Uganda’s Human Development Index (HDI) continues to fall despite registering growth in the last 20 years. Uganda is ranked 164 out of 187 of the assessed countries. In 1990, Uganda’s HDI stood at 0.306 and was comparable to Benin, Central Africa Republic, and Gambia. Today, Uganda has attained a 65% improvement and HDI stands at 0.484. While Uganda’s income growth due to investment in poverty alleviation has improved, poverty has also fallen from 56.4% in 1992 to 19.7% in 2013. 

Life expectancy and expected years of schooling have also improved. But Uganda continues to fall among the lowest 42 countries meaning that the country’s growth has does not reflect improvement in the livelihoods of its people. Uganda is ranked below its neighbours Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania and in fact the index is below the sub Saharan Africa average of 0.502.

The HDI report released by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) focused on Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience. The report is a summary measure of long-term progress in long and healthy life, access to knowledge and decent standard of living.

Ibrahim Kasirye a Researcher with Economic Policy Research Centre says that despite the progress made towards improving welfare outcomes there are large sections of society, which have been missed out or are faced with challenges.

“Averting such challenges and building resilience for such population is important for Uganda. Population that faces chronic poverty remains very high,” Kasirye said at the launch of the report at Sheraton Hotel in Kampala. Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie the UN Resident Coordinator says resilience shouldn’t be about capacity to endure suffering but about ensuring that the state, community and global institutions work to empower and protect people.

“We need to redefine humanity and dignity and raise standards of everyone. Human development is about removing the barriers so that people are free to act. In Moroto 46% of the children are either stunted or sick with malaria, diarrhoea. Do we understand the vulnerability of people in that region or have we set out to find out what is holding them back? Or are we just giving out hand outs which continue to hold them in that state?

This report talks about the need to be resilient to shocks but there should be mechanisms to prevent these shocks,” Onochie says.  She says that while creation of wealth is important and the highest economic growth rates are registered in Africa, but when we measure human development we are still at the bottom. The HDI points out that progress shouldn’t be about the country’s GDP and that it is possible for the country to grow but its people remain at the bottom.

“What is happening is that Uganda is facing poor prioritisation of resources. We know what agriculture can do to get us high in the HDI. As long as we continue to have little money in our pockets we cannot improve. Invest in agriculture because we have enough resources but how are we spending the resources? NAADs is one of the best resources but it is sad that it is near to closure,” said Julius Mukunda, coordinator of Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group.

Yet if Uganda’s population continues to rise, this vulnerability is likely to continue growing. Kasirye says that developing countries and African governments increasingly focusing more on expanding infrastructure and increase commitment to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030.

“EPRC has engaged in conducting research and examining challenges facing vulnerable groups, research examining drivers of extreme deprivation, vulnerabilities of particular demographics and challenges of access to secondary education. We have participated in the designing social protection programs like the NUSAF fund and SAGE. We want to build responses that will result in the growth which is inclusive and responsive to the poor and vulnerable because this creates universal opportunities and jobs,” Kasirye noted.

Norway ranks highest in the HDI followed by Australia, Switerzaland, Netherlands USA and Singapore which has improved its ranking from 12thposition to 9.

In Africa 11 countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Ghana and Zambia are in the medium HD category. Most African countries are in the low development category and this where Uganda has been since 1990. Presenting the findings, Tony Muhumuza an economist at UNDP says Uganda has continued to perform below average for all countries in the low development index of 0.493.

If compared to Rwanda, growth between 2008 and 2013 has been at 17% while Uganda is at 0.4%. “We need a balance between public and private sector development. We need to focus on human development concept if we are to bring everybody on board. We must target and identify who is vulnerable and what programs can be introduced to help people become more resilient. Universalism will continue to grow and we need to focus more on how to be more inclusive.

Other countries have been able to progress and Uganda can progress too,” Muhumuza noted. The report highlights that more than 200 million people worldwide are affected by natural disasters every year. More than 2.2 billion people are living in poverty and 80% of the global population lacks comprehensive social protection. Some 842 million people continue to suffer from chronic hunger.

Panellists discussion 

During the launch of the Global Human Development Index Report a panel of experts was invited to discuss Uganda’s progress towards improving its human development rankings. Panellist included Tony Muhumuza the National Economist at UNDP, Stephen Kasaija the Executive Director of Social Protection Secretariat, Ibrahim Kasirye a Principal Research Fellow at Economic Policy Research Centre, Warren Nyamugasira the Executive Director of Development Research and Training. The discussion centred on investing in agriculture and industrialisation to enhance employment of the youth. Angelo Izama - a researcher, journalist and consultant, moderated the discussion.

Angelo Izama

QN: From the way other countries are responding, do you think Uganda’s policies, the National Development Plan can help Uganda to take advantage of the robust youth population?

Tony Muhumuza

Uganda is one of the countries which will benefit from the youth if we do the right investment. In order to benefit, we need heavy investment in reducing fertility. Our base is very big and when you introduce investment in fertility reduction, you see a small proportion of young people. You also need heavy investment in enhancing individual capabilities.

Our UPE is a very good intervention but we need to think about issues of quality. If education is not good, you will not grab the demographic dividend. It’s not enough anymore to create jobs but to create good jobs. The informal sector will not help us we need targeted investment in employment by providing funding for SMEs but we need to know what kind of SMEs and employment spill overs they are going to create.

At macro level, how will we take advantage of the East African community which will impact our industries that are accommodating the youth. If we don’t, we will have problems which we have witnessed in countries like Tunisia. We have a number of countries to look up to and how they have moved.

Angelo Izama
QN: What kind of policies in agriculture can accommodate the youth bulge?

Ibrahim Kasirye
The reason why agriculture remains our first opportunity is that we are unlikely to grow significantly in these other sectors. There are hardly any sectors that can take on millions of Ugandans. At the moment agriculture is very poorly invested in. without developing agriculture we are going to have many problems. We cannot set up many industries to take on millions of people in say two years. The current polices in youth livelihood programs were government wants to invest Shs 250 billion in these programs.

But I find challenges that money will be advanced to youth who are not being trained on how to use this money. They are going to grow and become natural entrepreneurs and if not trained the youth will remain vulnerable. If they are getting large sums of money for the first time without proper management and training on how to behave as an entrepreneur it is highly unlikely desired goals will be achieved. The reach of the youth lively program remains relatively muted. It is a good program which needs examination on how to be rolled out.

The selection and monitoring is being done by civil servants who are not experts on entrepreneurship.

Angelo Izama
QN: The government has attempted to enhance employment value. The catchment in Prosperity for all, agriculture and extension services. The overall sense is with each new policy comes a failure. What can government do differently to make these policies work?

Steven Kasaija
The component of training has been taken on and several companies will be training the youth. So it is wrong to say that nothing has been done.

I believe participation is key, making sure people are aware, they are participating in monitoring and evaluating to ensure that there is success in these polices if our people participate in implementation.

Angelo Izama
QN: All the opportunities that we have, it is not so much that the population is unable to produce. It is just that the opportunities are unseen, informal sector is very low, formal sector workers are at 700,000. Is there something we are missing in this whole unemployment conundrum?

Warren Nyamugasira
I was talking to Dr Ian Clarke and he said that Ugandans are smarter and more hard working than your neighbour (Rwanda) that are doing better. But there must be something they are doing differently that we are not doing. We lack results orientation. We implement but we implement things that don’t produce results. More money is put in agriculture, infrastructure, and human capital development but when we come to implementation, this is where the problem is. The things that don’t give those who are handling it a cut are not easily implemented.

For example in health, the preference is building more health facilities without utilising the existing ones. It is true around all the other aspects. We must get annoyed and say that we must go for results. I asked Ian are ‘you saying we can improve health sector results using the same money?’ He said ‘if you went for results and figured out how to produce results. If you gave the money to faith based organisations, they could double the results. Let us look for results’. When you hear we need and we should, it means we don’t know how to do those things.

Civil Society Organisations should push for results using the available resources. Start by leading by example. When there is a shock the people who get affected the most are those who are below the poverty line. They live on minimal income.

In terms of Regional Economy Integration, can they allow us absorb shocks and what kind of strategies can we employ as Uganda to take advantage of what our neighbours have done?

Tony Muhumuza
Industrialization is associated with more jobs, investment in infrastructure and high per capita income. The question for Uganda is how we can realise that, it is not going to happen in a short term.

People are saying agriculture is more important. Empirical evidence shows that investing in agriculture is much higher than investing in industrialisation. We need to invest where people are working while we are thinking about a way forward. But before we invest in agriculture, how are the few resources being invested, how are they utilised? We have the national agriculture policy and how well are we using it to improve agriculture.

Ibrahim Kasirye
It is true industrial benefits are higher than those in agriculture but at the moment the pace at which we are growing we cannot expand industries to create 2 million jobs in five years. We also have problems with our landlords; industries have to be created by private people so for them to access inputs like land remains a challenge.

When we look at urbanisation, you see we have been evicting people from railways. People have been coming from rural areas and they first land in the slums areas. We have not planned the way China has planned for its citizens. We are not planning cities to take on new people. If more people came, there would be a stampede. Already you can see what is happening in Hoima where food prices are going high, rent has short up.

The kind of institutions you require to pull it off, you need a number of Jennifer Musisi’s to pull this off.

Warren Nyamugasira
We are talking of the agricultural value chain, we are talking about backward and forward linkages like agribusinesses, transportation and export. This is all agricultural development. If perceived this way, it increases prospective to generate more jobs.

I remember when we started with the Poverty Eradication Action Plan, if you improve productivity on land, people move away from the land to non farm land. People will go and look for opportunities like education. People who get an education want to move to cities because they don’t see why they should get a hoe to dig. We need to plan.

Now on industrialisation, industrialists are saying that policies of Uganda on industrialisation are very good. The problem is that we have big industries. By midyear they have produced enough capacity for Uganda. But when you talk of industrialisation you need a law on counterfeits to cut out competition with cheap products.

We need local content initiatives, the bigger consumer of Ugandan products is government and if government procured 60% of Uganda made products, the country will move.

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