Edited by Florence Kuteesa, Emanuel Tumusiime Mutebile, Alan Whitworth, and Tim Williamson, Uganda’s Economic Reforms; Insider Accounts is a compilation of 16 papers written by “insiders” – the men and women, who were architects and implementers of Uganda’s reforms in the period after 1986.
As the title suggests, the book is an insiders’ account of Uganda’s economic reform program and remarkable transformation under the government of current president, Yoweri Museveni, who came to power in 1986.
To give some context, Uganda’s government under Yoweri Museveni inherited an economy that had suffered 15 years of mismanagement. The formal sector had more or less entirely collapsed. Poverty was bone-biting and there were staggering levels of inflation. Smuggling had become the order of the day and there were limited incentives to encourage private and foreign investments.
Through a series of reforms implemented over a decade and a half, Uganda has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, and a model for free markets economics and private sector-led development on the continent.
Among the most interesting papers, is one by Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile, currently governor of the Central Bank of Uganda and formerly permanent secretary in the powerful Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. Mutebile outlines the context of reform, and breaks down the challenges and key strategies that the government put in place. These included currency reforms , tighter fiscal discipline, and overall institutional strengthening, notably the merger of the Ministry of Finance with the Ministry of Planning and Development. He notes that the merger; “did not only put economists in charge of economic management, but it also removed, at a stroke the duplication of three key functions…the responsibility of short and medium economic planning and management …the responsibility of both development and the recurrent budget management process…and aid management.
Another contributor, Mary Goretti Sendyona, a senior fellow in the public service ministry, reflects on the impact of public service restructuring and pay reform, looking at the challenges, measures and outcomes of the government’s civil service reforms. Interestingly, she notes how the trimming of the civil service resulted in a transfer of skills and experience to the nascent private sector, that has helped drive economic growth.
Writing on tax reform, Gerry Cawley and Justin Zake narrate the struggle to reform the revenue collection of the country — one that had crumbled during the years of uncertainty making the tax policy volatile, unpredictable and a hindrance to trade and investment.
Overall, the book is mostly a glowing account, and may come across as short on critical reflection. It ignores a number of critical issues – why, despite the economic progress, are so many Ugandans still living in abject poverty? Critics of Uganda’s economic transformation argue that increasing aid and debt relief have made the government less accountable to its citizens. Again this is an issue that is not investigated critically in the book.
On the whole, however, this book is to be recommended to readers with an interest in doing business in Africa, and/or understanding what it takes to implement economic reforms in some of the world’s most challenging environments. Historical narratives or appraisals of this nature are hard to find especially when they are by individuals who participated in drawing such a roadmap.
Volume: 415 Pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press