As we assess Uganda’s progress over the last fifty years of independence, we need to draw a distinction between processes and real outcomes. Often governments have recorded processes as outcomes thereby giving themselves underserved credit. Let me clarify with a few illustrations beginning with gender which is a cross-cutting issue.
We all know that Uganda girls and women face serious challenges. In order to address them, NRM government set up a ministry of gender and has until the recent cabinet reshuffle appointed a woman as minister in charge of gender affairs. The creation of the ministry of gender should not be recorded as an outcome but as part of a process towards addressing gender challenges. In order to get to real outcomes we need to ask to what extent has the ministry helped to reduce maternal mortality and domestic violence; empower women through education and gainful employment to take independent decisions that affect the quality of their lives. That way you can measure real outcomes.
Countries that have progressed have had citizens that fought for their inalienable (natural or God given) rights and freedoms including freedom of speech. They have also taken risks. When you shy away from them chances are that you will remain behind. Some efforts create quick results – negative or positive – others take a long time. Sometime reversals occur. But a start has to be made.
Uganda has just ended fifty years of independence. The overall assessment is that things haven’t happened the way we wanted them. That means we have to revisit what we did and find out what we need to discard, refine or retain as is.
One of the common complaints in Uganda is the system of governance that has concentrated power in the central government and suffocates efforts for regions or districts to decide what they need to do to improve the quality of their lives. The tier system that Uganda has introduced through decentralization is not sufficient because the central government determines what states/provinces or districts should do and the minister of local government is empowered to take decisions that could frustrate local initiatives.
As a researcher I have interacted with many Ugandans at different social levels. All want children to do better than their parents. All want to be treated with respect. All those opposed to NRM want unity to succeed etc. However, the surprising part is that there are very few people acting individually or collectively through institutions that practice what they preach.
Look at the NRM government. It has preached modernization of agriculture but practiced very little. It has preached industrialization of Uganda but in practice the country is de-industrializing. It has preached environmental protection and sustainable management of natural resources but is threatening to give away a portion of Mabira forest for sugarcane plantation. It has preached good education in quantity and quality but cannot even provide lunches that keep children in primary school and make them perform better especially girls.
In rhetoric many Ugandans – married or not – feel that Uganda’s population is growing fast and needs to be controlled, but very few are willing to practice birth control. They feel their ‘neighbors’ should do so first.
The massive rigging of 2011 elections has forced many Ugandans to conclude that NRM won’t be unseated through the ballot box. They have decided to put elections on hold until the playing field has been leveled after NRM is gone. To unseat NRM other means have to be applied. Consequently, Ugandans in the opposition are trying to find a common ground on the purpose and how to implement it.
Given Uganda’s history of divide and rule, north-south divide, master-servant relations, differences in religion, economic and political injustice, different cultures and personal ambitions, it is taking longer to establish a common platform and methods of engagement.
Thus we still have people in our midst who believe that without them in the lead nothing will get done. When they do not lead, they do what it takes to frustrate the efforts of others.
We still have in our midst some who believe that they were born to rule and others to labor for them. When those believed to be servants rise to leadership positions they are frustrated by those who think that God ordained them divine leaders, only answerable to Him.
Poverty – broadly defined – is a social problem that stifles the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Ugandans need to regain freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to live in dignity. Today, in 2011, except a few families, Ugandans are absolutely poor (in the sense that they cannot meet basic necessities of life). They are sick, getting insane and selling their children to make ends meet. They are undereducated, poorly fed, poorly sheltered, poorly clothed and unemployed.
Maternal mortality is rising and undernourished women are producing underweight children with permanent physical and mental disabilities thus undermining human capital formation. Maximum brain development is stifled because of poor diet during the first three years of life from conception. And Ugandans have the lowest life expectancy in the whole of East Africa, reflecting the lowest level of the standard of living.
Ugandans still use primitive implements such as hand hoes and machetes. They broadcast seed by hand, weed by hand, harvest by hand and grind the grain by hand as was done in medieval times.
As campaigning for February 2011 presidential elections enters the last phase, Ugandans need to consider the following illustrative events before deciding whether or not to re-elect Museveni for another five-year term.
1. There are increasing allegations that Museveni and/or his collaborators murdered key Ugandans to discredit Amin and have him overthrown.
2. There are increasing allegations that human, physical and institutional destruction in the Luwero Triangle was committed by Museveni and his guerrilla fighters to discredit Obote and have him overthrown.
3. There are reports that Museveni prolonged the northern and eastern war causing much destruction in human, physical and institutional terms. He was forced by the international community to end the war. Museveni should not earn credit for ending the war and be re-elected by northern and eastern voters.
4. A few months after he formed the government, Museveni introduced new Uganda currency and charged 30 percent conversion tax against the advice of IMF as such a tax hike would significantly reduce household incomes and cause untold suffering which it did in many families. It is not clear where that revenue went.
Of late there has been a resurgence of writing and debate about Uganda’s population ‘explosion’ or ‘bomb’ that will destroy development efforts because savings are going into feeding unproductive mouths of children instead of investing in productive enterprises. Increasingly we are witnessing people who are not trained in population much less experienced in this complex subject writing and commenting with confidence like they know more than any other Ugandan or for that matter any other expert. Some of these may have had one day or one week’s seminar in population matters and begin to talk with authority.
Population dynamics are very complex in time and space. We have seen the regrettable results of countries that rushed into reducing population growth rapidly by force or couples that did not want children or just one or two. These countries and their governments are now rushing to reverse the trend. Have you heard of “Conception Day” in one of the developed countries where a national holiday has been declared so that the citizens can stay at home and increase their population? Have you heard of a wide range of incentives that are being offered in developed countries so that their populations can have many children? What I am saying is that rushing into curbing population growth can be costly in the long term.