Winners and losers in Uganda’s 2013-2014 Budget

BTTB 2013-214

Winners (increased % of budget): Works and Transport, Energy, Public Administration

Losers (decreased total spending): Tourism, Trade and Industry, ICT, Social Development (what is that?), Education

Background to the Budget 2013-2014 available here.

Looks like we are focusing on physical capital at the expense of human capital. Will it pay off?

this is madness

Ugh. Bukenya’s son is lost to yet another fatal car crash, Gen. Kazini is allegedly killed by his mistress (“reckless living” according to M7), another bus overturns killing seven people (including two who could not even be identified), a Uganda-bound plane crashes into the Kigali airport, all amongst a number of more personal losses. I am sad, but mostly angry. Almost all of the deaths and tragedies I have witnessed in the past few weeks were far from inevitable. Rosebell started a conversation that mirrors my frustration and anger. The deaths of Uganda’s elite are no less tragic than the deaths of those who perish on a bus, or plane, or languish in the country’s understaffed and undersupplied clinics and hospitals, but I wouldn’t mind so much who got more news coverage if only something was done to prevent these needless deaths in the future! Arg! How long must we mourn and suffer and cry out before something gets done? What would it take to get a high quality hospital so that we don’t have to fly abroad when we need serious medical attention? What would it take to properly police roads and public transportation? The buses will not stop overturning and cars will not stop crashing on their own. It is only people who can prevent these tragedies. They need not happen. This is madness.

What do people care about?

I love knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but as I embark on this five-year journey otherwise known as grad school, one thing I don’t want to do is get stuck inside, both literally and figuratively. Literally, I don’t want to see the sky for only 20 minutes a day on the walk to and from the car, and figuratively (and more importantly), I don’t want to get stuck in a world where only other academics or econ-y types find my work interesting/palatable/intelligible. This has been on my mind a lot recently as I have been trying to home in on a specific research question for my first major research project/paper (which I will hereafter refer to as a field paper). I can think of lots of research questions, but certainly not all of equal pertinence to the lives of ordinary people. Which got me thinking, what would be of most pertinence? I am not a doctor, I am not a teacher (yet, anyway), I am not a civil engineer…there are many things I can’t do to improve people’s lives. So what can I do? Well, hopefully (and this is the goal anyway, I think), I will be able to provide some small insight or suggestion to help solve problems people care about.  So what do people care about?

Since Uganda is mostly on my mind, I remembered a recent Afrobarometer survey asked exactly this question. Ok, not exactly. The exact question was, “What are the most important problems facing this country that the government should address?” The answers? (according to % of people who listed this concern first)

Poverty/Destitution: 43%

Unemployment: 28%

Health: 27%

Food shortage: 20%

Infrastructure/Roads: 20%

Seems pretty obvious in retrospect. But what wasn’t in the top 5? Democracy/Political Rights (3%), Orphans (2%), Political Instability/Ethnic Tensions (2%), International War (0%), AIDS (5%), and Inequality (2%), among others. Less obvious now, right? This is not to say that no one cares about these things, just that they are not the most important things for most people. Of course these things are also related to the above “most important problems”, and it could be that democracy (or something else) will solve all of these problems (I am skeptical though). Still, I think it’s always good to keep in mind what people are struggling with on a daily basis even while trying to figure out what’s up with democratic peace (for example).

Now, back to that field paper…

In Memoriam: Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem

Road carnage claimed yet another victim today — this time a renowned Pan-Africanist, Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, who was rushing to Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi when he was killed in an automobile accident. Alex de Waal has an excellent in memoriam post in honor of Dr. Tajudeen:

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, the most irrepressible Pan Africanist of his generation, died in Nairobi on 24 May 2009. His friends and colleagues are stunned at the loss of a man who was so full of life and humour, such a determined Afro-optimist, and such a devoted father to his children, Aisha and Aida. Africa is impoverished by his untimely death…

Tajudeen never allowed his critical sense degenerate into cynicism or disillusion. His confidence in Africa and Africans to resolve their problems, whatever the setbacks, was always undimmed. His untimely death leaves a vacuum of human energy and hope that will be difficult to fill.

Read on…

New Vision and Daily Monitor have also published articles and tributes in Tuesday’s papers.

Okello Oculi says Dr. Tajudeen was a true son of the continent in his tribute.

May he rest in peace. And may we find some way to prevent more of the many unnecessary and devastating deaths that occur on our roads every single day.

Christmas Came Early for Uganda Police

It seems Uganda’s Ministry of Works and Transport is tired of taking all the heat for the country’s shabby roads and high road accident rate. Daily Monitor writes today:

All motor vehicles in the country must be compulsorily tested for road worthiness, the Ministry of Works and Transport has revealed.

In a new law that seeks to reduce road carnage, the ministry has proposed strict electronic testing of private vehicles at least once every year while public vehicles will be scrutinised twice a year.

“The system we are using currently to inspect vehicles is inadequate and out of fashion but this new system will be like an x-ray, and no vehicle without an inspection certificate will be allowed on the road,” Works Minister John Nasasira said.

Um, excuse me? An x-ray? We don’t even have working x-rays in the hospitals! Ok, well at least they don’t all work all the time. In any case, I highly suspect that bad drivers and bad roads account for the majority of road traffic accidents/deaths, not the vehicles themselves. Oh, and seatbelts. This drives me nuts. Parents, BUCKLE YOUR CHILD’S SEATBELT. You are wearing your seatbelt, make your child do the same. There is no excuse for putting your safety above theirs. If they don’t like wearing them, tough! They are children. They are your responsibility.

But I digress. Back to the “x-ray” inspection….

The police should be overjoyed at this new initiative. Now, along with lack of third-party insurance, logbooks/paperwork or driver’s permit (among other offenses), the police have another way to get some “lunch.” Here is how it will go*:

Officer: [Steps into road blowing whistle and waving. Positions himself such that driver can only stop, unless he hits the officer and/or swerves wildly while simultaneously pretending not to see him]

Driver: Yes, good afternoon officer.

Officer: Good afternoon. Can I see your driver’s permit?

Driver: Sure, here.

Officer: And inspection certificate?

Driver: Well, you see officer, after waiting two hours to get my vehicle tested, the power went out and the vehicle x-ray machine stopped working. And when it came on again, inspectors had gone for lunch. So I wasn’t able to get the certificate.

Officer: Hmm. But now, eh, you must have that inspection certificate. I don’t know what we do… [pause] I don’t want to take you to the station. [pause] You will pay a big fine if we go to the station.

Driver: Yes officer.

Officer: So. What do we do? [pause, tries to ascertain if he must be more direct]. I don’t want to take you to the station. [pause] You could give me something for lunch…

Driver: [pulls out wallet, slips a 10k note on the seat].

Officer: Ok then. Nice day.

End scene.

I still fail to understand why one must go to the station for a simple offense. Just give us a ticket! As it is, there is no incentive for either the police officer or the driver to abide by the law — if you do, you will go the station, fill out paper work, and pay a huge fine. If you don’t, the driver can part with 20k instead of 150k, right then and there, and the poorly paid officer can get a little bonus. Of course, not all not all officers and drivers will take the moral low ground. But I have a sneaking suspicion the majority do (I even know of someone who had to go to the ATM with the officer because he didn’t have the amount required for “lunch”!!!). And why not, when those poor officers get paid pennies (ok, shillings) to stand in the scorching sun for hours at a time? Oh, and Nasasira, please stop deflecting blame and do your job. I don’t care about decentralisation or KCC. You are the minister and you are responsible.

* As to whether I have ever encountered a similar situation, I will take the fifth.