Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rethinking Uganda’s Compulsory Military Service

Following is a piece I published in Uganda's Daily Monitor.

Compulsory military service will rob Ugandans of their two-decades-old political and economic progress. This comes at a time when Uganda’s achievements against poverty, HIV/Aids, and internal strife have become proof that any country can rise from sheer desperation.

Struggling nations have consistently been encouraged to follow Uganda’s route. But how did this little-but-great land-locked country do it? Here is how: since the late 1980s, Ugandans have continued to experience economic freedom that has resulted in progress. While other African countries were busy debating moral justifications for sex education and condom usage, Uganda wasted no time.

Today, the proportion of Ugandans living in abject poverty declined from 56% in 1990 to 37.7 per cent in 2006, whereas that of Kenya increased from 48% to 52.2 per cent. Tanzania’s figure increased from 28% to 35.7 per cent. Uganda’s success was aided by economic deregulation that unleashed its people’s entrepreneurial potential; fellow East Africans in Kenya and Tanzania continued to suffer under their respective government’s hard grip on economic activities. Ugandans became the most productive.

Indeed, according to the United Nation’s 2006 Human Development Report, an average Ugandan produces goods worth ($1,478) every year and expects to live for 48.4 years. An average Kenyan produces goods worth $1,140 annually and has a life expectancy of 47.5 years, whereas an average Tanzanian produces goods worth $674 and would most likely live to be 45.9 years-old.

Compulsory military service will relocate people from their productive activities into barracks that produce nothing but political correctness. Lastly, enlisting 7.5 million eligible Ugandans will not come cheap.

The country is already spending over $150 million every year on defence. The biggest threat to any developing country is poverty not conflicts or aggression. Forced military service would be disastrous for Uganda.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

State Failure & the Economic Rise of Mungiki(Pt. 2)

The proper role of government is to secure every citizen’s rights, freedoms and property. Failure to perform this role could lead to chaos, anarchy and the eventual collapse of society. But since individuals are inherently entrepreneurial, they step-in and start providing services neglected by the state. This becomes a new way of earning their living—exactly how Mungiki, Kamjesh, and the Taliban evolved.

These groups expand quickly due to high demand for their services. Unfortunately, individual expansion attracts the attention of fellow competitors. There also exists one major problem: none of them can rightful claim ownership of the matatu route or the slum neighborhood in contention. They solve such problems through violent battles that are usually won by the most violent among them. The fight does not end there; the government, which had shamelessly neglected its duty, is quick to declare the competing groupings illegal, and consequently use its police power to enforce that order. The most dominant grouping does not sit back and watch; it vows to protect its existence to the last man.

That explanation resembles Mungiki’s journey to becoming part of Kenyan life: they chose to work in government neglected areas; faced-off competition; got declared illegal by the state; and are now fighting gun battles with Major General Ali and his forces. The worst is yet to come as the movement starts recruiting from primary schools, and including innocent Kenyans on their casualty list.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Boeing, Airbus and African Airports

The global aviation industry is up for a shake up. This follows the introduction of new planes by both Boeing and Airbus, and the entry of BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) into the civilian aircraft manufacturing industry. Other factors include the transatlantic aviation agreement and the rising demand for aviation services in developing countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, it is Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 that have been stealing the show. Their distinctive designs were influenced by manufacturers' long-term view of the worldwide air transport market. Airbus envisioned a market where airlines would prefer to operate bigger planes between far-flung hubs and lighter planes between the hubs and feeder airports. Their archrival, Boeing, envisioned a market where airlines would prefer to operate simple and cost effective planes, which will have to meet consumers' need for comfort and high frequency schedules.

The resulting products are totally different. Boeing’s Dreamliner 787, is an elegant, midsized aircraft that's targeted for both medium and large-sized airports. Its selling points includes flier-friendly features such as speed, better humidity, and the ability to access many regional airports.

A380 is a humongous high-capacity plane that could win a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Most airports will have to undergo extensive renovations to accommodate this mammoth aircraft. The upgrades might include: extension of runways and loading docks, installation of heavier plane handling equipment, and the improvement of baggage and immigration services (they will be handling 555-800 passengers on a full flight). That does not come cheap. South Africa’s OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg paid R512 million (US 73m; appx Kshs. 5b) for A380 related expansion.

Bottom Line: I am beginning to suspect that Nairobi’s desire to accommodate A380 was behind the significant increase in the cost of renovating JKIA.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Three Column Blog

I finally managed to create a third column on this blog. Bye bye to a long side bar.