For economic development in Uganda to be a reality, we should change the realities.

Looking at ones-self or better yet, one’s situation, it is always nice to know that you are progressing with your intended goals and achievements. Making progress is seen to be a given and deep down you smile and give yourself a pat on the back knowing that you are several steps ahead of where you were this same time a few years ago. If you look outside of yourself and your surroundings and the bigger community and society in general, assessing progress or even no-progress may invite an even bigger word into your vocabulary. – DEVELOPMENT.

shutterstock_104724416Every society has a reasonable amount of expectation of achievement for their people and a positive future for their children. This “expectation” otherwise called a vision requires a complete change of the current status-quo and a very unique mindset change from the traditional responses of the existing leadership into a more relational and functional level of economic development at the expense of falling into a spiral of poverty.

While it may be true that every society again needs employment, these jobs alone will not solve their development problems. In comparison to other nations, Material prosperity and high quality of life are universal goals for both communities and the governments in power. However, the precise way to best achieve these goals is the subject of considerable debate. For example, the neoclassical economists argue for active government to incentivize and support private sector activity, while the Austrian School advocates for the reallocation through intervention of the market, with government responding only to external threats in a limited night watchman role.

More recently, in the face of the reaction to the undisciplined financial sectors western world, the policy agenda has become dominated by austerity and other macroeconomic considerations, as well as a myopic obsession with near-term economic growth. Yet, there is also widespread recognition that longer-term growth relies on innovation, entrepreneurship and production –decidedly microeconomic concerns. Unfortunately, although these topics have gained currency, they remain only one element in a chaotic and divisive policy debate on the role of government in the economy. The policy debate is further confused because economic development is often conflated with the more easily measured economic growth. To define a role for government in the economy, however, it is crucial that we distinguish between these concepts. We currently lack a clear and shared understanding of what we mean when we talk about economic development.

While economic growth is simply an increase in aggregate output, economic development is concerned with quality improvements, the introduction of new goods and services, risk mitigation and the dynamics of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Economic development is about positioning the economy on a higher growth trajectory. Of the two, economic development is less uniquely a function of market forces; it is the product of long-term investments in the generation of new ideas, knowledge transfer, and infrastructure, and it depends on functioning social and economic institutions and on cooperation between the public sector and private enterprise. Economic development requires collective action and large-scale, long-term investment. Economic development addresses the fundamental conditions necessary for the microeconomic functioning of the economy. It is thus a huge initiative of the government.

In its broadest sense, economic development encompasses three major areas:

1) Policies that governments undertake to meet broad economic objectives such as price stability, high employment, expanded tax base, and sustainable growth. Such efforts include monetary and fiscal policies, regulation of financial institutions, trade, and tax policies.

2) Policies and programs to provide infrastructure and services such as highways, parks, affordable housing, crime prevention, and educational programs and projects.

3) Policies and programs explicitly directed at job creation and retention through specific efforts in business finance, marketing, neighbourhood development, small business start-up and development, business retention and expansion, technology transfer, workforce training and real estate development. This third category is a primary focus of economic development professionals.

What does genuine Economic Development really look like?

Economic development means ownership and control of the economy, property, profits, and development. A real commitment to fixing our country requires a comprehensive approach that includes a massive infusion of capital for a total transformation of Ugandan communities. There are many possibilities that would grow an economic capacity from within Uganda; that would create Ugandan-owned businesses as opposed to importing corporations. We need to grow the entire economy, increase business and job opportunities for everyone, raise the pay scale for all workers by making our own labour force more competitive.1435264635493

However, in order to answer the question of economic development becoming a reality, I think we can and must consider “four new realities” of economic development in the 21st century global economy.

New Reality #1: We are in a Global Economy.

While perhaps the most obvious, it’s also the most important. In the 21st century, we are truly in a global economy, or as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says, the world is flat. In the new flat global marketplace, competition is not just from the firm down the road. Our competition comes from any person in any corner of the globe with a good education, a good idea, and a good Internet connection. Let’s put this into perspective with a little globalization quiz:

As we realize that both our potential markets and our competitors rest outside the confines of the Uganda, we must realize that our development approaches must grow beyond the traditional notions of competing against the city or county next door for the next “smokestack” prize.

New Reality #2: The pace of change will continue to accelerate.

Competition is intense, and the pace of change will continue to accelerate. It took over 5 years for the mobile phone to move from being the preserve of only the rich to it being a necessity across the country not only as a form of communication, but also as means of financial inclusion through the various platforms for accessing financial services on the mobile phone.

Every day it seems the gadget we bought yesterday becomes out dated as the new and improved version hits the marketplace. There are good jobs that exist today that we couldn’t even dream up four years ago: Mobile money agent, cash handler, blogger (blog writer), app developer, coder etc…

Even the nature of innovation itself is changing: Innovation is becoming multidisciplinary as different technologies converge, creating fields that didn’t even exist just a few decades ago.

This new reality, in which cycle times for products and ideas continue to shrink, will require all institutions – public, private, educational and non-profit – to continually adapt and change. Those that don’t are at risk. Those that do have the opportunity for reward. Time is a master with no mercy. As leaders, we are all responsible for adapting and evolving our organizations to meet the challenges that time will bring. This is difficult, because with today’s rapid pace of change, change is often necessary before people are ready to embrace it – a particular challenge for governments at all levels.

New Reality #3: The components of competitiveness can no longer be pursued separately.

The world becomes a bit more complicated every day, and in order to respond to this increased complexity we must realize that the components of competitiveness can no longer be pursued separately. Just as technologies are converging to create new fields of innovation, so are the components of competitiveness merging to shape economic growth in the 21st century. This reality holds two important lessons at the local and regional levels:

First, the idea of workforce development, community development, economic development and educational programs occurring in separate silos can no longer be tolerated. These interconnected challenges must be tackled in concert.

Second, in our new 21st century global economy, we must acknowledge what we all learned on the school playgrounds of our youth – that we are stronger when we stand together than when we stand alone. Standing together means that we must look beyond traditional political jurisdictions – the district boundary, or even the division between countries – and work together. The competitiveness of Africa’s economies is in large part tied to the competitiveness of the economic regions in which they do business.

New Reality #4: Public-Private Partnerships become more critical every day.

While governments at all levels, universities and other non-profit institutions are important players, we must never forget that the private sector is the most important element of any successful economic development strategy. Unless the private sector is ready, willing and able to invest in a community, economic growth simply will not occur, regardless of how much government spends. The private sector should not just have a seat at the table, but should actively be engaged as a full partner in strategies for economic growth. Within the parameters of public accountability, the private sector should be helping to shape the development strategies that will lead to more higher-skill, higher-wage jobs.

Meanwhile, government and non-profit leaders at all levels have the same responsibility to adapt their approach to fit the changing times. Government – by design – moves slowly, and that can be a problem in our fast-moving economy. Unless government can offer flexible and innovative programs and tools to economic regions, we risk putting these areas that we are responsible for at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace. Innovation is just as important in the public sector as it is in the private sector.

If we can innovate as economic development professionals to address the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities presented by these new realities, our regions will succeed in the worldwide marketplace, and our communities will prosper.

By Edmund Kamugisha

Edmund Kamugisha Edmund is the Engagement Director at BLEGSCOPE®, and has 10+ years of   management consultancy experience notably in MSMEs, FMCG companies and in the service industry. You can follow him on twitter: @edmokmg

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