By Alan Collins Mpewo
Poverty is a concept not alien to any human that has graced the communities that have since covered the globe. From many corners of earth, in the days of the past, and some (corners of earth) presently, resources were owned and controlled communally. This gave off the position that everyone that stood as a beneficiary for any of the subject resource(s) would stand at an equal footing in the sense of ownership and control, without anyone exceeding the set confines. Transition saw the birth of barter trade, as a mode of exchange, dispose of, and acquisition. Better means (as some will argue) later got introduced. Cowrie shells, beads, iron pellets, carefully cut fabric, and more, as the medium of trade. Finally, the currency as we know it came about – paper money. It has been projected to be the longest standing medium of exchange and trade that may have to be used for a few generations ahead, compared to those it replaced. In the same context, organization systems (notwithstanding their pros and cons) have been picked out for each separate societies, with capitalism being the most widespread. Incidentally, the control of equity and wealth are in a circle of a few individuals, and majority taste the bite of poverty at different levels.
Consequently, the various governments globally always come up with initiatives to reduce the poverty levels whose understanding has been tied around a metric system that determines the poverty line, depending on the changes of economies. Uganda has (and had) various programs established for that cause. Some notable ones have been the “Bona bagagawale, Entandikwa, NAADS, Operation Wealth Creation, Emyooga” and now “Parish Development Model.” However, the challenges and consequential failures for all the programs have similar traits. But are lessons ever picked? Dangers of face-lifting a project on the cosmetic outlook can only do so much in a short time. Underlying factors therefore don’t merely come as of lack of the will for a general change in mechanisms, but remains a mystery for political capital only aimed at a specific point of time. The parish development model for example was unveiled with a fairly switched modus operandi, but the results don’t lie. As time has sailed away, the problems that in many ways led to the demise of its predecessors, may if not remedied, write a similar story for it in time not so far away.
Countries globally have had similar initiatives to lower poverty levels, although sometimes it’s merely a showcase for political capital. The major focus of this opinion is focused on similar policies by China. It’s only fair to determine how China’s initiatives have scored, and being categorized as one of the fastest growing economies of this century, vis-à-vis Uganda’s. About 40 years ago, China had one of the highest poverty levels per aggregate population having millions of its citizens surviving on as low as $1.9 per day. How the script got a parallel chapter spares many lessons for willing countries to choose. The opening of extensive economic transformation and targeted support were the two game changers. For obvious reasons, the will against the fight against corruption and the sociopolitical system also played great roles. It realized the urgency of minimizing economic gaps between various regions in order to have a supportive economic balance before embarking on radical changes. Average economies saw their uplift through systemic tracking of development and accountability. Sustainability was foundational. Building infrastructure on all levels of community organization to withstand changes in the economy and political environment.
Uganda just like many other African countries have mastered the art of short time achievements. Empowerment isn’t considered as the political ideologies are mainly built around dependency on those in higher positions of society, than empowerment. China understood that concept and the results speak for themselves. There are uncountable local entrepreneurs that not only have dealings within China, but also across the globe. For a country with the world’s greatest population, pulling off such an achievement isn’t a small feat. Uganda needs to first set its governance priorities straight on all levels of administration. Key indicators have it that even the distributed finances for the various projects barely meet their target recipients. Such administration gaps are one of the greatest setbacks. Just like China, poverty alleviation should be on an equal from of all sectors, because the intersection among them is interdependence. Without proper infrastructure, trade is slower. Without proper governance, economic transformation is a myth. Without proper healthcare, labor productivity is lowest. Without improved ICT, industrialization is minimal. Without government support of local entrepreneurship, traditional commercialization becomes riskier to invest in. A broken education system will have society at great loses in all sectors.
The bare minimum should then be in strategizing as China and other fast-growing economies did, and establishing new and focused priorities of transformation. Otherwise, the statistics on poverty levels in Uganda haven’t been shining any bright light in the past two decades, to date.
Alan Collins Mpewo is a Senior Research Fellow, Development Watch Centre.