UGANDA: Economic growth bringing social gains, but slowly

Uganda scores poorly on social well-being and has the lowest life expectancy in East Africa despite steady economic growth rate in recent years, according to World Development Indicators
published by the World Bank this week.

Yet, the country's progress in primary education provision was honoured this week by the international NGO, Oxfam, and its spending on primary healthcare has almost trebled in the past two years.

The apparent contradiction between strong economic growth, slow social progress and specific sectoral development can be largely explained by the legacy of Uganda's extensive civil conflict and the time lag between economic and social development, the World Bank in Kampala said this week.

"Given the disruption of 15 years of more or less continuous civil unrest, it would take a while - even with rapid economic growth - to come up to the levels of Kenya and Tanzania", Robert Blake, senior resident economist at the World Bank in Kampala, told IRIN on Wednesday.

In this year's budget, however, primary healthcare spending is up 270 percent, rural road maintenance 214 percent and primary education spending 32 percent, Blake told IRIN.

Reflecting the priorities of its Poverty Eradication Action Plan of 1997, the government has more than doubled primary school enrolment from 2.1 million two years ago to 5.3 million this year, including large numbers of over-age children who had either dropped out of school or never attended.

But although social spending is increasing "as part of an overall growth strategy", the improvements in social indicators have been relatively slow in coming, said Blake. "There is an impatience for improved social conditions - and to some extent, a bit of tension between economic realities on the one hand and life as the ordinary Ugandan sees it - but it takes time."