Uganda Peoples Congress

UPC External Bureau Victoria, British Columbia

The Illusion Of An Economic Boom In Uganda

A case for the rural Ugandans who are oppressed by poverty

31 December 2005

Commentary 2

In 1986 when the NRM came to power, the UPC managed economy was struggling to recover. Obviously the recovery was hampered by the war in Luwero. Never-the-less, recovery was happening as compared to the situation in 1979. An economic development plan was in-place and agreements were signed with contractors and consultants to implement the programs. The Ocelots' mutiny interrupted the program. But they had no agenda, and were just hoping that inviting the NRM rebels into government would assist them in establishing economic order. This did not happen.

After the NRM toppled the Okello government, a lot of money was poured into the country. NGO's moved in, bought new cars for staff and official use. Grants were given to the government for poverty eradication and structural adjustment. Most of the money was stolen due to corruption, but never-the-less it was spent within the country. Some industries were rehabilitated, and in fact there was increased economic activity.

But on close inspection, one might find that this economic activity is all being controlled by a small group of lucky people who were in the right place at the right time, and had the right connections. The NRM being a new kid on the block politically used this wind fall to bribe its way into the hearts of a few people. The by-word in the 1990's, as revealed by a prominent minister who will not be named, was that you either cooperated with the NRM or you were starved to death. This was in fact the birth of corruption with impunity.

Then there was the privatization business. Much was expected of this, but few can show the benefits of the exercise. The policy objective of providing vital services to the citizens at reasonable cost was thrown out of the window. Now the impoverished people have to fend for themselves under harsh conditions.

All this economic activity is a delicate babble, which might burst any time because it does not involve the majority of Ugandans (85%) who live in rural areas in a significant way.

The activity did not go much beyond a few cities and towns. Anyone driving 50 kilometers out of any town will come face to face with grinding poverty and depravation. In some villages, many iron-roofed houses sprung up, and this was seen as a sign of progress, but the materials and technical labor to build such houses, quite often comes from towns, because subsistence farmers have no skills in brick-laying of roof construction.

The bottom line is that 95% of the Uganda population has not really benefited from the World Bank/IMF/ NGO economic miracle.

There is considerable evidence of these failures of NRM liberalization policy. Consider the following facts:

  1. An average rural family that was able to grow cotton on a reasonable scale to generate enough income to educate his children is today unable to do so, because it cannot find resources to till the amount of enough land to make it possible. This situation in some parts of Uganda is solely due to the NRM liberal policy toward cattle rustling. Good plowing oxen are now a rare sight.
  2. A rural patient suffering from a disease requiring hospital or dispensary treatment is hard-pressed to find funds to facilitate costs of treatment. There are horror stories of pregnant women going to Mulago to deliver babies, but they have to carry with them syringes, gloves, and blankets to hold the new-born and other resources required for a decent delivery. What proportion of villagers can actually afford those accessories?
  3. An average rural family does not earn enough income to afford purchase of clothing, salt, sugar and the bare necessities for survival. Their purchasing power is virtually shs 0.0/ year.
  4. Adequate planning for an agricultural land-base, which is continually fragmenting due to rapid increase in population is lacking, and some families have to scratch out a living on a land area less that a half a hectare.

According to the UPC manifesto, the party will revive cooperatives and get agriculture going again. The NRM solution of bringing in large-scale foreign farmers to do what Ugandans should be doing to improve their livelihood, does not benefit rural Ugandans, and it is a shameful policy.

Long live UPC. Long live Mama Miria Kalule Obote. More power to the rural peasants!