Saturday, January 31, 2015

Patrick Katagata; Ugandans Oblivious of Wild Polio Virus Outbreak?

By Patrick Katagata (Opinion)

They are many and if unchecked, they’ll kill more Ugandans than have fallen in all wars or succumbed to HIV and AIDS. They are worse than corruption, if we could know.

They are more disastrous than Ebola - slowly but significantly they ravage the nation. They are Uganda’s transformation silent enemies: closed / rigid mindsets; negative self-perception; poor or complete lack of security consciousness, poor health or disease vigilance; fatal laziness, drunkenness etc.

I’ve just returned from monitoring the recently concluded the National Polio Supplementary Immunization Activities (SIA) conducted by WHO-Uganda in conjunction with Ministry of Health, with mixed feelings: It’s exciting as it’s disturbing. It’s exciting knowing that our government is keenly protecting our children against the Wild Polio Virus (WPV) that’s confirmed broke out in the Horn of Africa in 2013 and in 2014.

With our high cross-border movements, unending influx of refugees etc, there would be a possible importation of the same into the country. In fact, I wouldn’t consider erroneous to contend that this Vaccination should have come earlier. Luckily, we haven’t yet had any bloody cases!

But I’m also disturbed that many Ugandan especially in the countryside continue to live oblivious of the impending doom this WPV outbreak may inflict on the lives of their children and generally, the national economy, or they simply don’t care!

In my efforts to explain to those in my area of coverage, I was often told that “we don’t know and we don’t care about your (government) programmes. They don’t concern us etc.” Have you heard the urban and peri-urban dwellers’ common phrase of ‘sagala kumanya’?

That’s exactly what it means and that’s the kind of attitude that continues to influence our people’s behavioral tendencies inadvertently affecting their health decisions and consequently, general wellness.

How can you be ignorant and still say you’re comfortable that way? How does one expect the government to take care of everything about them including keeping the sanitation of their own homes – tusaba gavumenti etuyambe?

Specifically, the harsh realities I encountered in the aforementioned assignment, revolved around people recklessly volunteering information about others to strangers which could be an easy entry route for terrorism; able-bodied young people in sports betting or in bars or women watching Soap Operas as early as ten O’clock; general poor disease awareness.

But the worst of all was how some people still perceive themselves as cursed from creation times and how they can never be like Whites or Rwandese whom they believe have White blood from their lineage.

That immunization kills children to pave way for Europeans’ settlement in Africa etc. If Uganda will transform, that kind of thinking must stop!

Of course, I’m glad that there are some Ugandans thirsting for national transformation and have undertaken specialized training designed for just that through the Institute for National Transformation–Uganda. There are a few Alumni and their fruits are well visible.

Most notable among these are: Dr. James Magara, CEO - Jubilee Dental Clinics and Vine Christian Academy; former URA Commissioner General, Allen Kagina; Hon. Benson Obua Ogwal (Moroto County); Uganda AIDS Commission’s Director General, Dr. Christine Ondoa; Dr. Monica Musenero (her work in fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone says it all); KCCA’s Jennifer Ssmakula Musisi etc.

If you’ve interacted with these people at whatever level or know their work resolve and results in their respective organizations, that’s what national transformation is about! The quest for national transformation is urgent more than never before and it can’t merely be left to a handful of citizens.

We need more – we’re all called upon!

The writer is currently undertaking the Oak seed Executive Leadership Programme at the Institute for National Transformation - Uganda.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Canada Announces $1 million investment to improve mental health in Africa

News Release
January 27, 2015

Grand Challenges Canada today announced an investment in an innovative social franchise approach to scale up the treatment and support of mental illness in resource- poor countries. The approach has been developed by international mental health and development NGO BasicNeeds, to ensure their award-winning model for those living with mental illness reaches as many people in need as possible.

Today nearly 75% of the 450 million people worldwide with mental illness and epilepsy live in the developing world, and 85% of these people have no access to treatment. The size of the problem is huge, with depression alone projected to be the leading global burden of disease by 2030. 

This urgent and currently unmet need for better treatment and expanded access to care for those living with mental disorders in resource poor settings is what the ‘BasicNeeds Model’ seeks to address.

BasicNeeds’ unique approach works with existing health and community systems, and staff to provide community based mental health treatment through outreach clinics, mental health camps and regular check-ups. 

However, treatment alone is not enough for sustained improvements to mental health, which is why the Model also increases an individual’s access to emotional and practical support through self-help groups, improves their capacity to find meaningful occupation and employment, and ultimately works to changes health systems and policy for the better.

Through the implementation of its Model across 12 countries, BasicNeeds has presented strong evidence that its approach generates sustainable impact. It has enabled 86% of people with mental health problems in the communities they serve to access treatment (compared to 49% baseline), of which 73% reported reduced symptoms. 

The positive outcomes of reported reduced symptoms are underpinned by a reduction in mortality. Over the last 14 years, the lives of more than 600,000 beneficiaries have been improved. While this is a sizable number, it is only a drop in the ocean, when we consider the vast treatment gap.

The new investment announced today will enable organisations in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria to deliver the BasicNeeds Model for Mental Health and Development themselves, under a social franchise agreement, with ongoing training and assistance from BasicNeeds International. 

Empowering and supporting in-country organisations to take on the independent delivery of the BasicNeeds Model will expand its reach in a sustainable and cost effective manner, whilst ensuring that quality remains central to the delivery and BasicNeeds brand. Over 3 years the funding is projected to help 10,000 people.

Simultaneously, BasicNeeds Ghana will initiate scale-up through the direct implementation of the Model in new regions in Ghana. To support this process, researchers at the University of Ghana will be rigorously testing the Model’s cost utility as compared to standard approaches to mental health treatment provided by the Ghana public health system. This will involve measuring costs against economic welfare, functional capacity and Quality Adjusted Life Years gained.

Grand Challenges Canada is investing $1 million CAD, bringing the total funding to $2 million CAD from investments made by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Skoll Foundation, Caritas Nyeri, the Ministry of Health in Osogbo Osun State, Nigeria, and the Kenyan and Ghanaian governments.

“There are few better examples of how a Bold Idea can have Big Impact than BasicNeeds which has improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people with mental illness in the developing world. Canada, through Grand Challenges Canada, is proud to help bring this model to even greater scale so that many more people can lead a life of productivity and participation in society,” said Dr. Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada.

“We are absolutely delighted to receive this generous investment from Grand Challenges Canada to improve the lives of thousands of people suffering from mental illness in Africa. We are hugely grateful for this support. 

This investment in our social franchise programme will give us the opportunity to build the capacity of organisations in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria to effectively implement our holistic model and make a difference to many more lives,” said Chris Underhill, Founder President of BasicNeeds.

"Canada is a world leader when it comes to promoting innovative approaches that tackle mental illness," said the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Canada’s Minister of Health. “Our Government, through Grand Challenges Canada, is proud to support this initiative, which will provide effective and sustainable care for people affected by mental illness in Africa."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Telecom Operators; Africa is data hungry

Press Release
CAPE-TOWN, South-Africa, January 28, 2015 

Telecom operators will have to find better, smarter ways to serve a data-hungry population throughout Africa. Data consumption continues to grow at an incredible pace globally. Over 90% of all the data in the world was created in the past two years, and the total amount of data being captured and stored by industry doubles almost year on year.

It is expected that by 2020, the amount of digital information in existence will have grown from 3.2 zettabytes today to 40 zettabytes. Every minute we send 204 million emails, generate 1,8 million Facebook likes, send 278 thousand Tweets and up-load 200 thousand photos to Facebook.

Coupled to this, cellular phones are now even more accessible to the general population than they ever have been, with 17.9% of rural households in South Africa alone accessing the internet from mobile devices and 30.8% of South African households using mobile devices to access the internet, according to Statistics South Africa’s General Household Survey report published in June 2014.

The sheer size of the African continent, coupled with the fact that Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is rising faster than the rest of the world (Population Reference Bureau predicts that Africa’s population will double to 2.4 billion by 2050) means that there are already several hundred million internet users who are demanding internet performance, and this number will rise at an inconceivable pace.

Peter Greaves, Aurecon’s Expertise leader for Data & ICT Facilities comments: “The impact of this is that telecom operators will have to find better, smarter ways to serve a data-hungry population throughout Africa. 

Corporations and governments are also becoming aware of the increased need for data centres and the fact that outsourcing these services allows them to focus on their core activities. Concerns about unreliable power and inadequate security can similarly be delegated to a dedicated third party that will guarantee the required uptime and data integrity.”

He adds: “While it’s true that data centres can be remote, countries (especially African countries) need to start looking at more local solutions in order to ensure data sovereignty and efficient network performance. This demand will drive a significant data centre build-out in both East and West Africa over the next 20 years and now is the time to start reassessing the number of data centres in Africa, where they are located and how we can create scalable solutions to meet future data needs.”

“There are many complexities involved with building data centres that become long-term assets. Creating long-term, dynamic, scalable data centres in Africa will require us to draw on the key lessons learned from around the globe as well as the knowledge from local experts in the field,” believes Greaves.

Just some of the key considerations involved in creating long-term data centre assets are explored below.

Sustainably minded design;
Data centres are significant users of energy and are estimated to consume some 2% of the world’s energy. Today’s data centre owners are placing a greater emphasis on the performance and even official rating of their centres.

In Africa, passive design measures which draw on the local climate to cool data centres can be employed in order to reduce cooling needs. Using free cool air at night to pass through the conditioning systems; or exploiting ground-source cooling are both mechanisms that can make a significant difference to the electricity that is needed to cool a data centre.

“Better performance translates into reduced operational costs, ultimately improving the overall competitiveness of a data centre,” believes Greaves.

Site selection - withstanding natural disasters and communication infrastructure is key
Critically, power outages at these centres can have a significant effect on business operations – compromising crucial business information, with severe consequences. In line with this, data centre site selection in Africa needs to take into account the likelihood of natural disaster conditions such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos, heavy rain, high temperatures, fires, epidemics and floods. Modern data centres can be built and retrofitted to withstand natural disasters, but the overall impact of a natural disaster still needs to be considered during the site selection process.

In addition, data centres need to have significant communications infrastructure from a variety of sources in order to minimise the risk of interruptions and failure, which could have a major impact on a service provider’s customers. Bandwidth availability and the distance of existing IT infrastructure from data centres, such as marine IT links, needs to be planned to ensure new data centres are efficient and economically viable.

Skilled data centre operators
The people who manage and work in data centres need more than IT skills. A successful data centre requires a culmination of IT, facilities, data security and storage skills, to name but a few. There are also a number of compliance and regularity concerns that need to be adhered to and the right people, with the right skills, are needed for these critical positions.

Why Aurecon?
Aurecon ( has been involved in data centres for over 15 years, including forming part of the project teams on some of the largest data centres around the world. This international experience, coupled with our local engineering experience of conditions throughout Africa, means that we have the skills to avoid the pitfalls that many other countries have seen when planning and building new data centres.

Our team of over 500 building specialists as well as our local know-how ensures that we are able to adapt international best practice to produce local excellence locally.

“The increasing demand for datacentres in Africa will lead to an inspiring, large scale build of data centres and usher in a digital revolution in Africa,” believes Greaves.

“Done right, the evolution and expansion of data centres will enable the globalisation of the African continent. If these are situated close to reliable, expandable data links linking the population of Africa to all parts of the world in real time, they will accelerate learning, promote ease of business and allow African people as well as businesses to expand their knowledge and corporations. These are just some of the benefits that the continent can look forward to in the future if data centres are planned properly today.”

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of Aurecon.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Transforming Healthcare Technology in Africa

By Esther Nakkazi
Fifty health experts from Africa and overseas gathered  in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this week to prioritise mechanisms that will enable sustained health innovation in Africa. 

Particularly, the Ebola Virus diagnostics and therapeutics potentials discovered from Africa were discussed and a fund to support them was established.  

The conference was convened  by the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI), in partnership with UNICEF were high impact technologies that can transform healthcare delivery were prioritised. 

This new African-based fund, equipped with grant making and social venture arms to support the initiative, would ensure development, implementation and commercialization of technologies emanating from African Centres of Excellence and other sources. 

It will also support partnership building, the operationalization of the African regulatory harmonization activities, and promote local research into Ebola and other emergent infectious diseases. Establishment of incubators for innovation and engagement with the private sector will be pivotal for realizing this ambition.

This proposal comes as the Heads of State of the African Union (AU) start their annual meeting in Addis Ababa this week, to discuss Ebola and health system strengthening in Africa among other key issues.

The meeting was attended by heads of leading African institutions such as the African Union Commission (AUC), financial institutions, the World Bank, other international and multilateral organizations. Donors, multinational technology companies, entrepreneurs and NGOs were also represented.

The Experts in attendance highlighted the leadership role ANDI is demonstrating on innovation issues in Africa, and recommended that ANDI work closely with AUC in the implementation and promotion of health innovation by Africans within Africa.

“This 3-day conference has been extraordinary,” said Dr Solomon Nwaka, the Executive Director of ANDI, who orchestrated the event. “The technologies discussed at this meeting demonstrate the health innovation potential existing within the African continent. With the establishment of the right enablers such as a sustainable financing mechanism, African R&D institutions and entrepreneurs will be able to collaborate in order to solve the health challenges of the continent and contribute to development.”

The Vice-Chair of ANDI Board, Dr Tshinko Ilunga, thanked the experts for their contribution, stating: “The current Ebola outbreak is a stark reminder of the pressing need to strengthen local health and innovation systems in Africa.”

Uganda Health Journalists Win Global Population Media Award

 January 2015

Uganda Health Journalists won this year’s Population Institute 35th Annual Global Media Awards competition with their special edition on reproductive health policy.

It was produced with support from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB)’s USAID-funded IDEA project.

The edition is the sixth edition of the periodical, The Health Digest, which is produced by the Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU), made up of health reporters dedicated to increasing awareness about health care issues and improving health literacy among Africans.

The Health Digest won the award for the Best Article or Series of Articles. The Population Institute honoured all the Uganda health journalists at a function held in Washington D.C on January 15th 2015.

Esther Nakkazi, a freelance science journalist and the president of HEJNU picked up the award on their behalf. Also present for award ceremony was Chris Conte the senior consulting editor of The Health Digest and Deborah Mesce from PRB.
Esther with Bob Walker and Bill Ryerson (Award Ceremony)

Population Institute officials said they were proud to recognize this year’s winners for their profound insights and their journalistic excellence. “Their voices deserve to be heard and their efforts acknowledged.”

The team of Uganda health reporters who won endeavored to go beyond the everyday reporting on reproductive health; they delved deeper into the problems and analyzed attempts to resolve them from a policy perspective, said a statement from Population Reference Bureau that funded the edition. “With robust reporting and careful editing, they produced a magazine deserving of an award.”

The edition carries 19 articles scrutinizing Uganda's reproductive health policies and their implementation, and lays a pathway to improvement.

The articles, among other subjects, examined the economic benefits of family planning, the reasons why many women are not using contraceptives, new strategies for addressing gender-based violence, and the need for better sex education in the schools.

It also examines the country's high rate of maternal mortality, the brain drain of health workers, and the possible consequences of Uganda's rapidly growing population. It also compared Uganda’s policies with its neighbors; Rwanda and Kenya.

HEJNU was founded in 2011. It has 80 members – all journalists who report on heath regularly. Its members represent all major Uganda media houses. The organisation also has partnerships with various non-governmental organisations, academic and research institutions.

HEJNU publishes The Health Digest, twice a year and convenes a health journalism convention each year. HEJNU also recently started holding monthly science cafes on HIV prevention supported by AVAC, advocates for HIV prevention to end AIDS. The first one held on the 13th of January 2015 was about microbicides and kick started by Dr. Patrick Ndase, Sylvia Nakasi and Angelo Kaggwa.

Previous issues of The Health Digest have focused on maternal health, cancer, kidney disease, preventive health, epidemics and the latest was on vaccines. All these can be found on HEJNU’s website,

Another Ugandan organisation also won in the Best Film category. The Hope in the Basin: Voices of the People, a 20 documentary, highlights the success that an integrated population, health and environment (PHE) program is having in helping to protect Africa’s Lake Victoria.

The film documents how local communities and organizations—like OSIENALA (Friends of Lake Victoria) and the Ecological Christian Organization—are coming together to restore fish stocks in Lake Victoria.

The film also looks at how Pathfinder International is saving and improving lives by making family planning and reproductive services available to women living in the Lake Victoria basin.
For more information contact HEJNU (

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ask your Government Website Could Stamp Out Corruption in Uganda

By Esther Nakkazi

After a lot of walking and begging the officers at the Ministry of Lands, an older man who was trying to transfer his land title talked to me about his experience. He was frustrated. I am an interested party because I was trying to buy this land from him. But it was 6 months of appointments, time wasting and no results. I just wondered why such a simple act could take such a l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g time.

Well, finally the lands officer was out with the problem. There were no Mailo land papers to print the title on to. Really? For six months! I was pissed off. I talked to a friend and he said that was just what the lands office was, the officers in there are untouchable.

He told me the President of Uganda had once given free land to a group of people for development, when they went to process the title and transfer it, an officer named his price and told them if they did not want to pay it let them go ahead and inform the President, but they would never get it any way without him! They paid up.

I was baffled! The President! And who I am? Anyway, I attended this training by the ICT Policy Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) http://www.cipesa.org    
It empowered us as journalists to ask the Government  just about anything. So when this conversation was on, I sent out a request to the concerned ministry, the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development. It was sent in November 19, 2014. 
It was basically about the frustration that there were no Mailo land papers to print on titles. If you read between the lines you know what that means! I got a reply ten days later on the 26th of November 2014. And I was just happy that someone had responded. All information officers working for Government agencies are supposed to respond to citizens' concerns. It is their job and soon it will be used to rate their efficiency at work. Here is the response to my request, it read:

Dear Esther Nakkazi,
It is not true that Mailo papers are unavailable! However, I need to know which office/Officer mis-informed you so that the Ministry takes the necessary action.

The land transaction costs are known and do not include anything such as 'payment for Mailo papers...'
I attach two informative documents that will assist provide you with the required information and confirm the fees paid for various land transactions.

Incase of any further concerns, do not hesitate to contact the Ministry on 0791 622 191 for assistance and clarification.

Your information request is deemed responded to by the Ministry, unless otherwise.

Dennis Obbo
ATI Implementation Focal Point

Mr Obbo also sent me these two documents; 
Lands Ministry Service Costs.pdf
Guide to clients At the Ministry and MZOs.pdf

I will one day send through the corrupt officer's name. But I think this is one way of fighting corruption and I intend to use this website to the maximum. I hope you can use it too. Fight Corruption in Uganda!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ramathan Ggoobi; Uganda shilling depreciation rate scary and political

 By Ramathan Ggoobi

Last week, I delivered a lecture entitled, "The State of Uganda's Economy" to the officers of the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) at the Oliver Tambo School of Leadership in Kaweweta, Nakaseke District. It is a lecture I have regularly given to the UPDF officers at their different schools since 2010. 

In this lecture, I attempt to bring our heroes in the military uniform to speed as far as our economy is concerned. In brief, we look at some of the facts about Uganda’s economy that every Ugandan should know, and their economic implications. For example, what are the implications of having a very small economy? An economy with a total GDP (gross domestic product -- the value of the total output of goods and services produced in the country) of only about U.S. $25 billion (or Ushs. 67 trillion), and per capita GDP of about $628 (or Ushs1.7 million) a year. 

Someone may ask, is $25 billion so small to make Uganda a small economy? Oh yes. To understand how badly off we are, one may compare this with personal incomes of some rich individuals. Don't even think about the Bill Gates or Warren Buffets of this world. Think about young entrepreneurs like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The 30-year-old young man is worth about $33 billion. He can, therefore, buy the entire Uganda, with all our cows, coffee, beans, minerals, etc. and retain enough change to buy Rwanda. We are really very poor, small economies.  

What is even more worrying is that our per capita income has failed to grow despite the continued growth of GDP. In 1970, Uganda's per capita income was U.S. $133. Malaysia also had a low income per person, about $392. Today, Malaysians enjoy incomes as high as $10,500 while Ugandans continue to struggle to make ends meet using very low incomes. 

Why the paradox? Why has Uganda's GDP per capita failed to grow as much as it is doing in Malaysia and other countries, despite the somewhat impressive growth in total GDP? In 1970, Uganda's total GDP was about U.S. $1.2 billion. As we have seen above, it has since grown to $25 billion. However, when it comes to people's incomes, they have by and large been stagnant. Why? 

Foreign dominated economy 

A number of factors contribute to this anomaly. First, Uganda's growth is not inclusive. Inequality in income and wealth is high. The Gini-coefficient (the index  used to measure inequality) stands at 0.39. This is quite high Gini index, implying that the growth in GDP goes to the very few individuals who already have a lot, leaving the masses with low, stagnant incomes. 

Secondly, the high population growth rate of Uganda is making it difficult for Ugandans to raise their incomes. The recent census confirmed that our population is growing at above 3%, with fertility rate of 6 (i.e. every woman in Uganda, on average, produces 6 children). This means that growth of per capita income is competing with the high population growth rate. And the former is losing the race.   

Thirdly, a very large proportion of Uganda's GDP is produced by foreigners. Just look around Kampala city and count the number of serious businesses that are owned by Ugandans. Not many. Most big businesses, especially in the fastest growing sectors such as telecommunications, banking, large scale manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade (large super markets and stores), etc., are owned by foreigners. Where are Ugandans concentrated? In small, informal businesses -- boda boda, vending the products that foreigners produce, hair salons, running bars, etc. Thus, the GDP is going to the foreigners who repatriate it to their home countries.        

Another factor contributing to low growth of Uganda's per capita incomes the high marginal propensity to import (MPM). I have always questioned our trade policy which allows imports of all kinds, ranging from toothpicks to popcorns, bathing sponge (ekyangwe), and all sorts of items that we can easily produce here. I often hear people wondering how we have failed to produce a pin! A pin may be sophisticated, but what about toothpicks? 

In Uganda, we cannot sharpen a tree to pick our teeth! Someone has to pose as a "businessman", board a plane, and go to China to import boxes of these sharpened pieces of wood. We spend 33% of our incomes importing such items, and we wonder why our incomes are stagnant yet those of the Chinese and Malaysians are growing  miraculously.     

Regional security challenges  
Lastly, our incomes are stagnant partly because of our low levels of capital accumulation. This is on the account of very high marginal propensity to consume (MPC), currently standing at about 87%. This means that on average, Ugandans spend 87% of every additional shilling they earn. We save and invest only about 13% of our incomes. Thus we cannot make our incomes grow when we haven't saved and invested a substantial proportion. 

Another aspect I often discuss for our soldiers, and my students of Ugandan Economy at Makerere University Business School, is the current state of economy of Uganda. Bank of Uganda projects that the economy will this year grow at between 5 and 5.5 percent. This growth, according to authorities, will be supported by high public investment in infrastructure, and also by the expected recovery of domestic demand.

However, there are risks that might impede growth of the economy, including the weak global economy. Europe has failed to recover as had been projected. This implies that our exports might be affected and remittances from Ugandans living and working in those countries might dwindle. 

Secondly, this year we expect low foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow. This is on the account of the foregoing factor, and the political uncertainty that has been created by the apparent power struggles within the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. Regional security challenges are also contributing to our economic hardships. South Sudan, one of our largest markets in the region, has failed to stabilize. There is also a looming conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia and Uganda over the Nile waters. There is also a lot of unfinished business in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). All these are likely to negatively impact the economy in 2015.    

Political bickering within NRM
Our trade deficits are widening, now standing at about 15% of GDP ($2.5 billion). Our import trade has enlarged far more than the export trade, now standing at $7.8 and $5.3 billion respectively. How do we finance the trade deficit? By using current transfers, particularly grants and remittances, and through investment inflows. However, owing to the economic hardships that Europe is undergoing, grants and remittances are reducing yet exports are also not doing well (due to global & regional challenges seen above). 

This is partly the reason the shilling is depreciating at a scary rate. Average mid-market exchange rate in April 2014 was Ushs. 2,530 per US Dollar. By the time I am writing this, (Jan. 15, 2015) it was Ushs. 2,898! Why has the shilling experienced rapid depreciation in the last couple of months? Bank of Uganda issued a statement last week attributing the current depreciation to speculation. It was a diplomatic way of decrying the negative expectations created by the political infightings within the NRM. 

I have on several occasions warned that political uncertainty ahead of 2016 might return the economy to the post 2011 crisis. Because of the political bickering between you, Mr. President, and your former friend and political ally, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, investors are reluctant to bring their dollars. This has left the economy with very few dollars yet demand for them to import is rising. The situation is likely to remain the same, or even get worse, as we approach 2016.        

However, although speculative tendencies may be blamed for the current spate of rapid depreciation, Bank of Uganda should come out clearly tell Ugandans what has made the shilling weak over the year. In 1990, it required a Ugandan to pay only Ushs. 70 to purchase one U.S. dollar. Today we are paying nearly Ushs. 2900. Why? 

Our weak balance of payments (the trade deficit seen above) is the main reason for this long run depreciation. We are importing a lot and thus increase the demand for the dollar, yet our exports have not grown to earn the dollars. Thus the price of the dollar has to keep rising.  

Other factors include, the low levels of productivity among Ugandans which makes it difficult to produce high value products for export, the effect of global market volatility, and of course the increased demand for the dollar by Ugandans going to China, Dubai, and India to do business (import all sorts of products). 

Next week, we shall see why our domestic prices don't respond quickly to global trends. I have heard many Ugandans wondering why when oil prices dropped on the world market, pump prices in Uganda remained high. We shall explain the reasons behind this anomaly.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Health Journalists Network in Uganda Wins Global Media Award

Press Release: Congratulations HEJNU

(December 2014) The Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU) has won this year's top Global Media Award with its special edition of Health Digest on reproductive health policy. The 43-page publication was produced with support from PRB's USAID-funded IDEA project.

The special edition carries 19 articles scrutinizing Uganda's reproductive health policies and their implementation, and lays a pathway to improvement. The publication examines a range of issues, including the country's high rate of maternal mortality, why many women choose not to use contraceptives, the brain drain of health workers, and the possible consequences of Uganda's rapidly growing population. It also compared Uganda with its neighbors: One reporter traveled to Rwanda, and the group reached out to a Kenyan reporter who contributed an article about her country.

Esther Nakkazi, president of HEJNU, and her editorial team of female as well as male reporters endeavored to go beyond the everyday reporting on reproductive health; they delved deeper into the problems and analyzed attempts to resolve them from a policy perspective. With robust reporting and careful editing, they produced a magazine deserving of an award.

The Population Institute has honored journalistic excellence with the Global Media Awards 35 years. The Health Digest won the award for the Best Article or Series of Articles.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hacking Higher Education

By Esther Nakkazi

After two decades of teaching at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosafety, at Makerere University, Professor John David Kabasa, had heard enough of the same request from his students.

Upon completion of studies, after graduation, most of his students would beg him to tip them on any employment opportunities and not only in their field of study, but they could do ‘anything’.

This was perplexing for him and a time for inner reflexion and questioning. Was the education the students obtained from Universities a lie? Was University education just enslaving students in Africa? Why could they not find employment after attaining high education?

He observed that students with veterinary medicine and agriculture degrees or food science could not do the basics like making yoghurt, those who eventually got employed as Agricultural officers were only playing a supervisory role to farmers. And the farmers were looking down upon them because they were not practical.

Yet most parents had sacrificed a lot to get students through higher education, some selling land, properties. But at the end there was no employment and no skills acquired.

“We need a major overhaul on the ideology to higher education in Africa. We are disoriented. We are still using the colonial model, which is not ideal for Africa and the products are on the streets crying,”  Kabasa says.

“We auctioned research and realised that University graduates only use less than 50 percent of knowledge acquired. We then tried to find out what else could they do with their time,” says Kabasa.

Kabasa then came up with an original innovation to higher education, an alternative model, that is transformative, affordable and uses a competence based approach but also enrols everybody, irrespective of their education level. It is a modularised degree.

“This University model welcomes all. Its focus is to transform communities. It fast tracks education. It is anchored onto production. Whoever is recruited is against poverty. It graduates enterprises not people. It also engages the University with the community,” says Kabasa.

It is the first of a kind around Africa, everything is different.

At one graduation ceremony, students served guests with yoghurt, instead of the usual soft drinks. They were showing off acquired skills, at least they had something to show. The guest of honour was elated.

In this model students are skilled. Skills are imparted to groups of about 300 people in for instance hay making, making soap from pig fat, making honey etc. And the model, so far, is popular so much so that it has government funding as well as cultural and religious leaders support.

The model, referred to as Afrisa-Africa, is also envied by students enrolled in the mainstream University system, because typically, students make money immediately. Entrepreneurship is emphasised, it is engaging, practical and community based.

University Education in Africa and Community Engagement;

“Higher education in the East African region is modelled to the European system, to solve society issues in Europe not Africa,” says Professor Mayunga Nkuya, the executive secretary Inter-University Council for East Africa.

Professor Nkuya says the only way Universities can be relevant to is to be attached to communities, 'it is the only way they will remain relevant.'

However, although participants attending the first East African Networking Meeting in the field of Community University Engagement, held in Kampala, Uganda, 27th-28th October marvelled at its way of how through this a University can engage the community, some scholars still feel it is not the right way for a University to engage the community.

But the inventor, Kabasa, disagrees. To him this is the best model for Universities. He says Universities are resisting it, and they have a right to, it has many implications especially on the types of professors that will be deployed.

“Will they measure their professorship from the number of articles produced in peer-reviewed journals as has been the practice or by the number of households transformed?”

“It is a good innovation. Everyone is now realising that there is a mismatch between University graduates and what the industry needs,” says Dr. Lucy Kithome the Activity Manager from Education and Youth at USAID-Kenya.

“We need a paradigm shift in higher education. Our graduates are roasting maize in Kenya. We graduate engineers but Chinese are building our roads,” said Kithome in Kampala.

Dr. Paul Nampala, the program Manager for Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), which promotes community Action research by Universities says that ‘Universities ought to realise that they do research with communities.

“Universities should know that communities have a lot of knowledge and coping mechanisms that have made them resilient,” he says.

Nampala observes that although most Universities had taken off in different directions in terms of University Community Engagement, the new Universities have a chance to get it right.

Dr. Okot Alex, from the School of Distance and Lifelong learning at Makerere University does not differ much. He says this approach is an innovation in the way Universities teach and will improve the employability of students who can then participate in national development. 

But insists the University should engage the community at the same level, without the ‘I know it all’ attitude prevailing now, since knowledge is not the prerogative of any community.

Kabasa says the current system of higher education in Africa is promoting unemployment and supervisors of peasants. His model will produce a new generation of Africans who are skilled, productive, entrepreneurial, developmental and can transform nations.

But should this new generation be produced by Universities? 

Universities for Research not Skilling;

George L Openjuru, the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Gulu University, says although the Afrisa model is a good innovation, it still uses a top-bottom approach while the new higher education network for East Africa formed wants the community and the University to be engaging at the same level.

Dr. Vincent Ssembatya, the director Quality Assurance at Makerere University says its is true that the country needs skilling at that level, but the University is not the best place to do it. It can be done by tertiary institutions or you will transform the University into a community college.

Dr. Nampala says the model leans more on skilling communities yet that is not a job for a University. "A University should get a ready made product- a school leaver, not a school drop out."

Nampala says quality has to be paramount for Universities to thrive, but with the Afrisa model, experience is considered key yet it is not a qualification.

“Universities are tasked with generating knowledge. If they start skilling communities they will fail at their task,” he says. If the Universities engage with communities by skilling them, it will waste researchers’ time, whose job is to solve community problems by finding solutions and giving innovations to non-governmental organisations to implement.

RUFORM funds the Afrisa model, and has given them funds to study the rural financing model. Once they get the knowledge they will hand it over to implementers.

So for Dr. Nampala, the Afrisa model, is filling a gap where non-governmental organisations and line ministries have failed to do their work- that of skilling communities.

“We need to give a thought to the world that we really want and how we get there. We need a new form of education,” says Professor Budd Hall of the University of Victoria in Canada, co-holder with Rajesh Tandon of the UNESCO chair. “Community University Education can inform the curriculum.”