What the next Uganda government must do

I am writing this article on the assumption, inter alia, that:

  1. the new government will muster sufficient political will, genuine and real commitment to raise the standard of living of all Ugandans
  2. Ugandans and their friends and partners will recognize and accept that Uganda is basically an agrarian country dominated by peasants
  3. Ugandans will put the highest priority on meeting the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter
  4. the empowerment of the poor through inter alia mass quality education, healthcare and appropriate technologies will be promoted
  5. external advice however sound will not deliver without support from the nationals
  6. there is a recognition that structural adjustment has been a failure in social and environmental terms and sustaining economic growth
  7. development strategies are home designed, executed and owned
  8. land is life and a basic asset for peasants
  9. the respective roles of the state and the private sector will be redefined in a mutually reinforcing manner
  10. a bottom up approach will be supported through appropriate policies, strategies and institutions

Because five years is a short time I will focus on a few areas which as a minimum must be supported by the new government – food security, support to smallholder farmers and empowerment of girls and women.

Uganda’s economic, social and ecological history since the pre-colonial days reveals there have been changes but of the wrong kind for human development and biological conservation. The colonial comparative advantage destroyed local industries, skills and jobs and killed regional markets. It diverted fertile land and labor away from production for domestic consumption leading to severe under-nutrition of children and adults alike. Pictures of starving children and stories about family members killing each other over food shortages have brought shame to Uganda when the country exports mountains of food. The next government must make sure that there is enough food for every Ugandans and only sell surplus foodstuffs. Food is the most basic of basic human needs. It must therefore be given a pride of place in Uganda’s development discourse including school feeding.

The next Uganda government must avoid a race to join the club of the Asian tigers and dragons by pursuing rapid economic growth and per capita incomes. Instead it should – like South Korea did – begin with improvements in agriculture. Instead of dishing out poor people’s land to large scale farmers or incorporating it into municipality for political purposes and other motives, the government should support smallholder farmers who have finally been recognized internationally as productive, efficient, environmentally friendly and socially least disruptive.

The international community has already earmarked resources to support smallholder farmers in developing countries to increase productivity, enhance agro-industries and improve incomes. As a contribution to this effort UNDP has produced a report on appropriate energy titled “Expanding Energy in Developing Countries: The Role of Mechanical Power” published in 2009. The report gives examples of appropriate mechanical power including wind pumps, water wheels, stationery engines, manually operated pumps, corn threshers, rice de-husking, oil presses, and machines for producing building materials (brick presses). UNDP presents electrical power as suitable for high income groups signifying that it is inappropriate for very low income earners like most of Uganda peasants.

With improved incomes, a mass society will emerge characterized by better clothing, shelter and food, education and health care and overall high standard of living and realization of basic human rights.

The issue of empowerment is vital in many aspects of Uganda’s development. The challenge of population growth has gained momentum among professional and non-professional Ugandans and non-Ugandans. Given the sensitivity surrounding population growth, it is being handled the wrong way by people who are interested in short-term results through birth control. There is resistance from many quarters to this approach. While Ugandans may agree that population growth could pause a problem if not checked, for selfish reasons each group feels that it is the other groups that should participate in birth control programs. We need a new approach albeit it may not produce the desired results in the short term.

It is women who produce children voluntarily or under pressure from their spouses. The state should therefore empower girls and women. It has been demonstrated that when girls stay at school primary level, they delay marriage and procreation. The new government with support of development partners should make enrolling and keeping girls in school a priority by removing school fees and other charges and providing school meals that improve attendance and performance. NEPAD has already recommended this approach.

A good education will enable women to get good jobs, earn good incomes and lessen their dependence on spouses who generally demand more children or else face dire consequences. A financially independent woman has many options at her disposal including the right to decide how many children she wishes to have and how to space them. Additionally, educated women accept family planning more readily than illiterate or those that have completed primary education. This way family planning or birth control becomes an enabler not the determinant of fertility control.

Food security, small holder farmers and mass empowerment of girls and women were neglected under the structural adjustment program which was a big mistake. In the next five years policies, strategies and institutions should be designed to support the neglected areas. On human power utilization, the new government should shift from loyalty to competence. The benefits of this bottom up approach will outweigh the top down arrangements that emphasize economic growth and trickle down mechanism. This way Uganda will avoid the crisis it is grappling with right now in mid-2010.

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