Ugandans are not cursed by nature, we are impoverished by policies

Many Ugandans falsely believe that they were destined to fail, however hard they worked, because they were cursed at birth or even earlier – at conception. They have given up trying and resorted to destructive practices.

When I returned from exile in 1980, many families in my home village had given up hope. They had cleared all wetlands – began under Amin’s economic war – which provided thatch materials. Accordingly, they were living in houses with leaking roofs. They had also cut down all the trees to sell charcoal and had no firewood to cook beans that provide a rich source of vegetable protein.

One of the reasons my family decided to invest in Rukungiri – my home district – was largely to change this mood of despair by creating jobs. The employees soon realized that their being poor was not a curse after all but lack of opportunities and absence of a caring leadership. With their savings they started small scale projects and are doing pretty well.

Precolonial reports demonstrate that Ugandans enjoyed a comfortable livelihood except during temporary periods of famine and conflict. They produced according to their natural endowments and sold surplus in local and regional markets to obtain what they did not produce.

Trouble started with colonialism that flooded Uganda market with cheap imported products that put domestic industries out of business resulting in loss of jobs and income. Economically active males were required to work to raise tax money. They abandoned activities that earned them a living.

Production of agricultural export commodities reduced labor time and fertile land for domestic food production resulting in endemic hunger. The adverse terms of trade, that is cheap exports and expensive imports, disadvantaged Uganda producers and wage earners, setting the stage for impoverishment.

The situation improved in the 1960s because of pro-poor economic and social programs. Uganda has not reached the level of the standard of living attained during the 1960s. The economic war launched by Amin to stimulate economic growth and create jobs and avert internal revolt did not succeed in the 1970s. It only resulted in massive devegetation and serious economic, social and ecological consequences spreading and deepening impoverishment in the process.

NRM’s diagnosis of the underlying development challenges as articulated in the ten point program was sound. For a variety of reasons, NRM abandoned the program and embark on structural adjustment that provided opportunities for experimenting new ideas that have resulted in unprecedented inequality, biting impoverishment and unsustainable development. Ecological deterioration has impoverished 12 million people.

In times of economic distress as in Uganda right now in 2011, governments launch public works that create jobs. They also lower interest rates to encourage investment, promote economic growth and employment. Remember: micro, small and medium-sized enterprises create more jobs than any other sector. That is what is being encouraged in many countries.

In Uganda, however, NRM government has clung to the failed and rigid policy of inflation control to five percent, reduced budget and economic deregulation that have undermined rapid economic growth and job creation. In fact economic growth rate has been scaled down to some 5 percent while Uganda needs a minimum growth rate of 9 percent to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. So whether Uganda is among countries with fast growth rate as IMF representative in Uganda reported recently, it is still far below the minimum required to meet the MDGs by 2015 including halving poverty and hunger. South Korea’s growth rate averaged ten percent for decades when it was transitioning into an industrial state as China has been doing.

When you have a government that puts profit maximization by a few families ahead of the people, inequality and impoverishment are the inevitable results as we have witnessed in Uganda in the last 25 years under the uncaring NRM regime.

Ipso facto, Ugandans are not cursed by nature. They have been deliberately impoverished paradoxically by the NRM government that had vowed at the start of its administration in 1986 that it would end the long suffering of the people of Uganda. The indisputable manifestation of Uganda’s deep level of impoverishment is that it has the lowest life expectancy behind Kenya and Tanzania and yet Uganda is considered to be better endowed than the other two countries.

The only way to rescue Uganda and her citizens is to remove NRM from power because it will not change its policies however much we scream and/or pray. NRM has reached a point of no return. God helps those who help themselves. Ugandans will do themselves a huge favor by ridding themselves of the failed and dictatorial NRM regime. The earlier it’s done the better.

In preparation for a post-NRM regime, United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) an umbrella organization of parties and groups at home and abroad opposed to the NRM system has prepared a National Recovery Plan (NRP). The Plan has been distributed widely including to all Uganda political parties and organizations at home and abroad. It is accessible at

The Plan is pro-poor and puts priority emphasis on agriculture and rural development where the overwhelming majority of Ugandans earn their meager livelihood; manufacturing and labor-intensive enterprises; restoration of the environment through revegetation/reforestation programs and a shelter rehabilitation program to address sprawling urban slums. Human capital development and infrastructure will also receive priority attention under the Plan.

UDU hopes that the National Recovery Plan will be one of the documents presented and discussed at the Uganda “Grand Public Debate” during a conference scheduled to take place in London on November 12, 2011.