NRM government is deliberately impoverishing Ugandans

It is not a secret that the NRM party and its government under the leadership of Museveni is primarily interested in retaining power indefinitely. Impoverishing Ugandans is seen as one way of doing so. There are four principle ways of making a country strong and prosperous or weak and poor. They are adequate food and nutrition security, quality and relevant education, good preventive and curative health care and remunerative full employment in decent work conditions. On these four areas NRM’s performance has been deliberately poor. Stabilization and structural adjustment imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave the government an excuse to impoverish Ugandans and get away with it. But before outlining how impoverishment is proceeding, let us review the 20th century record by way of introduction.

There is sufficient record that before colonial rule Ugandans ate well, although they suffered from famines when the rains failed or pests or warfare destroyed crops and granaries. The young were orally trained, learned on the job from parents and obtained additional knowledge through interaction with relatives and neighbors. Traditional medicines handled local diseases pretty well. The introduction of foreign diseases required new medicines. There was no unemployment as gender specialization of labor kept everyone busy.

By changing the structure of agricultural production with emphasis on export or cash crops of cotton, coffee, sugar, tea and tobacco, the domestic production and consumption of adequate and balanced diets was dealt a severe blow. Although colonial administration ended famines, it introduced endemic hunger or under-nutrition with serious consequences. The production of export crops, together with foodstuffs created jobs for every Ugandan and attracted migrant workers from neighboring countries especially Belgian-ruled Rwanda and Burundi.

The colonial government did not create education facilities for Ugandans. Its education focused on foreign children: European and Asian. In his book titled “African Journeys” published in 1955, Fenner Brockway reported that in the areas he visited in Uganda there were no state schools for Africans but for European and Asian children. The education of African children was left entirely in the hands of religious organizations. The church schools suffered from two shortcomings. First, they met only part of the need and they could not maintain even the cost of this need. The high cost of education kept many children especially girls away. Second, because religious denominations competed with each other, they built schools in one place while other places had none. Protestant and Catholic schools admitted children of their faith thereby denying education opportunity to many. Regarding health care, the facilities (hospitals and dispensaries) were few and far between although the service provided was of high quality (Fenner Broakway 1955).

Consequently at the time of independence in 1962, the Secretary-General of Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC), the ruling party, reported that independent Uganda inherited “an impoverished suffering African mass … with very low living conditions, with less than 20% of their children going to school, with inadequate medical facilities,… with a very high mortality rate and a host of other social monsters” (A. M. Kirunda-Kivejinja 1995).

UPC government from 1962 to 1970 made things better. In collaboration with development partners, the government invested wisely and equitably. At the end of 1970 the Word Bank reported that between 1963 and 1970 “Uganda’s social indicators were comparable to, if not better, most countries in Africa. The country’s health services had developed into one of Africa’s best. Uganda pioneered many low-cost health and nutrition programs [including school lunches]. There was a highly organized network of vaccination centers and immunization programs reached 70 percent of the population. Although school enrollment was still low, Uganda’s education system had developed a reputation for a very high quality” (World Bank 1993).

As the employment situation became tight in the 1960s, the UPC government opted to cater for Uganda workers first as is normally the case in time and space. Consequently migrant workers from neighboring countries especially from Kenya and Tanzania were asked to leave. In order to gain recognition from Kenya and Tanzania, the Amin administration blamed Obote and his government for sending away workers from Kenya and Tanzania thereby isolating Uganda from East Africa (Colin Legum 1972). Amin government chased away Asians in 1972 en masse when the economy turned sour undermining his popularity with Ugandans. Therefore Amin’s accusation of Obote government for chasing away African workers was purely political gimmick.

It is true that Museveni and his NRM government inherited serious economic and social problems. But for over 20 years and donors’ generous support in financial and technical assistance Museveni and his government should have done better to improve social indicators of the majority of Ugandans if they wanted to. Apart from the war in the northern and eastern regions which prevented development from taking place, the NRM government has no excuse for poor performance in the rest of the country. Liberalization and Structural adjustment which the government adopted in 1987 was expected to iron out economic imbalances and begin to produce positive results for all Ugandans within three to five years (Journal of Democracy July 1996).

What social record do we have in 2010? We have a situation where over 30 percent of Ugandans are absolutely poor (a level that is unacceptably high) leading to over 30 percent going to bed hungry in a country that exports plenty of food, over 40 percent having developed neurological abnormalities and insanity in large part because of poor feeding and stress, some 40 percent of children under the age of five being under-nourished, 12 percent of infants being born underweight because their mothers are malnourished and infant mortality, a good indicator of a country’s economic and social health, having increased from 75 to 78 per 12000 live births. Thus the nutrition and health record in Uganda is pitiful and getting worse under the NRM regime.

The education system has suffered a terrible erosion in quality and increasingly in quantity as well as drop out taking a heavy toll on students for lack of financial support but more so school lunches. There is indisputable evidence from developed and developing countries that school lunches work – they improve attendance and performance. In an article titled “Food keeps African children in school: NEPAD supports school feeding programs” Itai Madamombe confirms that poor children are enrolling and staying in school because of daily school lunches. A Senegalese school girl reported that “When I wake up in the morning, I get ready to go to school very quickly because I know that food is waiting for me.… I‘m happy that I can spend the whole day at school learning and I don’t have to walk the long way home hungry”(Africa Recovery January 2007).

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) which recognizes education as an important step in reviving prosperity in Africa has endorsed school lunches. NEPAD, WFP and other partners are working with African governments to provide school lunches with food produced locally thus contributing to agricultural development, commercialization and transformation as well as improving farmers’ incomes. The school feeding program in Ruhiira’s Millennium Village in Isingiro district in southwest Uganda has demonstrated improvements in attendance and performance already. Yet in spite of the overwhelming good news, the Uganda government has refused to provide school lunches which would benefit children from poor and peasant families that form some 90 percent of Ugandans (depending upon how an urban area is defined).

Unemployment and under-employment have reached dangerous levels. Over 50 percent of University graduates have no jobs. There are graduates that have not worked in a decade since they left college. Overall some 80 percent of Uganda’s economically active workers are involuntarily out of work. The president recently denied lack of jobs in Uganda, arguing that there are many jobs in the police and the army.

Meanwhile foreign workers are pouring into Uganda and taking jobs that Ugandans could do like security guards or are not qualified to do because of poor quality education or qualifications that are irrelevant to the job market. Desperate Uganda youth are increasingly engaging in crimes to make ends meet or consuming too much alcohol to bury their frustrations or marrying early and producing many children they cannot cater for. These are government created problems which would sweep the government out of power in a democratic country – Uganda is a military dictatorship (and increasingly getting worse) that rigs elections every five years to stay in power and please donors that consider elections per se as representing good governance.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Uganda has enough human and financial resources to provide adequate social services. The Museveni government just decided to keep Ugandans poor because it is easier to govern hungry, illiterate, sick and unemployed people. Ugandans – whether pro-or anti-movement government – should know that as long as Museveni and the NRM government are in power, poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, sickness and joblessness and the associated crime, alcoholism, domestic violence, human sacrifice and selling meager assets to make ends meet will remain the order of the day. This is a trajectory that enlightened and patriotic Ugandans should reject. We need to go back to the philosophy and mission of UPC in the 1960s and the NRM’s ten-point program which was abandoned in 1987.