together. So where do you start?

But it’s not just corruption and years of public management malaise that have tainted the image of government and place of the country, internally and externally. Your record on respect for human rights is constantly coming under severe questioning. 

There is a myriad of stories about security agents kidnapping and torturing civilians and half the time is spent in sending missives and denials about the state of events. You rely – quite heavily – on foreign tourism and investment so you need the validation of outsiders. Do you hire western public relations firms to sanitise the country’s image or invest in some internal reforms to placate the citizenry?

All this, before you have to deal with the problems in education, where it is not clear if you should start with teachers, infrastructure, apparatus, curriculum or enrolment and retention. There is also the crisis in health. Health workers need more money; there aren’t enough health centres – and the few available ones are not well equipped; your health budget prioritises what it shouldn’t. 

So where do you start?
So, let’s revisit the question on what you would focus on over the next five years, if you were the one taking the oath of office as the next President. Quite honestly, I don’t imagine that even the man taking the oath this week knows where exactly, because the evidence shows a mix of everything. Now, sympathise with whoever comes after him.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. rukwengye86@gmail.com

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