Eight weeks from now, Uganda will have (re-)elected the president who will be expected to steer the nation safely into a post-corona era and to kick off real economic rejuvenation action to address the most burning question of the day — youth unemployment.
It is as if most of the 11 contestants for the presidency in the January 14 elections have sat at a round table and agreed on what the problem is. They may be using different words and definitely disagree on what has caused and/or kept the country in the deep end of unemployment. But they are all agreed on at least one thing — that jobs must be created for the youth in industry.
For this, the prospects are already good, because the next (re-)elected government will not be starting from scratch. A number of major projects are already underway and the next (re-)elected president can already write his/her ‘First 100 days’ promise. S/he can for instance pronounce how many kilometres of the oil pipeline will have been built by the end of the first 100 days in office.
If it is not kilometres built, s/he should at least be in position to quantify the resources expected to be deployed by then. And for the mini crude oil refinery too, from which by-products are expected to provide raw material for chemical industries.
But the real jewel will be the commissioning of the country’s vehicle manufacturing plant at Jinja in June next year. If incumbent Yoweri Museveni wins, he should commission the plant on schedule in June as the climax of a 10-year journey that he kick-started with a research and development grant at Makerere University in Kampala.
If another of the other 10 contestants wins, they would probably delay the commissioning a bit, to ‘correct’ a few non-core aspects of the project and launch it a few months later, fully owned by them.
But more important is that Jinja City, once the home of Uganda’s manufacturing sector that started going to waste in 1972 after the military takeover of the power, will be making a big statement of revival.
It is also a time to restart a few false starts the country has registered so far. There is this $100 million or so already earmarked for procurement of about 10 million radio sets to facilitate learning from home, away from schools following the lesson delivered by the year-long closure of educational institutions under the Covid-19 lockdown.
Well, MPs last week went looking for the factory that will produce the radios and failed to find it. So the immediate task is to create the assembly factory for real.
Jobs will certainly be created in a real radio factory that will be guaranteed a market since the sets will have to be replaced as new children get born and attain the age of learning.
And the radio factory owners should be looking to better and better technology — for if they don’t, another investor will come up with a plant making learning broadcast devises that will also have video and text, unlike the radios that are only verbal.
Things are also looking good for the cottage industry. Following the Covid-19 outbreak, all manner of attempts by countless people to make face masks got underway.
The big factories tendered to produce millions of masks by the government indeed produced some masks which were delivered late at that.
And their quality was not the best. With time though, small-scale producers have developed the capacity to produce really good masks.
In fact, the race in masks is now both on quality and fashion as well. Who knows — maybe the long neglected garments industry that went in limbo to enable the growth of used clothes trade is also on the way back. After all, the country is able to produce millions of tonnes of cotton.
The national agenda for the next five years is quite clear.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]