The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) by the civil society is a healthy innovation that shows concern about the perspective of poverty on a global scale and the wish for collective measures to see the people who are victims of poverty get out of the vicious circle of poverty which has been witnessed by the grandparents and the children yet the great grand children also are to suffer poverty where many nations have been able to make a break through. When contributions are made and the World We Want Report submitted, the issue is what next?
The fact is that many of the countries which are locked in poverty from day one onwards have people who have solutions out of the poverty situation, but there are two major players to blame hence the continued poverty of our countries. These are the leaders of the countries in question and the wrong policies which they put in place, second the donor community, who more often than not don’t give chance to locally generated ideas by the affected communities and instead impose on us what they think works, and in some instances end up worsening our conditions. It is a fact that democracy is according to my observation being dictated to our countries as the best way to govern ourselves. Unfortunately, in many of our countries, this democracy is easily talked about than practiced. A case in point is my mother country Uganda. The current leadership (NRM/A - Party) waged a 5 – year bush war to overthrow an elected Government (UPC) under the guise that it had got to power through a stolen victory, and wanted to see the country liberated from vote thieves! 25 years down the road, the party is a chief architect of scheming to see itself in power; many of its leaders will do whatever it takes either to bribe the people to see the NRM politicians remain the elected people’s representatives. We have seen a President who came promising a fundamental change; instead being party to reversing even the few gains the country had made! It is ironical to see stiff competition for most of the positions within the ruling NRM party and not have a single serious person stand to challenge the head of the party who doubles as the head of state! It is sad that the longest ever process to come up with a Constitution was witnessed in Uganda, but before the Constitution could be tested, here was the head of state spearheading a change to remove the term limits so that he rules on up to when only God knows. These are the problems which in the final analysis lead our countries to abject poverty.
We have the good Economists whose voice is ignored. Time and again voices have been raised over the administrative expenditure in Uganda, but trust our leaders, they never listen to Economic sense, what they have in their vocabulary is political sense! To day we see a kraal size Parliament in Uganda! The 8th Parliament approved the creation of 32 new districts, nine municipalities and fourteen counties which saw the number of legislators go up from 319 to the current 375 in the 9th Parliament. In the name of affirmative action, each district has a woman representative, so Parliament ends up a very big drain on the resources which are not there because the country in actual fact gets over 60% funding (considering what the NGOs put in and other resources not reflected in the Government budget as read by the Minister of Finance for example, the World Vision Uganda Ministry budget grew from US$ 60,026,221 in 2008 to US$ 67,345,041 in 2009; while UNICEF Uganda in 2007 received US$ 72,918,626.43 ) from external sources! Rapid population growth and persistent systematic poverty, coupled with poor indicators in areas of health and education, have proved serious obstacles to development in Uganda. Government’s decision to further the decentralization process has highlighted issues of local fiscal management, including revenue raising capacity, downstream resource flows, and fiscal accountability and transparency. This has increased local dependency upon external partners.
What happens to the money locally generated is any body’s guess. Corruption has flourished more than ever before. It surprises to see ‘funny characters’ taken as owners of assets you can never believe they own. This is one way many of our politicians disguise their ill gotten wealth by having the assets in other people’s names! The essential social services are a night mere. For a Government to make a lot of noise that it is offering free education, when in actual practice what it gives per pupil per year is laughable is simply politics. The school year is 9 months and each month shs 450 is what is given to the school per child, then a top up with shillings 100,000 per school per month. However, most schools now have at least shs 25,000 as fees paid, shs 15,000 to 25,000 to be able to avail lunch/porridge, the children have to buy a uniform which may be anything in the line of about shs 10,000 or more. These children have to buy exercise books, set examinations are the norm in all schools and parents have to foot the bill. At the end of the day, the free or Universal Primary Education (UPE) is much more of a political gimmick than a reality. Actually, there is no UPE worth talking about in Uganda given what parents have to pay to sustain the children in Government aided primary schools. It is sad that the cost is high due to among other things the VAT which is abnormally high at 18%. Yet it is also true that Governments in the past used to aid primary schools and we were able to get free books both exercise and text and the cost of goods and services was reasonable, hence these schools were able to meet the cost of sugar and food which is impossible as of now if parents don’t pick the bill.
There has been talk about poverty alleviation, but how do you expect Government policies that are constantly impoverishing the people to miraculously create wealth? We knew of blanket policies which were meant to see all the people out of poverty during the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) Governance, by making marketing for agricultural products a very well organized business. Today, courtesy of the liberalization (which some in NRM have greatly embraced and ended up as the buyers of privatized entities), every Tom and Dick is in export business and what has this done? The prices got for what we sell are not competitive. We need to increase foreign exchange earnings, but which strategies are in place to see this policy a reality? In the final analysis, what we are witnessing is a constantly depreciating shilling. Can you imagine the prices for petrol on display the same day in Kampala city with one petrol station showing shs 3,300 and another shs 3,650 and they are all in business? That is the Uganda we have!
We have through decades been led by a Government which has been involved in fighting its own wars as well as other people’s wars. What this has meant is a big drain on the national resources, poor pay to highly skilled people and the country has become a net exporter of manpower which manpower would greatly help the development process. When you go to the hospitals, it is true, a number of structures have been rehabilitated, but the question to be asked, are there medical personnel to help the people and if they are there, how is their motivation? Do these infrastructures have medicine at all? If there is supposed to be some medicine and some medical staff divert this little to their own ventures, who should be blamed?
We have the mighty donors who impose policies on us. These policies when followed religiously help the impoverished countries to get dollars which dollars unfortunately are poorly monitored by the donor! In the final analysis, more often than not, much of what may have been expected from the donor money is not realized because these donors tend to leave the supervision to the beneficiary countries, and the outcome is the accumulation of assets by a few as we see during the NRM era while majority enjoy abject poverty! The other aspect of the donors is imposing on us policies which ruin our countries the more. When NRM got to power, it badly needed the donor money to get the economy moving. What they did among other things was to embrace the donor policies and among these was the privatization of nearly each and every area where Government had a role. The rationale was that Government among other things is poor at business. Today, Uganda is reaping out of this policy. The power sector is simply a mess where astronomical subsidies are being made and it is not clear whether some interests are not taking advantage. People are paying dearly for the power bills, but it surprises that the companies responsible to see power availed to consumers have resorted to load shedding until such a time when Government pays up the bills for the subsidy of this power. Government pulled out of direct involvement in agriculture business, though much more could still be done (as it has the muscle to see capital intensive investments a reality, as people with such capital are not easy to come-by, which would help agro-processing industrialization, out of which Uganda can be sure of earning foreign currency) and the sector on being left to private players has poor performance yet it is supposed to be the main employer.
To cut the very long story short, The World We Want shall remain in the air till such a time when most of our leaders re-think their selfish interests and strategies which are anti-welfare of the masses. It is true that many of the leaders in the least developed countries would love much more to lead poor people because they are governable. And on a sad note, I want to express my reservations to our leaders more so President Yoweri Museveni, who among other things will always go an extra mile to use the enactment of laws to suit his own personal interests. Today, we see President Museveni wanting to see demonstrators ‘castrated’ when his proposed law where he intends not to grant bail to demonstrators among other ‘innocent until proved guilty’ victims. These developments are not positive to seeing stability which is critical to seeing poverty eradication plans a success.
William Kituuka Kiwanuka