The ‘X’ in Uganda’s financial equation is about to be found

Friday May 07 2021

Since the Arabs brought numeracy to Uganda nearly 200 years ago, we have been trying to ‘find x’. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


Since the Arabs brought numeracy to Uganda nearly 200 years ago, we have been trying to ‘find x’.

The Europeans brought literacy, opened schools and made us love English, literature, European history, sciences and geography, but failed with mathematics. The algebraic expression ‘find x’ remains a nightmare to most Ugandans many years after they leave school.

But we are nearer to ‘finding x’ than you might expect. At least we are beginning to identify the numerical jinx that poses the last hurdle in our search for ‘x’: it is called ‘2 billion’ and always manifests with a ‘$’ or the letters ‘UGX’ before it, and it might at times even appear with any number of zeros.

As we continue to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, we started the week with the pleasant news that the US has donated UGX 2 billion to Uganda for Covid-19 data tools to be distributed to all districts. Most of us cannot yet figure out what these are but it surely sounds nice.

At this time when our legislators are finalising with the next financial year’s budget which is getting more unbalanced at every stage (the expenditure is more than double the income in a ratio of 9:4), all the help we can get is highly appreciated. For this pandemic has really done us bad, and made our country’s debt grow by some $2billion in just a year.

The Covid-19 borrowing brought out total debt to an awkward figure of $15.27 billion at close of 2020, but we can confidently report that we have started our descent towards the nice round figure of $20 billion, with experts projecting that we will be there in two years.


But, even as friends chip in, our own financial experts are not sleeping. To boost our income, they have slapped an extra tax of a hundred shillings per litre of petrol, which they expect to raise UGX 200 billion next financial year. Even with our aversion and reluctance to ‘find x’, all of us can automatically see that the financial experts expect us to consume 2 billion litres of fuel in the coming year.

You might be wondering what the total annual expense on driving on the roads is, then. Wonder not; we are spending $2billion a year importing both fuel and motor vehicles, most of them used.

We may appear to be struggling but we are getting there. The morale is high because a new team of many legislators starts work soon, in two weeks’ time. They will serve for five years and at their modest pay, each will have taken home at least UGX2 billion at the end of the term.

Among other things, the new MPs will tackle the most glaring issue at hand – youth unemployment.

As the pandemic induced restrictions are being relaxed all over the world, our many youth who had stopped going out (especially to the Middle East) to look for employment are now streaming out again like there is no tomorrow. It is their movement that is keeping the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority afloat. It is thanks to these youth that some $2 billion inflows will hopefully be realised in foreign earnings by the end of next year.

Back home, about one million youth who remain behind are powering the economy riding boda boda bikes. These bikes, valued at about $2,000 each, are all worth about $2 billion.

But take heart, these bikes and old cars blowing pollutant exhausts into our lungs and the air is not a permanent state; our clean energy generation capacity is growing and we have borrowed some $2 billion externally to build our recent two recent dam projects – Isimba and Karuma. These will make possible the slowly emerging electrified locomotion and start reducing on the $2 billion annual bill for combustion vehicular importation.

This will free more resources to finance critical areas of the national budget including human capital development that is taking about $2 billion in the coming budget, same as security and governance to which about $2 billion has also been allocated.

By the way, our government is determined to reduce the debt financing of its budget. It is reducing domestic borrowing in the next financial year and will therefore spend only $200 million on domestic debt servicing.

Hopefully, then, the jinx of ‘Find x’ is about to be broken. For clearly, our ‘x’ is closely related to ‘$2 billion’ and ‘UGX200 billion’. Around the derivatives of these we must look for the answer. And we should then live happily ever after.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]