Shortcut actions and long term consequences

In my culture we have a proverb “bugubugu tehisa”, meaning that if you apply too much cooking fire for quick results you will serve a poor meal. Consequently, we were taught to apply gentle fire so that the food cooks slowly for good results. This principle apparently applies to other human activities with long term adverse outcomes.

One of the reasons put forward for political instability in Uganda is that independence was achieved too early before national consciousness had developed to remove or minimize ethnic, religious and economic divides. The British policy of ‘divide and rule’ in addition to ‘indirect rule system’ that favored Protestant chiefs and their families and relatives over others in education, employment and political capital created a wide divide. To this divide was added the economic inequalities between the south and the north. The south became the economic and social development center while the north became the labor reserve providing men and increasingly women in police, prisons and the army and labor for economic activities in the south.

The British are believed to have determined the date of independence too early. Consequently, colonial administration postponed referendum on complex ‘lost counties’ dispute until after independence, did not put in place proper arrangements to deal with Tutsi refugees and their cattle from Rwanda who entered Uganda in the early 1960s, passed on to the independence government the unresolved and very sensitive Amin’s criminal actions in Kenya, and delayed agreement on a mechanism for selecting the head of state. The Queen remained head of state at independence represented by a Governor-General. Britain imposed an impossible federal constitution to keep Uganda intact.

Eager to form a government and enjoy the fruits of independence, Ugandans focused on short term arrangements including the formation of political alliances of strange bed fellows like UPC (Uganda Peoples’ Congress) of Protestant commoners with KY (Kabaka Yekka- King’s only) party of Protestant royalists. The two parties had nothing in common except being followers of the Anglican faith. The deep seated ethnic, religious and regional differences surfaced soon after independence resulting in the overthrow of the independence constitution in 1966 and the UPC government led by Obote in 1971. The disputed 1980 elections resulted in a destructive guerrilla war that lasted for five years from 1981 through 1985.

While still in the bush Yoweri Museveni and his guerrillas came up with a political and economic program that gave Ugandans hope. Museveni spoke eloquently about his determination to end religious, economic and ethnic sectarianism, build national unity and consider merit as the only criterion in running the affairs of a united country. Within a short time Museveni felt he was strong diplomatically, politically and militarily. Without paying attention to long term outcomes he proceeded to promote ethnic and religious sectarianism and divide the country up into tiny and economically unviable districts with all economic, political and ethnic challenges which have surfaced after his more than 20 years in power, pushing the country back towards the ‘dark days’ of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s.

On the advice of foreign experts and politicians, Uganda also entered into the shock therapy type structural adjustment to achieve quick macroeconomic results. After more than twenty years of implementing structural adjustment program (SAP), the country is experiencing serious labor, social and ecological challenges. The private sector and market forces chosen to drive Uganda’s economy, create jobs and through a trickle-down mechanism eliminate poverty and hunger, improve education and health care, housing and clothing and protect the environment did not deliver. Uganda is now caught in a political economy trap.

Regarding controlling Africa’s population growth western experts wanted quick results through contraception. These western theorists and advisers to African governments assumed that only African women determine the number of children and if empowered through birth control knowledge and supplied with contraceptive means they would stop the birth of unwanted children. The role that men play in women’s reproduction and that demographic matters require a gradual approach were brushed aside. Foreign experts thought they knew better what was good for Africa than natives. They recommended the hiring of medical doctors to implement birth control programs, located in the department of mother and child health care (in the ministry of health) where men do not go. To extract compliance, foreign aid would be provided on condition that African governments agreed to implement birth control programs. Because African governments have been reluctant there has been little implementation. Fertility rates which are still high have begun to decline albeit slowly.

The Asian countries responded differently from African states. Through a combination of family planning policies, education and employment of women some Asian countries such as China, Republic of Korea and Singapore have experienced rapid fertility decline below replacement level of 2.1 births per woman in a relatively short period of time. Although rapid population decline has had positive short term benefits including improved standard of living, the long term costs are beginning to be felt. These countries are experiencing sharp falls in labor supply. Additionally, a young population is credited with a potential for rapid technology assimilation which accelerates development, besides providing human power for military and other security forces. Countries that remain at below replacement level for a long time have a propensity to end up in a permanent ‘low fertility trap’.

In view of these long term challenges, it may be wise for countries like Uganda now growing fast demographically to embark on a gradual and controlled fertility reduction in concert with the education of girls and empowerment of women as a more appropriate strategy. Ugandans and their advisers that are recommending a demographic shock therapy strategy need to rethink drawing on lessons from the Asian countries.

Based on the above analysis, short-cut actions whether in politics, economics or demography need to be recast because the long term adverse outcomes could outweigh the short term benefits.

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