OPINION: Liberalized Economy Requires Strong Trade Unions

Morris Komakech

By: Morris DC Komakech

Ugandan businesspersons are in awe as to why foreigners – Chinese, discount Indians and Nigerians, store among many – have flooded the streets to sell petty goods such as razor blades, Mandazi, Chapatti, Sandals, Padlocks, Bicycle spokes, mingling sticks, and so forth. These, they contend, should be the enterprise, ring-fenced for indigenous traders. Locals feel, and have been conditioned to think, that foreigners are big time investors – bankers, industrialists, importers and exporters, Hoteliers, and so forth.

The New Vision of December of December 13, 2016 reported an explanation from Trade and Industry Minister, Hon. Amelia Kyambadde, stating that the presence of foreigners at every facet of the economy is because of the liberalization policy that Uganda has pursued since 1992. Ms Kyambadde needed not to explain further. One of my contentions is that as Ugandans, and more so, for our Uganda’s inattentive elites, learning and understanding the way our economy is organized and operationalized, is an utmost imperative.

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Liberalization in Uganda has matured, and we can only ignore its hegemony at our own detriment. Uganda operates an open-ended capitalist economy where there is no definition of “investor” to start with. Further, there is no control of what comes in and go out of the economy. In that way, our economy is like a two open-ended pipe carrying floodwater of “investors”. Whatever can come in, comes in; whatever can get out, gets out. In between the entrance and exit, there are multiple holes through which leakages occur; corruption, manipulation, state mafia, obscurantist, and so forth.

Ugandans who do not strive to understand the way our economy is organized and operationalized will continue to blame government for not doing what it should do. They will blame the Parliament for extravagance, accuse the Judiciary and the Police of being corrupt; and blame the media for being a propaganda tool, devoid of objectivity and pursuit of “truth”; Blame public servants of apathetic performances, curse the high cost of services, kill each other of scarce resources, etc

By nature, neoliberalism is a dangerous stage of capitalism. Some clever economies have long established welfare system to counter the potential failures of the neoliberal markets. Here, strict measures are in place to ensure that leakages are minimized, “Investors” are defined, laws are adhered to, individualism prevails over community, individuals held strictly accountable, individual rights to partake in the economy is standardized, profits and spoils of the market are shared with the unfortunate, and that mechanisms of accountability is buttressed at the centre of existence of the nation. We have none of that!

By design, liberalization of the economy for Uganda means anyone, from any part of the world, can walk into Uganda and into our markets. Government scales back, so that it spends less on critical services, as we have seen the projection of 2017/2018 budget where both health and education will face budgetary reduction. Those are the most critical aspects of our economy and fundamental social services needed to prepare indigenous Ugandans to compete in the economy.

In the wake of government retreating from funding these social services, it creates a market niche for “investors”, and calls for private-public partnership where possible to fill in that gap. Government creates these markets – or service gaps – by withdrawing funding. In the bigger picture of things, international philanthropists and NGOs have taken over a large percentage of health service delivery in such economies. The advantage is, people will see NGOs coming to issue them healthcare services, and private schools propping up everywhere. The danger is compromised quality of service, sustainability, and costs (access).

Traders are informed therefore that liberalization does not favour local traders and they must form a co-operation or Union to protect their interests in the market. Strong Unions are very critical in this stage of our capitalist market development to lead and regulate the market, as well as protect the rights, privileges and interests of local traders by keeping away Chinese, Indians and Nigerians from vending in petty goods on our streets.

The writer is a Ugandan Health Intervention Specialist, Health Policy Analyst, and Public Health Leader.


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