Monday, May 16, 2011



The opposition engineered walk-to- work protests now well into their fourth week have all but delivered the much need interventions that would reduce food and fuel prices on the market stall and pump respectively. If anything, we seem to be getting worse, the shilling hasn’t gained much ground despite Bank of Uganda’s intervention in the foreign exchange markets, inflation for May is at 14% up from 12% in April according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, and the fuel dealers announced a Ush.50 increase on petrol beginning this week. So, it is clear the architects of the walk-to- work protests haven’t achieved any of their objectives despite their month-long campaign, and the government, for reasons unknown to ordinary folks and the general populace, doesn’t seem to be doing anything. What they have done at best is political posturing and portraying the opposition walk-to-work campaign as treason or an attempt to grab power.

What is clear is that both the government and opposition seem to have no clue on what the right intervention is in the wake of this economic hardship. Rtd Col. Dr. Kiiza Besigye, while appearing on NTV a few weeks ago, couldn’t explain what he would do if he inherited today’s economy. His suggestions to curb high food prices were more long term not short term like he seems to demand from the government. He suggested small-scale irrigation schemes to ensure good agricultural production all year- long and then silos or food storage facilities. All these are high capital and long term interventions that can’t do much to change the prices at the market food stall in under twelve (12) months.

His nemesis, President Museveni and his ministers have been anything but helpful to the general masses that are facing the brunt of high food prices. First it was the government spokesperson, Hon. Kabakumba Matsiko who indicated that the government wouldn’t do anything about the high food and fuel prices and went on to remind us that feeding of households in the responsibility of family heads not government business. This is in stark contrast to his boss’ assertions in the fundamental years- “If a government doesn’t bother to solve the problems of its people, what does it expect? Does it expect peace?” – Yoweri Museveni, “Building Uganda for the Future, What is Africa’s probem? University of Minnesota Press, 2000”

Then later, President Museveni in the comfort of his country home in Rwakitura defended the Ugx 3 billion shilling swearing-ceremony as an economic/business ceremony. This is lingua and terminology that rural folks, boda boda chaps, urban dwellers and petty city hawkers can’t make sense of. So the President’s priorities were clinching deals with investors and regional business gurus not ensuring that the “wise voter” afford food for consumption. It is thought that his message at the time would appeal to the above mentioned because they are the most affected by high food and fuel prices but am not sure it did. The closest he came to resonating with the rural folks was claiming that the high food prices benefit the rural farmers. With that, it was clear the president is out of touch with the reality on the ground - most rural farmers don’t take their produce to the market, at best it is middle men who would benefit from the price hikes. The middle men, will tend to charge high prices because of high transport costs which are majorly caused by two factors – high prices on fuel and lubricants, and then poor road networks that will lead to time losses, vehicle breakdowns etc.

So if, the government can’t do much about the fuel prices due to offshore effects by the pro-democracy protests in North Africa and Middle East, they can do a lot to improve the road network. And that is the governments Achilles heel, despite huge budget allocations to the road sector in the last two years, there isn’t much to show for it. Corruption, project delays and poor planning have hindered the delivery of a good and efficient road network visa avis the budget allocations. And the inefficiencies of the government in that regard have given the opposition a new lease of life. They don’t seem to have their own proposals on how to get the shilling back on track and curb the increasing cost of living. With the government and opposition both appearing clueless on the best way forward, we are in for a long ride.