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LETTERS FROM KAMPALA
Size and money still count
Maryanne Njeri
Published: 14-DEC-06

President Yoweri Museveni was recently in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he gave a speech on transitional leadership, stability and growth. This was during the 4th African Business Leaders Forum organised by Business in Africa. His Excellency stated major factors, which he referred to as bottlenecks, which have hindered Africa from being the prosperous continent it ought to be.

The size of Africa and its countries is apparently a bottleneck. Africa is large in size but its population is not large enough to fully exploit the enormous natural resources the continent is laden with.

According to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), the continent�s population was expected to increase from 553m in 1985 to 877m by the year 2000 and to reach 1,64bn by 2025 before eventually stabilising at 2,2bn in the 22nd century. The current population is estimated to be 877,5 million people living on 30,06mn sq km with a coastline of 30,539km. This is 20,2 percent of the earth�s land.

But a coin has two sides and the positive side of a large population is that if properly managed, it can exploit a country�s natural resources, resulting in high economic growth. To support this claim, we can look up to China and India, whose populations contribute more than one billion people to the world. Due to this, the two countries have become part of the global supply chain for the services and manufacturing sectors.

Africa needs to export finished products and not raw materials. Africa has the essential raw products but its industries are unable to manufacture these into finished goods, which will enable the continent to receive better pay for its produce and give it a better chance in the global markets. Better pay has a domino effect, which will also create more wealthy Africans. Lack of education and political instability will always hinder growth and development in any state. This has been proven by many nations around us faced by such dilemmas. Many African leaders lack independence in making key decisions for their states. Unfortunately, the same foreigners who advise our leaders do not run to us for advice when their own countries are faced with tough choices. Its time we accepted the fact that it is only we Africans who can build Africa and give it the rightful democracy it needs. Democracy can never be imported.

Now that we know our challenges, what solutions did his Excellency say he used in Uganda? Emancipation of the private sector.

The President informed us how he invited back the Indians who had been kicked out during the regime of Idi Amin. By doing so, the Ugandan economy has been growing at an average rate of six percent per annum for the last 19 years. Making land readily available to investors to put up production plants is crucial to attracting the much-needed investment in our economy. Moreover, several existing investors are keen on increasing their investments in the country, while during the African Business Leaders Forum, several new investors stood up to be counted among those who are heading to Uganda with big bucks. Our President�s vision is for Uganda to move from being a third world nation to a first world country. And one way for us to do this is by increasing the amount of new investments coming into the country. One other interesting measure that the President wants to implement is a National Identity Card system. For a while, we in Uganda have lived comfortably without using ID cards. But what is the importance of an ID card to the economy?

According to His Excellency, without an ID for identification, unscrupulous individuals are bound to get loans from one bank and walk into the next bank to get a second loan without repaying them, leaving several banks with a big portfolio of bad debts that could critically stifle the growth and development of the financial sector and the economy as a whole.

Challenges shall always be there but as Reuel Khoza who is the Chairman of the NEPAD Business Foundation says in his book, Let Africa Lead, If not us, then who? If not from Africa, then where? If not now, then when? If not for Africa and humanity, why not? Let Africa rise to this quintessential challenge. It is our date with destiny. -Business in Africa Magazine (East Africa)



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