The “Dutch Disease” Effects of Aid in Uganda


In my recent post on Sorious Samura’s programme for Panorama on BBC One – an expose of aid to Africa, in particular to Sierra Leone and Uganda – I said we would come back on whether Uganda is experiencing a negative impact from the aid flows.

Remember the issue is whether foreign aid to Uganda is deterring export production via a “Dutch Disease” effect. If so, then aid is having perverse effects, hindering rather than helping economic growth.

How does this work?

Short explanation: A capital inflow like foreign aid raises domestic demand. This pushes up domestic prices and, if the exchange rate is not fixed by the government, the currency tends to appreciate as well (a shilling buys more dollars). Hence: exporting is less profitable and imports are cheaper (putting pressure on domestic producers of import-substitutes – for example domestic food crops suffer competition from cheaper food imports). Result: economic growth falls.

(Long explanation: The money is spent on two types of goods and services. First, non-tradables, that is items whose prices are mainly determined by domestic supply and demand. The price of a haircut in Kampala for example. Haircuts aren’t internationally traded. Second, tradables. These are goods and services whose prices are driven by international markets. The price of Uganda’s coffee, for example (Uganda is a ‘price-taker’ in commodity markets: some countries are big enough exporters to affect world prices – Saudi Arabia and oil, for example). A demand expansion caused by a capital inflow tends to push up the prices of non-tradables more than tradables, because the former are less-responsive (more inelastic, as economists say) in supply. The ratio of non-tradable prices relative to tradables prices rises, making it more profitable to produce the former. If the exchange rate is flexible – i.e. the central bank doesn’t fix it as a matter of policy – then it tends to appreciate as well. This adds to the appreciation of the real exchange rate that is caused by the rise in domestic prices as non-tradables prices outpace tradables prices. Result: people give up producing tradables such as coffee and move into the non-tradables sector, and growth falls).

Aid is not the only capital inflow that might cause this. The term Dutch Disease was first coined (and is most often used) to describe the impact of a natural resource windfall (natural gas in the case of 1970s Netherlands). Nigeria and other oil exporters suffered catastrophically from Dutch Disease in the 1970s when oil prices boomed (resulting in a severe contraction in Nigeria’s agriculture, a highly tradable sector).

However, much depends on what aid (or oil revenue) is used for. If it finances infrastructure construction, and if this is the right kind of infrastructure, then aid will have a supply-expanding effect. This could be of sufficient scale to offset any Dutch Disease effect (or the latter might be evident for a while until the infrastructure is built and then productivity effect kicks in: see Chris Adam and David Bevan).

So much for the theory. What about Uganda? The country has certainly had a large injection of aid, which has a big budgetary impact (see Martin Brownbridge and Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile). An IMF study, by Mwanza Nkusu argues that Dutch Disease does not necessarily occur – especially when the economy has unused capacity (which is typical of countries like Uganda recovering from civil war). So the academic jury is still out.

What does recent data tell us? Economic growth was just under 10 per cent over 2007-08 according to a recent IMF staff mission to Uganda. Exports grew by 50 per cent over the same period. The Fund expects both to fall – the result of the global financial crisis that is weakening commodity prices (go here). Uganda is dealing with high inflation (core inflation is 14.5 per cent) – but this is more the result of the run-up (until recently) in global energy and food prices. The shilling has depreciated, not appreciated, recently. So, no indication of aid having Dutch Disease effects: the shilling is down, not up, and exports are up, not down.

But certainly the economy faces a tricky adjustment as it responds to the global economic shock of the last 6 months (true of all low-income, primary-commodity dependent, economies).

Whatever the other effects of aid on Uganda (whether it is being well spent, whether it targets the poor effectively etc.) there does not seem to be a Dutch Disease effect – at least recently. Perhaps more worrying is the potential Dutch Disease effect of the oil revenues that come on stream next year. If Uganda can manage oil well then it will be the first country in Africa to do so. Now that would be an achievement.

Tony Addison is Executive Director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester.


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2 Responses to “The “Dutch Disease” Effects of Aid in Uganda”

  1. vali jamal Says:

    Hello Tony, we interacted when I was with the ILO, 1976-2001. Nice to see this post. I myself wrote about the Dutch Disease in relation to the much-ballyhooed oil boom in Uganda. It’s here Uganda: Country Will Be Lucky to Survive the …
    Uganda: Country Will Be Lucky to Survive the Oil Curse. Vali I V Jamal … Vali I V Jamal, a Kampala-based businessman, was a senior economist at the International …

    I also gave the math on Uganda’s oil reserves – since then bigger than when I wrote. It’s here Uganda’s Oil Boom Or Doom – Where’s the Math?
    Gabon at the height of its oil boom (now depleting) had the highest consumption of … Looking at Uganda’s oil in relation to our consumption, we have plenty. …

  2. vali jamal Says:

    Sorry it went away before I could express good bye. So good bye and keep up the good work on behalf of the down-trodden, not a popular thing to do these days and therefore all the more needed.

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