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Uganda: Misstra Know It All

Uganda goes to the polls in a few days to elect a President and new Parliament. The bulk of the press coverage has centred on President Museveni's subtle and not-so-subtle means of prolonging his three decades of power. But how has the country developed economically and socially under his rule?

There are many more exciting ways to lose money than to bet against Presiedent Yoweri Museveni, and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) winning the February 18 presidential and parliamentary elections. The last vote, in February 2011, saw Mr Museveni, who is 71 and has been in power for thirty years, apparently secure nearly 70% of the vote, while his main challenger, Kizza Besigye, of the Forum for Democratic Change, won 26%. The consensus view, not without probable cause, was that there were flaws in the process which flattered the margin of victory. But Mr Museveni's popularity in the countryside where 85% of Ugandan's reside is unchallenged.

This time tensions and the political and financial stakes, given Uganda's recent hydrocarbon discoveries, are higher. In particular, younger, educated and urbanised Ugandans, even within the NRM, are desperate for change and increasingly willing to voice their understandable disaffection with the seeming fossilisation of politics. Given the evidently liberal attitude among certain elements of the security services when it comes to cracking skulls in the name of order, the next few days and weeks could see some grave footage.

So the politics are less than savoury. But what about Museveni's three decades in economic and social terms?

Below are a few pieces of, admittedly fairly rudimentary evidence, based on IMF and World Bank data. Of course, we need a sensible comparison group or counter-factual which is always one of the hardest tasks in any of exercise of this type. For simplicity, I have chosen Uganda's SSA counterparts. The usual caveats apply.

The first chart looks at average GDP growth and its volatility. Uganda is an undoubted outperformer.

One fallout from this strong and consistent growth path is that Uganda has climbed up the SSA table in terms of GDP per head (Purchasing Power Parity adjusted). Uganda is still relatively poor, but it's made up considerable ground.

Sound monetary and fiscal policies have also helped to tame runaway inflation.

Although it is not one of the richest SSA nations, there are signs that it has managed its resources relatively efficiently. For example, since 1990 its neonatal mortality rate (death within 28 days) has fallen by over 50% (from 38.5 per 1000 live births to 18.7) compared to 37% (46 per 1000 to 28.6) across SSA as whole. A similar picture holds for deaths among those aged under 5. All this against a backdrop in which Uganda spends less than two-thirds of the SSA average on healthcare per person.

On the other hand, it lags on access to modern-day sanitation facilities, with a rate of less than 20% compared to the SSA average of 30%. In addition, less than one-in-five residents have electricity access against a SSA average of one-in-four.

A few gender-based metrics to finish off. In 2000 around 18% of parliamentary seats were held by females, rising to 35% by last year. The comparable SSA rates stood at 12% and 23% respectively. The last 25 years have also seen Ugandan girls overtake, on average, their continental counterparts in terms of relative access to primary and secondary education. Over 1990-2015 the Ugandan ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary education rose from 0.78 to 0.99. By comparison, the SSA average has moved from 0.81 to 0.91.

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