At the climax of the historic book launch held on Tuesday 23rd September 2014, the audience comprising people with different political ideologies, public, business and private sectors, development partners, the academia, students and the media applauded the author-Professor Ezra Sabiti Suruma for presenting to Ugandans and the world at large, a well written and researched political history and economic evolution of Uganda.
This audience that filled the renowned Makerere University Main Hall and Gallery to capacity was nothing short of spectacular. They upheld the author’s point of view that there was a strong correlation between political stability and the rate of economic growth. They agreed with the author that foreign aid would never lead to the development of Uganda; appreciated the author for reiterating the need to involve the communities in the implementation of the rural development strategy; thanked the author for giving direction on a reformed pension and social security sector; and together with the author wished for a well managed oil sector that would lead to job creation and prosperity for all.
In his book, Advancing the Ugandan Economy: A Personal Account published by Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C,2014, Professor Ezra Sabiti Suruma, an accomplished academician who served government diligently, highlights that it is because of the transformed political environment that Uganda has experienced stability and growth. He also shares very difficult times in Uganda’s history and the reforms that followed, identifies problems in various sectors and proposes viable solutions given his research background and wealth of experience. Professor Suruma remains optimistic that as the democratic environment evolves, Uganda will become more stable; and emphasizes that good governance is critical in a country’s social and economic transformation.
In his 197-page book, Professor Ezra Sabiti Suruma, a former Senior Lecturer of Economics at Makerere University; former Director of Research in Bank of Uganda; Minister of Finance from 2005 to 2009; and Senior Presidential Adviser on Finance and Planning in Uganda-not only provides an insider’s account of dramatic policy shifts in Uganda leading to stability and growth, but also expresses hope for a better Uganda. This distinguished son of Africa was also a visiting fellow at Brookings with the Africa Growth Initiative from 2010 to 2011.
In the foreword, Henry Krabbendam, a Professor Emeritus, Covenant College Georgia and Founder, Africa Christian Training Institute-Uganda states that the book gives Professor Suruma’s account of the remarkable policy changes that occurred in Uganda from 1986-2012 as well as his vision for the future of his country. He notes that the primary purpose of the book is to demonstrate that African countries can achieve economic stability and sustain rapid growth when they meet at least two interdependent conditions. He however emphasizes that they must establish a stable and secure political framework, rooted in moral integrity, as well as unleash the entrepreneurialism of the populace, facilitated by a free and democratic society.
Focusing on a better Uganda, the hopeful Professor Ezra Sabiti Suruma, a respected economist and academician who served the government diligently decries the growing unemployment levels, but envisions Uganda at full employment. His philosophy of full employment is premised on a well managed oil sector and its correlation with job creation and socio-economic transformation.
“…I continue to believe that the country cannot and should not try to sweep the problem of unemployment under the carpet. With the impending oil wealth, I believe that the country really can afford to pursue full employment. Uganda needs to address the needs of its expanding youth population for adequate housing and decent jobs,” further reads the extract on page 194.
Officiating at the launch of this admirably well-written and researched book, the Vice President of the Republic of Uganda, H.E Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi congratulated Prof. Ezra Sabiti Suruma upon extending the boundaries of knowledge in economics and politics, and equally commended him for not only awakening Ugandans to social, political and economic issues of our time but also providing solutions these problems.
“I have the pleasure to officially launch Prof. Ezra Sabiti Suruma’s book-Advancing the Ugandan Economy: A Personal Account. I commend it to all Ugandans as a prescription that will save Uganda and take it to greater heights,” said the Vice President of Uganda, H.E Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi amidst applause from a captivated audience.
At the memorable book launch Pastor Laban Jjumba who was invited to say a prayer thanked the Almighty God for blessing the author with the gift of life and wisdom. He also gave God the glory for His Servant’s book launch as hosted by Makerere University.
In the same spirit, the Vice Chair, Uganda Debt Network, Ms. Christine Nantongo said that the organisation was proud to be associated with the Prof. Suruma’s publication. “We are aware of the compelling content in this publication and its potential to contribute to Uganda and Africa’s social and economic transformation.”
The Acting Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, Associate Professor Ernest Okello Ogwang welcomed the audience to Makerere University and commended them for filling up the Main Hall and the Gallery to capacity as Professor Ezra Sabiti Suruma, a distinguished leader and a former Senior Lecturer of Economics at Makerere University (1973-75 and 1979-81) launched his publication.
“Makerere University is indeed proud that you chose this Hall as the venue for the launch of your book Advancing the Ugandan Economy – A Personal Account for if its walls would speak, it would tell many a tale. We are also proud that the narrative of this book had its origins in Makerere University, during your tenure as Senior Lecturer at Makerere University. We warmly congratulate you and take great pride in your achievement, and commend you for literally bringing it home,” remarked Associate Prof. Okello Ogwang.
Assoc. Prof. Okello Ogwang, who is also the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic Affairs) informed the audience that sometimes, those in the know (the insiders) are not bold enough to share what they know. He noted that the insiders often share their experience through other people, and in most cases, especially, here in Uganda; often wait for authors from other countries to write about their own country.
He applauded the author, Professor Ezra Sabiti Suruma (an insider) for taking a bold step to dedicate time and resources to share with Ugandans and the world at large an insider’s account of dramatic policy shifts in Uganda that led to stability. He then encouraged other insiders who were in attendance to share their own accounts with Ugandans and the world at large.
The Ag. Vice Chancellor also thanked the discussants namely Hon. Dr. Mary Mugyenyi, Gen. Salim Saleh Akandwanaho, Mr. Andrew Rugasira, Hon. Nandala Mafabi, and Mr. Edward Gaamuwa for accepting to be part of the intellectual discourse so that the current political and economic reforms in the quest for economic independence seek to build upon the demands in an interrelated, interconnected and global environment.
At 2:30pm, the author- Professor Ezra Sabiti Suruma took to the podium to address eagerly expectant audience comprising several dignitaries, Senior citizens, Ministers, Members of Parliament, intellectuals – both young and old, students and the media.
“The Financial Sector Reform: Negotiating with the Bretton Woods Institutions, I believe is one of the most interesting chapters for students and professors. As the Vice Chancellor said, I am speaking from firsthand experience,” remarked Prof. Suruma in reference to chapter nine of his book.
With nostalgia, Prof. Suruma thanked Makerere University for welcoming him, and allowing him to launch his book, in the very institution where the journey started in 1979 when he was Senior Lecturer in the then Department of Economics. He informed the audience that the organizers had proposed to launch his book in a different location, but by God’s providence, he was equally happy that they were all gathered in the Makerere University Main Hall.
In his presentation, Professor Suruma highlighted the journey through Uganda’s turbulent times. While at Makerere University, he soon learnt that what he was lecturing was soon to become irrelevant and could not easily be heard amidst the turbulent times. It was also very unfortunate that during the Amin Era, most intellectuals lost their lives. At Makerere University, he met the late Joshua Baitwa Mugyenyi, whose words of wisdom and vision for the future in one of the lectures that Suruma attended marked a turning point in his life. He pointed out that it was his first time to see someone such as Joshua Baitwa Mugyenyi openly stating that the political parties could no longer take the country forward, and that there was need for the 3rd force in Uganda to intervene. Later on, Suruma then a Senior Lecturer of Economics joined Joshua Baitwa Mugyenyi-the political scientist to form that 3rd force – the Uganda National Movement at Makerere University.
Recalling their boldness and how their decision to form a 3rd force impacted on the transformation of Uganda, Professor Suruma advised the youths and students to remain focused and determined.
“Then we were young people and a laughing stock. People said that they had dominant political parties, and that we as young people could not do anything. One of the main points, I want to put forward is that when we entered politics, we were responding to a difficult environment. Although they considered us hopeless, we had remarkable achievements. I encourage you, young people to know that ideas are powerful,” he said.
The author pointed out that he escaped death narrowly when soldiers came looking for him, but surprisingly a voice responded that he was not in the area, and by God’s grace the soldiers did not bother to check. Professor Suruma will remain eternally grateful to the person who chose to inform the soldiers that he was not in the area, although the person has never revealed his identity to date.
“To the young people, If God determines that you will live, you will live. Do not fear to organize,” he emphasized amidst applause from the audience.
In his hypothesis, it is because of the transformed political environment that Uganda has experienced stability and growth. In the last 27 years, the country has been going forward because there is a remarkable correlation between the type of government and the rate of economic growth. Although the history of economic growth is attributed to macro-economic principles, Professor Suruma argues that more attention should be given to political stability. The transformation in political stability made it possible to pursue major financial reforms in Uganda.
“Looking at the data on page 22, with Uganda’s economic growth rate rising to 3.6%, there is no doubt in my mind that the increase in economic growth is correlated with good governance,” he emphasized.
Being a key figure in the economic and political transformation of Uganda, Professor Suruma is delighted with the reforms that resulted into the liberalization of the foreign exchange sector. He also encountered serious challenges during his tenure at Bank of Uganda including lack of capacity and accountability as well as independence of the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance. He also shared a scenario where some key government officials wondered why the Bank of Uganda would require a budget! Professor Suruma is equally glad that they took bold decisions that resulted into a reformed banking sector and an independent Bank of Uganda.
He highlighted the struggle for the Uganda Commercial Bank. He referred to it as a bank without money, with the most pressing problem being illiquidity of the bank. Realising that the people would deposit money, but encountered a lot of difficulty in withdrawing, Professor Suruma considered the problem and tried to find out where the money was going.
“I found out that branch managers were lending independently of the centre. Top managers did not know what the branch managers were doing, the latter were practically autonomous. Worse still, the branch managers were lending money but not recovering much of it. That was the ultimate source of the disaster, “he said.
Professor Suruma made an incredible decision, and the bank was liquid within a week, a milestone that his colleagues referred to as the “Suruma Effect.” Listening to his presentation, it was crystal clear that Professor Suruma who had ensured that the Uganda Commercial Bank was profitable as of 1996, did not support the World Bank position of privatizing the bank, but he later realized that he could not win.
The author received around of applause from the audience when he pointed out that the pension and social security reforms are a societal obligation. “I appeal to our citizens to struggle for a time when every Ugandan citizen will afford basic needs and be respected regardless of their economic status,” he said.
In his book, the optimistic Professor Suruma tackles the promising oil sector and its effect on job creation and the social and economic wellbeing of Ugandans. “Chapter 21: Job Creation and Housing Demand in Uganda-An Innovative Synergy is my small contribution to the debate on creating employment,” remarked the author.
The author dedicated the book to his father, Sulumani Barilanwa who made sure that he went to school-even though their village had no school to go to; his mother Esiteri Keiganiza whose unflinching disciplinary rigor set him on the straight path toward good; and to the martyrs and fighters for human freedom and justice everywhere.
To the Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, Professor John Ddumba-Ssentamu who was out of the country on official duty, the author, Professor Ezra Sabiti Suruma presented an autographed complimentary book with a special message.
“ To Prof. and Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ddumba Ssentamu, in remembrance of our time together at Makerere University, 1979 -1981.Thank you for your friendship.”
Hon. Mary Mugyenyi, Patron, Joshua Mugyenyi Foundation said that she could identify with what the author had written especially the history and economics of this country. She however pointed out that although decentralization had taken services to the people, it had shortfalls which should be addressed. She also observed that privatization though good had shortfalls such as the prioritization of foreign firms over local ones. She also noted although SACCOs are good, there is an urgent need to regulate them so as to guarantee the safety of their members’ savings. She emphasized that corruption in Uganda is not caused by poverty and appealed to Makerere University to conduct an informed study on who is corrupt and why they are corrupt.
Gen. Salim Saleh Akandwanaho, Presidential Advisor on Security, and formerly, Minister of State for Microfinance thanked the author for according him the honour of discussing his rural development strategy and its impact on Uganda, which he; Gen. Salim Saleh has been implementing as a loyal officer. He noted that community information systems and access to finances were crucial in advancing the rural development strategy and also saluted H.E President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni for re-enforcing the military in the rural development strategy. Gen. Salim Saleh appreciated the title of the book, especially its faith in the future. He nevertheless drew applause from the audience when he emphasized that his dealings in the privatization of the Uganda Commercial Bank were only influenced by the desire to “Ugandanise” the bank. He asked that authors to publish more books on the economy, politics, and environment so that Uganda continues to move forward.
Mr. Edward Gaamuwa, Chief Executive Director-ACLAIM Africa Limited congratulated Dr. Suruma for his incisive and sometimes blunt book and for being bold to call a spade a spade. He appreciated the author for pointing out that Ministers and people in high places had succumbed to corruption. He however disagreed with the author that corruption was a result of income insecurity but was rather convinced that corruption is a result of greed. The discussant decried the “short termism” in managing pension funds and emphasized the need for a long term approach. He added that social security is not a luxury, but a key factor in sustainable development.
Hon. Nandala Mafabi, formerly Leader of Opposition in Parliament reminded the audience that during his tenure, privatization had indeed put the President and Parliament on a collision course as Dr. Suruma correctly pointed out in his book on page 73. Hon. Nandala recalled that he moved the motion in the House not to sell the then Uganda Commercial Bank. He commended the author for taking wisdom and courage to come up with an insightful book especially as member of the ruling party! With regard to the discussion on corruption, the discussant argued that the people that tended to already have wealth turned out to be the most corrupt. He agreed with the author that unemployment in Uganda was a serious matter and that a well managed oil resource would lead to creation of jobs. Focusing on the management of the oil resources, he emphasized the need for transparency and accountability as well as the need for the Opposition and Government of Uganda to work together for a thriving oil sector. He also agreed with the view that oil presents us with an opportunity to uplift the standards of Ugandans. Hon. Nandala Mafabi however critiqued the author for remaining silent on the role of international agencies in the oil sector. “The international agencies and donors always ignore the local voices, but claim to pursue democracy,” he said.
Mr. Andrew Rugasira, Chief Executive Officer, Good African Coffee Ltd appealed to the youth and students to read the book and fashion their ideologies around it. He detested the high rate of borrowing and its adverse effects on investment and development. He noted that access to capital was a major problem whereby young people have ideas, but very few have access to capital. He stressed that our hope in economic transformation was within our midst, and further encouraged young people to come up with innovative strategies.
In his address, the Vice President of the Republic of Uganda, H.E Ssekandi said: “You will appreciate that books are the principle repository of knowledge. Books of this nature help us to link with reality in our environment and communities. We should use the ideas to bring about transformation in our communities. This is a great inspiration to all of us here to put our ideas in writing and share them with humanity.”
Wrapping up, Professor Suruma thanked the congregation for sparing their valuable time to participate in the book launch. “I have been humbled by your presence and contributions.”
Professor Augustus Nuwagaba, who moderated the discussion, thanked Makerere University for producing Professor Suruma – a wonderful son of Africa. He equally congratulated the Vice Chancellor and staff of Makerere University for producing products that can effect change the world over.
The Uganda Debt Network, which envisions a prosperous Uganda with sustainable, equitable development and high quality of life of the people, sponsored the book launch.
Written by: Ritah Namisango, Makerere University Public Relations Office.