Is the time for change getting any closer?


Kampala day 1. Since I arrived in Nairobi two weeks ago and put my Ugandan sim card in my phone I had received Ugandan sms news updates. The updates were rather disturbing, one disaster after another occurring in all walks of life from climate change,  natural disasters and food shortage to bad governance and simple fraud.

  • High Court Ex-VP Bukenya bribed 200 cyclists, 50 women during campaigns.
  • Tension high at town clerk’s residence as KCCA’s Musisi orders Ssebagala to hand over premises.
  • NAADS accountant arrested for 89m theft.
  • Boat capsizes, 18 feared dead in Butiaba, Masindi.
  • Climate change destroys food production.
  • Lightning kills 18 pupils in Kilyandongo & hurts 13 in Alebtong.

To add spice to all this, Tumusiime Mutebile, the Governor of Bank of Uganda had shared a piece of his mind with the Financial Times, UK. Mutebile has been as solid as a rock as he has managed Uganda’s finances and economic growth for two decades, part of this time as Secretary to the Treasury.

In the Financial Times Mutebile was quoted for criticizing M7’s advocacy for rapid population growth leading to an increase in the number of poor people. He also had a go on the collapse in fuel reserves and lack of focus on agriculture, which remains the backbone of the economy despite the lack of political to make serious investments in the sector.

 “Our output is heaven-made, but it should be man-made”, Mutebile was quoted as saying.

In addition Tumusiime Mutebile mentioned the extremely controversial (in public opinion) purchase of 6 jet fighters worth $740 million early this year, a substantial amount beyond Uganda’s limited state resources.

In April, when I was last in Uganda, the inflation was sky-rock high. From February’s 11% it had increased to 14.1% in the space of two months. In May it had further gone up to 16.1% – the highest level in 17 years. Mutebile’s comments in the Financial Times resulted in further loss of confidence in the country’s currency. By the end of June as rumors of Mutebile’s resignation spread, Bank of Uganda had to intervene after the shilling fell from Ush2,400 to Ush2,710 against the dollar. To calm the market the Governor finally had to eat his words and announce that he was misquoted all along.

I arrived in Kampala when all this was on its highest level. There was no doubt that the economy is suffering. The raising food and fuel prices were the topics of town. A former colleague from Westnile announced his dismay on FB:

Yesterday morning in Arua town a kg of sugar was Ush 3,200/=, at mid-day it was 4,000/= in the evening it was 4,500/=. This morning a 50kg bag of sugar going for 270,000/= at wholesale price. We are expecting the price per kg to rise to 6,000/= by end of today….Jesus Christ! “

In addition the Kampala City Traders under KACITA had announced that they would close their shops in protest of the shillings deprivation against the dollar, and to what they called unfair competition from foreign traders, who get a foreign investment licenses to operate in Uganda, but unlawful use them to venture into petty trade outcompeting the local traders. Kampala’s taxi drivers also rumbled with strike warnings and in Northeastern Uganda the situation was tense as well. The food crisis throughout the region (Northeastern Uganda, Northwestern Kenya and Somalia) was extremely urgent, according to former colleagues from ActionAid Uganda who are assisting in the humanitarian interventions to assist the victims of the crisis.

Nevertheless, Kampala was still as I knew the city from living there during the past five years; resilient despite all odds. Life is tough, but nobody wants to be among those who succumb if they can help it, and everyone does what they can to keep their noses above water.

It was absolutely wonderful to be back and catch up with family and friends even though it was only a few months since I was last in Kampala during the Walk-to-Work protests. Kampala laughs are loud and frequent, topics of conversations endless, the radio talk shows absolutely inspiring; whether they raise issues of lifestyle, politics or economy it is all up for intense discussions. There is no doubt that the media houses and individual local and international journalists suffer from more restrictions in terms of freedom of speech after the February 2011 election and Walk-to-Work-Protests. But somehow it seems that one of the outcomes of the restrictions is a more intense and serious tone of voice from all sides. I couldn’t help wondering; is the time for change getting any closer?

One Response to “Is the time for change getting any closer?”
  1. Charles says:

    Nice piece here, but you are sitting on the fence.

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