Ugandan delegates at the 3rd Global Conference on Women and Girls in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, were Tuesday awed to learn that Malaysia whose economy was behind Uganda's at independence in 1962 is becoming a developed country in seven yearsâ€™ time.
The disclosure was made by the Prime Minister Najib Razad while opening the conference organised by Women Deliver, an American non-governmental organisation, drawing over 3,000 delegates from around the world.
Prime Minister Najib told the delegates that Malaysia is striving to become a developed nation by 2020, adding that they want a Malaysia that is prosperous, has equality and opportunities for all.
Najib said they also want a Malaysia in which women and girls can afford the same life and respect like anyone else, adding that positive change must come from all levels of society and in the minds of all.
The Prime Minister said their strategies are focused and targeted interventions, stable policies, political will, valuable investments and a strong commitment to improve all lives.
Najib said Malaysia, which scores well on many social indicators, is now advocating for a new millennium development goal that promotes family planning services for all and makes life-saving interventions available for all including in areas where culture and other challenges make it impossible.
The premier said regardless of any differences, leaders and the people must have shared priorities, visions, ambitions, investments, especially in girls and women and discrimination drawing a loud round of applause from the thousands of delegates gathered in conference hall thrice the size of Serena Conference Centre in Kampala.
Prime Minister Najib's revelations left many a Ugandan delegate crestfallen. As they walled out of the conference hall it was clear that the message had sunk in.
Nargis Shirazi of the Woman to Woman Foundation Uganda said it was a shame that Uganda, which was at the same level of development with Malaysia in the 1970s, is still a much underdeveloped country.
Shirazi said the government in Kampala needs to borrow a leaf from what Malaysia has done to transform from a third world country to a developed one. She wondered whether Ugandan leaders and officials ever travel the world to see how other governments are transforming their countries.
Malaysia transformed itself from a producer of raw materials in the 1970s into a multi-sector economy by encouraging high value investments in Islamic finance, technology, biotechnology, oil and gas and services.
The country is also boosting local demand of goods and services by encouraging more exports than imports and lessening dependence on oil and gas.
Figures put Malaysia's Gross Domestic Product or purchasing power parity at 492 billion US dollars. While a Malaysian earns yearly nearly 17,000 US dollars, a Uganda earns just 1,400 US dollars annually.
The country’s economy has, for the past decade, been growing at an average of more than five per cent, just like Uganda’s.
Evelyn Lirri, a journalist with The Daily Monitor, said Uganda’s brilliant economic growth figures are suspect. She wondered why at such a rate Uganda has never seen the tremendous and huge infrastructural, manufacturing and agricultural development evident in Malaysia.
According to Lirri, the Ugandan government and the people should pull up their socks, get serious and develop the country. She lamented that Malaysia has left Uganda behind for good.
Dr Mary Nyasimi, the executive director of Smart Girls Enterprises, a Kenya-based non-governmental organisation, said Malaysia’s magnificent growth is a big challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa and not just Uganda. She said Africa should take a leaf from what the Asian Tigers are doing.
In Malaysia, the population below poverty line is 3.8 per cent, meaning out of 100 people only three live on less than a dollar per day.
While Uganda's annual national budget is about four billion dollars, that is 11 trillion shillings, Malaysia's is 59 billion dollars, 14 times bigger.
And while in Uganda traders can set their own prices on literally everything, in Malaysia 30 percent of goods and services, especially basic ones, are state-controlled.
Put differently, a Malaysian in Uganda under the present circumstances would have 10.8 per cent chance of getting HIV and 4.1 per cent chance of dying at infancy.
Other indicators are having 2.2 times more babies, dying 20 years sooner, using 98.3 less electricity, consuming 98.1 less oil and gas, making 91.2 per cent less money but having 0.8 per cent less class divide