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Within the mainstream international development discourse, the importance of “local content” or home grown solutions as an integral part of any development strategy or policy has for quite a while been emphasised. Also concerning development on the African continent it has been stated that one of the major reasons why development efforts don’t show the desired results is that they are mainly developed by institutions and actors located in the Global North, instead of being drafted based on local knowledge and indigenous solutions to indigenous problems. The debate on Africa’s development mostly takes place in western societies with little (if any) input from African intellectuals. Consistent with that observation, several development actors are concerned about the fact that Africa still fails to achieve home grown solutions to its several development challenges. The outcomes of an analysis of this problem largely point to the limited intellectual reflection, research and discourse taking place on the continent as a reason for the above described situation. This is not only true for the international development discourse, but even for national discussions about development strategies and policies. Uganda takes no exception to this observation. The country’s intellectuals, predominantly based in universities, have in the past few decades done little to engage in the development discourse of the country. Yet there are several development challenges Uganda faces ranging from the democracy and governance shortfalls, over poverty, to social and economic inequality, which require a significant level of academic debate to match the complex nature of these challenges.
There was, however, a time in history when Ugandan academics, especially at Makerere University, made notable contributions to the development debate in Uganda. In the 1960s, the academia is noted to have contributed significantly to the shaping of policies that steered a range of development sectors: agriculture, health, industry and public administration. Presently however, Ugandan academics only engage in development work through responding to Terms of References from especially western NGOs and international agencies. The outcomes of these processes are often tailored to suit the interest of the clients and therefore seldom carry an authentic reflection from the intellectuals.
But what reasons explain the above phenomenon? Why do Ugandan academics demonstrate such a low motivation to engage in the discourse on development? How best can we deal with this gap to ensure a proper connection between scientists, researchers, and faculties on the one hand, and practitioners and policy makers on the other in the development debate in Uganda? The academic panel discussion organised by UNIFOG and KAS aims at answering these questions and at coming up with strategies to bridge the gap between academia and politics.