Why Uganda’s economic growth hasn’t ended poverty

During the guerrilla war and immediately after capturing power in 1986 Yoweri Museveni wrote and spoke regularly and passionately about his determination to end the long suffering of all the people of Uganda. He condemned previous governments for indulging in luxuries while Ugandans languished in poverty, hunger, illiteracy and suffered all sorts of health problems including jiggers. He promised that every Ugandan would wear shoes, go to school, eat balanced meals and get treated when sick. At international conferences, summits, press conferences and interviews Museveni articulated unambiguously his administration’s policies of ending neo-colonialism and pre-industrial culture; of industrializing the economy within fifteen years and protecting industries against unfair competition and of state intervention in Uganda’s economy “because, in reality, there is no such thing as a free market. There is always intervention at some stage”(Africa Forum Volume 1. No.2, 1991). The overall outcome of these policies was to lift Ugandans out of their miserable living conditions. He emphasized that the policy of his administration was not to reduce but eradicate poverty. His ideas were indeed revolutionary and he received long applause. Reporters followed him wherever he went and Museveni enjoyed it. I was there in Addis Ababa and New York where he spoke and I witnessed it all.

Museveni has to be flexible to save Uganda

Museveni as Uganda leader has to recognize before it is too late that Uganda belongs to all of us. His notions that Uganda is his because he fought and won and that he cannot be thrown out of the house like a chicken should be dropped without further delay. He is not going to keep the opposition out in the cold forever because the laws of nature do not work that way. Museveni knows how it feels to be kept out of government by illegitimate means. He went to the bush to change all of that. But he has since 1996 done exactly what he opposed and caused him to fight a five year destructive guerrilla war on somebody else’s territory mostly in Buganda without commensurate compensation. He should not for a moment think he has monopoly to wage war against illegitimate governments. Others can do so and succeed as he did. But Uganda does not have to go that far again.

Success will not come to Uganda on a silver platter

For an individual, group or nation lasting success does not come easily. It has to be earned. Throughout my adult life I have observed that those who succeed work very hard, have determination and resilience and usually want to change the status quo: overcome poverty or end autocratic regime etc. They innovate, sacrifice and take risks. Those who take it easy usually don’t get very far. For example, students who miss classes, don’t do home work, complain about teachers all the time have no chance of success. During my school days children from poor families were urged to work very hard and break the chains of poverty and vulnerability. I have also noticed that those who are favored at work fall by the wayside soon after those who favored them leave the scene.

What can Uganda learn from the collapse of the Romanovs’ dynasty?

The political developments in Uganda are worrying and could end up in another bloody confrontation if common sense does not prevail at home and abroad. In order to find a lasting solution one has to identify the root cause of the problem like a good medical doctor does before prescribing medication. Pointing out the cause of the problem in Uganda has made some readers uncomfortable who have resorted to using uncalled for language to intimidate and silence the author because they do not want to hear the truth that may force them to accommodate others. These are Ugandans that believe in winner-take-all. Those Ugandans who harbor the notion that they were born to rule others in perpetuity are mistaken and are on the wrong side of history which does not entertain such notions. In Europe those who believed in the divine right of kings were defeated. And in societies where leaders in government and opposition compromise political problems are resolved peacefully resulting in stability, economic development and improvement in the standard of living of all. On the other hand in those societies where leaders are autocrats (rulers who hold absolute power over societies) and resist change the end result is a sad one, sometimes even tragic. The story of the Romanovs is an illustration of the latter.

Uganda has grossly underutilized capable, experienced professionals

Ugandans opposed to the failed NRM regime have begun a radical assessment (misinterpreted by some as trying to cause trouble) to get to the root of Uganda’s development challenges in order to offer appropriate recommendations including in skilled labor to get Uganda out of the political economy trap. We are beginning to behave like good medical doctors who will prescribe medication after they have identified the root cause of the illness. Let us examine the root cause of lack of skilled labor in Uganda.

Often Uganda’s underdevelopment has been defined in terms of lack of trained and experienced human capital to be eased by implementing a liberal immigration policy of very expensive professionals from neighboring countries and beyond. Although the colonial administration did not train sufficient numbers, a qualified cadre of civil service staff was trained for district and to a lesser extent central government. Obote I government increased training in quantity and quality in the 1960s. The political crisis from 1971 to 1986 resulted in many of them dead and most of the rest fleeing into exile where they got employed and improved their skills through further study and/or work experience. Those who stayed at home either took a low profile in towns or disappeared into the countryside where they engaged in subsistence agriculture to survive. These sad developments opened the door for ignorant and inexperienced staff mostly mercenaries to take charge of Uganda which they looted mercilessly and disappeared with their loot in 1979.

What lessons can Uganda learn from the French Revolution?

Uganda has entered a phase of intense debate about its future which is commendable because everyone has a chance to express their opinions provided it is done in a civil manner (threats and calling names are counterproductive) to produce constructive outcomes for every Ugandan. As the debate continues it may be useful to draw lessons from history because what Uganda is going through is not new. Conflicts between governors and the governed over political, economic, social, cultural and spiritual matters have happened before. The French Revolution (1789-99) seems a good place to start. As you read the following paragraphs try to see if there are similarities to what is happening in Uganda.

What can Uganda learn from world history?

Ugandans, friends and well wishers should continue to work hard, talk and write until a mutually acceptable and hopefully bloodless solution to Uganda’s spreading and deepening challenges is found. That Uganda is headed in the wrong direction is not in doubt. The Declaration signed by General Salim Salleh and posted on New Vision on March 11, 2012 is testimony to that (although it is not clear whom Salleh is representing and how seriously Ugandans should take the Declaration). The NRM government does not seem to be on the same page. NRM’s continued presentation of processes as achievements is not enough. Economic growth is necessary but is not enough to end poverty. Uganda experienced fastest economic growth in mid 1990s coinciding with the highest skewed income distribution. Diplomas that do not enable holders to find jobs are not something to be proud of. Processes must lead to outcomes that improve the general standard of living of all Ugandans. Presenting misleading information or buying support at home and abroad won’t solve the problem. Using force to crush the opposition will only widen the difference between the oppressor and oppressed classes and make matters worse. Ugandans are seeing what is happening around them and reading about what happened in the past and are drawing lessons. Although different paths were followed some of them deadly, the oppressed got liberated in the end. In some cases wise leaders or classes approached problems rationally and avoided violence. These are important lessons to draw from by Uganda leaders and the general public. The struggle for parliamentary government in England that resorted more to compromise and unity than war as a tool of solving problems with the kings has already been referred to. This article is a continuation of drawing lessons from struggles between privileged and disadvantaged members of society and how different approaches produced different results. Let us look at how different ways were adopted to address problems inspired by external lessons or failure of predecessors.

What Uganda needs to do to achieve political stability

Uganda is at a crossroads saddled with many challenges that are tearing the country apart and could lead to civil war. Those in power are blaming the opposition for causing trouble. Those in the opposition argue that government excesses are the root cause. There are two ways of sorting out the problem: fight until one group defeats the other or compromise and every Ugandan has a share in the fruits of independence. The history of England may give us a hint on the way forward.

During the middle ages, European monarchy and nobility engaged in a bitter struggle for power that resulted in absolute monarchy in France and constitutional government in England. In France the monarchy ruined the nobility through war. In England the king and the nobility agreed to share political power. They settled their disputes through compromise rather than head for total victory. King John for a time maintained his authority by using cruel methods with support of mercenaries. However, this method would not survive a serious crisis that erupted in 1214 as a result of financial crisis due to war. Because of the king’s despotism, the barons refused to help him out. In January 1215, taking advantage of his vulnerability, the barons presented the king with a series of demands for reform and end of despotism. With no support from his subjects the king signed the document in June 1215. The petition was written in Latin under the name of Magna Carta. The petition was translated into English and issued as the Great Charter. What were the landmarks in the Charter that could be emulated?

When people resist in solidarity, they can’t be defeated

The principal reason why Africa was colonized is because Africans were divided. Take the case of Uganda starting with religious wars. The Muslims had their group of supporters; the Catholics had their group and the Protestants theirs. And they fought one another. That conflict had an adverse impact that has not vanished. Bunyoro would not have been devastated as it was had Africans joined it or stayed neutral. And who captured Kabarega and Mwanga? That is how resistance to colonial rule was lost. And history is repeating itself because we have refused to learn lessons of colonial rule and cold war. We are seeing a repeat of keeping leaders in power that have become staunch supporters of western interests regardless of how they are treating their people. It is known that Uganda is a failed state under a military dictatorship disguised as democratic because of rigged elections. Yet, NRM leadership has continued to score high marks among donors and is still protected. In practice, this is not the kind of democracy and good governance we have been hearing. The opposition has no chance of winning democratically when the playing field is not level, leading to temptations to resort to war out of frustration. To avoid this from happening alternative scenarios should be accorded the attention they deserve. All Ugandans should have a stake in the affairs of their country.

Fight over Bachwezi ancestry and earthen works in central Uganda

Winds of trouble are gathering speed and are about to blow like a tornado across central Uganda over who Bachwezi are and who constructed the earthen works including those at Ntusi and Bigo in central Uganda. This quarrel would not have arisen if Europeans had not created the confusion. Through European race theories, blacks (Negroes) were described as people without civilizations. And as uncivilized, blacks had no history and darkness in which they lived was not a subject of history. So when Europeans visited what later became Uganda and found magnificent civilizations, they manufactured an explanation. They decided that these civilizations including earthen works in central Uganda must have been the work of Europeans. They looked at the physical features of Africans and found that Bahima had similar facial resemblance like them especially long and thin noses. They quickly concluded that Bahima were white people who created civilizations including earthen works. Europeans went further and explained that Bahima turned black because of strong tropical sum but were still lighter skinned than Negroes. From that time on Bahima and later their Batutsi cousins in Rwanda and Burundi and Batutsi/Bahororo in short lived Mpororo kingdom assumed that they were more intelligent and born leaders. Negroes were judged mentally inferior, physically unattractive and born to scratch the soil to earn a living and work for born leaders in return for protection. As uncivilized people blacks were reduced to crop cultivation. And Bahima were strictly cattle keepers, a symbol of civilization. Through indirect rule, colonialism enhanced the power of control of Bahima and Bahororo over Bantu people in southwest Uganda, a position they lost at the time of independence. They fought a guerrilla war to restore their dominance which has been extended to the entire country. Then came research findings that turned everything upside down or inside out whichever expression you prefer.