Road to Riches or Ruin: One Nation Taps Africa's Potential, Another Squanders It

Article excerpt

People in Nairobi, Kenya, talk about their neighbors in Kampala, Uganda, with undisguised envy.

They say that the "Museveni miracle" - the "enlightened" one-party rule by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni - has placed this small central African economy in a different league, raising living standards dramatically while maintaining the peace needed to pursue foreign investments.

People in Kampala couldn't agree more. To them, Nairobi is a pit, hardened by crime, plagued by poverty, and stifled by a one-party dictatorship disguised as a multiparty system. In Kampala, shops are bustling, brand-new Toyotas cruise the streets, and there is a sense of purpose among the emerging middle class. Uganda has poverty, of course, but it is not as extreme as in the Kenyan capital, where predatory packs of children roam. While darkness in Nairobi sends people scurrying off the streets, Kampala turns gentler at night, with flickering candles lighting entrances to shops and restaurants and music spilling out into the sidewalks. The difference between the two cities, observers say, is that unlike Nairobi (described by one Western observer as a "desperate, seething place"), Kampala enjoys most, if not all, the freedoms of a multiparty democracy. Keeping Up With the Ugandans: Neighbors Envy 'Economic Miracle' This, even as Uganda begins its 11th year of one-party rule by the National Resistance Council, originally an offshoot of the National Resistance Army. Uganda is still a place where giant birds hover over enormous piles of waste left to rot ("We have not yet fully developed our disposal system," a hotel clerk explains), and where a sign posted by the house of parliament pleads with elected officials to "please deposit firearms at the entrance." Foreigners are sometimes asked if they are interested in illegally exporting diamonds from the region around Karamoje in eastern Uganda. "Everybody there is free to dig their diamonds, their gold, no problem," Abe Seruwo, a Karamoje resident, says. "One thousand dollars for three to five karats." "Things {in Uganda} are not perfect," says Ronald Kassimir, program director of the New York-based Social Science Research Council. "But some of the fundamentals are definitively in place." It was on this premise that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund agreed in April to write off Uganda's debt to foreign donors. Foreign aid accounted for 51 percent of government spending in 1996. Signs of growth But signs of growth abound. In the green hills around the city, hundreds of small white villas are under construction. In town, scooters are overtaking bicycles, discos are making a forceful entrance, and retail is booming. Newspapers in Uganda now run columns on how to start a business, with advice on how to "Get Rich on Granite" and "Make Lead Acid Batteries." "Even if Kenya's growth rate is higher, the concentration of wealth there is such that your ordinary citizen - perhaps I should say the starving multitude - stands absolutely zero chance of making something with their life," Mr. …