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Uganda at 54; it is Work in Progress

Ofwono Opondo

Next Sunday, October 9, at Luuka District main grounds, Uganda celebrates fifty four (54) years of independence under the theme “Protection of our independence through promotion of patriotism, unity and hard work,” which has been a clarion call for long. It is the first anniversary under the new five year term of President Yoweri Museveni and the NRM returned, and dubbed “Kisanja Hakuna Mchezo.”
Now, without questioning any citizen’s patriotism, “hard work,” is much harder to describe for many Ugandans who eke out a living for long hours on hand hoes, and other obsolete traditions employed by five generations before them. Clearly, there is need for innovation, creativity, and greater uptake of new and modern appropriate technology and entrepreneurship that is abundant.
And yet, regardless of that victory, there is disquiet about both the direction and pace of progress so far made in the governance and socio-economic transformation agenda with specific regard to creating an all inclusive growth. There are visible signs of too many people, young and old, educated and un-educated, lazy ones as well as those able and willing to work, left behind. Equally, the signs of widening disparity are becoming evident almost in every sphere which NRM top leaders must be seriously concerned about because they could become political powder keg.  
And while Uganda has maintained a good national economic growth rate of about 5.4% over the last decade, it is being undermined by a disproportionately high population growth rate of 3.7% across the country. Also, the continued wastage of public resources through bad and delayed decision making processes, poor enterprise selection, duplication and corruption are becoming systemic and endemic putting further strain.
Independence can no longer merely be defined as victory over colonialists, and the hoisting our flag. It must be deepened to include greater individual and collective responsibility to our country. And Uganda, The Pearl of Africa, Gifted by Nature, must serve all equally.
Independence is like a living organism that should grow to bear fruits, and if not well maintained, can sometimes become sick, stunted and undernourished, or even die! For Independence to yield fruits, there are conditions under which the beneficiaries must rear it. Independence thrives best where there is democracy, justice, security and prosperity. While democracy and security appear to be aplenty, social injustice that engenders poverty is our greatest thorn.
Certainly, poverty is a great obstacle to broader opportunities to the basic human needs and, therefore, to justice and development. And when social justice and development thwarted, independence is devoid of meaning. It produces rowdy, undisciplined and irresponsible citizens who neither value their independence nor country.
The point to note here is that both the country and her people can be poor with no trace of prosperity at all. Of course there are cases when a country can be wealthy and prosperous, to a degree, but with poor citizens.
Uganda appears to have reached that level of ‘prosperity’ now, and therefore, the challenge before every Ugandan is to critical distil the strategic guidelines issued by President Museveni, so that the gaps are filled.  
The era of absolute poverty characterised by indicators of sad declines in every aspect of life in spite of the sugar-coated descriptions of her economy as of Maafuta Mingi, and economic war is gone. The last thirty years have witnessed a miraculous resurrection of Uganda as an Independent nation, thanks mainly to patriotism and focused leadership.
To begin with even the naked eyes of any cynic can see uncountable physical development in construction and buildings, sometimes overtaking better planning, which is really absurd because unplanned development could be an exercise in futility. Several studies give hope that our quest to reach a middle income status by 2040 is neither an impossibility nor a lazy effort.  Already 76% of primary school age going children is indeed in schools and 65% in secondary schools, mainly because of the liberization policy and introduction of free universal schooling. The challenge remains at the completion rate in both cases and, in the relevance and effectiveness of the education provided. These are being handled by all relevant authorities. Universities and other tertiary education too are expanding exponentially which we hope should strengthen Uganda’s strides towards building a prosperous   country and people.
A very encouraging statement of the vision of the Ministry of Health says “A healthy and productive population that contributes to socio – Economic growth and social development.” As a result, most indicators show improvements in child immunisation coverage, infant mortality, and maternal mortality, life expectancy at 63 years, HIV prevalence, and health infrastructure which include provision of high tech machines for complicated diagnosis.
Similar developments are visible across the whole range of Uganda’s life especially at macro-economic level, transport infrastructure, communication technology, housing construction, popular and participatory democracy, and the inclusion of previously marginalised groups of women, the disabled, and the elderly. In a nutshell, a foundation has been built upon which further progress can be deepened.