Stop blaming “Acts of God” for collapse of Uganda’s social systems

Pictures of and stories about Ugandans suffering and dying from jiggers and malnutrition have not only humiliated Ugandans but also embarrassed the NRM government that fought a five-year devastating guerrilla war to end the long suffering of Uganda people. Statements about making hunger and jiggers history were repeated at national and international conferences. Obote and Amin regimes were bitterly attacked for failing to meet basic human needs. Museveni and his government assured the nation and the whole world that Uganda would only export surplus food over and above domestic demand with a balance in quantity and quality. And everyone would wear shoes everyday and live in a decent house! Ugandans rallied behind the government and were even prepared to tighten belts further to give the government time to put appropriate programs in place. That was in 1986 and Ugandans have waited for the day when poverty and its offshoots of hunger, ignorance and disease would end. However, as time passed, rapid economic growth and success stories failed to trickle down and put food on the table and make shoes available. Ugandans began to wonder whether the promise would be fulfilled and demanded an explanation about rising unemployment and poverty in the midst of rapid economic growth which hit ten per cent in mid-1990s.

Impact of refugees on Uganda’s population and political explosion

The job of researchers and reporters is to collect and present facts as background information for policy makers. Right now Uganda is experiencing tremendous demographic and political tremors whose causes need analysis, sorting and appropriate action before the tremors develop into full-blown earthquakes.

It would be naïve and unwise to ignore emerging emotional and controversial debates on the role of refugees and illegal immigrants in Uganda’s politics and demography, hoping time alone will solve them. The case of Cote d’Ivore where natives have had a devastating civil war with foreign-born immigrants for control of the country should serve as a useful lesson for Uganda since Uganda’s economic and political troubles have involved foreigners for about one hundred years.

Since colonial days Uganda has pursued, developed and maintained a liberal labor immigration and refugee policy which has complicated its political economy and demography. The role of refugees, foreign workers and illegal immigrants should not be underestimated in Uganda’s population and political dynamics.

Why a paradox of Uganda’s economic growth and social decay

The unprecedented diseases of poverty in Uganda led by jiggers and malnutrition (that have become a national scandal) have not only humiliated a proud people but also embarrassed an arrogant NRM government and donors that support it. The government blamed previous ‘bankrupt’ regimes of Obote and Amin for wasting scarce resources including travelling to the United Nations and other destinations in private jets, staying in expensive hotels, hosting expensive functions to compete with superpowers and furnishing their residences with expensive imported furniture. Meanwhile Ugandans suffered all indignities and deprivations including lack of shoes and adequate food resulting in jigger infestation and severe malnutrition. Previous governments were also accused of maintaining a colonial development model that kept Uganda a producer of raw export commodities with low and fluctuating prices against ever rising prices of imported manufactured products. Unfortunately, Museveni and his government that had never run a government set about transforming Uganda’s economy and society in ways that created a paradox of economic growth and medieval social decadence (I wrote a chapter showing similarities in today’s Uganda and medieval Europe in my book titled Uganda’s Development Agenda in the 21st Century published in 2008). Below are a few examples.

Silencing victims is double violation of human rights

People tell or write stories to record experiences and draw lessons for others to emulate or to avoid. History is being repeated in parts of Uganda and extended to the rest of the country in subtle ways difficult to understand. Some leaders in the NRM government took advantage of the victory euphoria and introduced laws like anti-sectarian to silence those who had grievances of a sectarian nature, violating their human rights twice (exploiting them and then denying them the right to speak). As Bahororo in the country with their epicenter in Ankole and Rukungiri consolidate their political, economic and military dominance in Uganda, it is important for Ugandans to understand what is in store for them. Those who disagree with the story, feel free to rebut but in a civil manner.

Bahororo are Nilotic people and Batutsi from Rwanda. Their defining characteristic is that they adopt local names and local languages but men do not marry from other tribes so they have remained Nilotic. They avoid marrying women from other tribes principally to keep secrets to themselves. They also fill sensitive and strategic public positions with Bahororo people. Because of their extensive network, they know where these Bahororo are outside of Ankole and Rukungiri and outside of Uganda. Because of careful camouflage, it is difficult to know who Bahororo people are. You have to construct the family tree.

Who is in charge of Uganda’s economy?

The struggle for decolonization focused on political independence, hoping that economic sovereignty would automatically follow. But it did not. Post-independence economic challenges were thus attributed to inherited colonial economic structures. African governments were forced to find a solution and attain economic independence. In 1979 African leaders adopted the Monrovia Declaration of Commitment on guidelines and measures for national and collective self-reliance. In 1980 African leaders once again adopted the Lagos Plan of Action to attain self-reliance with support of the international community. At the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Africa in 1986, it was resolved that Africans have primary responsibility for the development of Africa. In theory, Africans became economically independent to determine the continent’s course of economic and social development.

Southwest Uganda was already a colony when Britain arrived

When Bantu and Nilotic peoples met in northern, eastern, Buganda, Bunyoro and Toro they intermarried extensively and produced new communities and mixed economies of crop cultivation, herding and manufacturing. However, by the time the Nilotic Bahima (and later Batutsi under the new name of Bahororo) entered southwest Uganda (former Ankole district and Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district) they had decided against intermarriage with Bantu people and against allowing Bantu to own cattle as a form of capital accumulation. Nilotic Bahima and Bahororo people who were more powerful militarily but less advanced economically than Bantu chose to colonize the latter. By and large, colonization involves the colonizer depriving the colonized of their properties, disrupting their economic structures and imposing taxes or tribute in exchange for unsolicited law and order or protection.

For easy reference we need to know that before Nilotic people arrived in what later became southwest Uganda some six hundred years ago, Bantu people had developed dynamic and viable economic structures and systems that combined wild hunting, fishing and gathering, crop cultivation, livestock herding (short-horn cattle, goats and sheep) poultry rearing and manufacturing a wide range of products mostly based on iron ore. Food surplus and specialization had permitted the emergence of a ruling class of kings and chiefs or council of elders and a form of centralized governance system and diplomatic relations among different communities. In short, Bantu were civilized.

When you have no land and education you’re finished unless you wake up in time

Undeveloped or underdeveloped societies are characterized by a high degree of illiteracy. These societies therefore depend on land for their subsistence livelihood. As they get educated and develop non-agricultural skills, they move out of land-based activities and shift residence from rural to urban areas. The smart ones, however, keep a piece of land in the countryside just in case. In Uganda land in the countryside has saved many lives during economic and political hard times. When Amin’s government started hunting down the educated in towns, many fled the country while many others retreated to their pieces of land in the countryside where they kept a low profile and survived.

In South Africa, the minority white settlers that had wanted to rule forever decided that the best way to do it was to dispossess the black majority of their land and deny them education. The training that few blacks got was related to their work. For example, drivers were taught how to read road signs. The whites reasoned that it would be dangerous to provide education to blacks in areas where they will never work such as engineering. Blacks were therefore dispossessed of their land and denied education. I have studied the apartheid system in South Africa and written about it. In my first book titled “Critical Issues in African Development” published in 1997, I wrote two chapters on education and land ownership in South Africa.

Why was Uganda’s 48th independence anniversary marked by virtual silence?

Many are wondering why October 9 (2010), Uganda’s 48th independence anniversary came and went like any other day. It happened that way because there was virtually nothing to celebrate. Independence anniversaries are about celebrating achievements, not mourning failures. A number of factors explain this silence.

Until the abandonment of structural adjustment in 2009 as a failed strategy, NRM government boasted that it had created conditions for high economic growth (although the rate was lower than the real GDP growth rate of 7-8 per cent a year required as a minimum to achieve the MDGs especially halving extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015), low and stable inflation rate, export diversification, privatization of public enterprises, controlling and reversing HIV & AIDS, providing universal primary education and maintaining peace, security and stability. External sponsors of these programs praised Museveni and his NRM government for achieving stability. Thus, NRM government and its external supporters felt they had done their work – and done it very well. The rest would be performed by the private sector as the engine of growth under able guidance of the invisible hand of market forces and trickle down mechanism. Maintaining macroeconomic stability was left in the hands of the Ministry of Finance and Central Bank.

Uganda’s state house needs a new occupant

I began thinking seriously about the potential and challenges of Uganda’s development early in my life. I decided then that whatever I did for a living, I would make room for research and writing on Uganda’s political economy. I have so far written ten books and created a blog I also decided very early against a single sector education because knowledge cannot be compartmentalized. I therefore adopted a horizontal approach and studied geography, economics, demography, international law and international relations/diplomacy, sustainable development and history with a focus on how they interconnect with one another. Not least, I have developed a dialectical approach in research, writing and commenting on other writers’ work, meaning that I focus on those dimensions that are omitted to give a balanced picture and enable readers to make informed decisions. For example, when I read an article about a glass half full, I comment on missing dimensions. Put differently, I go for the glass that is half empty and vice versa.

Uganda government is warned to move cautiously on birth control

The sudden upsurge of interest in birth control (family planning) in Uganda has coincided with the rising anti-immigration mood in the developed western world. When family planning began after World War II, there was fear that population in developing countries was growing faster than Europeans’. The main fear was that there would be competition for scarce resources and consumers in developed countries would be forced to scale down their lifestyles. They were not prepared for that. To avert this threat, developing countries had to reduce their population growth through contraception. To avoid controversy, the proponents of birth control came up with a ‘sugar-coated’ idea that contraception would ease the suffering of women who produce too many children in rapid succession. They also replaced the unpopular birth control terminology with family planning to disguise the fact that in the end population at couple and national levels would decline with adverse national security and economic development implications.