Parish Development Model: Lessons from China’s Poverty Alleviation initiatives

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.

Uganda’s PDM should tap into Forum on China-Africa Cooperation’s Action Plan 2022-2024

By Allawi Ssemanda

Last month, the government of Uganda signed the Agreement of Economic and Technical Cooperation on Grant Aid (AETCGA) with the government of Popole’s Republic of China. The signed agreement is part of the two countries’ efforts in implementing development projects in Uganda under Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) 8th ministerial conference that highlighted nine programs to focus on. This agreement signed by finance minister, Matia Kasaija and Ambassador Zhang Lizhong on behalf of Uganda and China respectively will see China disbursing USD 20 million to support Uganda’s social and livelihoods projects.

If critically analysed, one can argue that less than six months after Darkar declaration in which 53 African countries and China under FOCAC identified nine areas to be fund and supported by China over next two years, it is becoming clear that Uganda and other African countries under FOCAC can benefit from China-Africa cooperation where under a win-win cooperation, African countries can identify areas that need support. Indeed, while signing AETCGA, Uganda’s finance minister, Matia Kasaija observed that such support from China contributes to Uganda’s socioeconomic transformation.

Broadly, the nine areas identified by African countries to be supported by China for the period 2022-2024 will focus on: peace and security, capacity building, people-to-people relations, poverty reduction and promotion of trade and investments in African countries. The others are supporting medical and health programs, supporting agricultural programs, green development, and digital innovation. All these areas are vital for sustained the socio-economic development of Uganda, and Africa in general.

In Uganda’s context, if implemented, identified areas will help the country realise objectives and goals of Parish Development Model whose end gaol is reducing poverty. Aware that African countries are still grappling with extreme poverty which China eradicated early last year, through FOCAC arrangement, Ugandan policy makers and Africa’s in general can engage China to support identified areas such as; capacity building, poverty reduction, promotion of trade and investments, people-to-people relations, digital innovation, supporting of medical and health programs as a sure way of reducing eradicating extreme poverty on the continent. China in this case can offer good lessons sharing with African governments on how they managed to eradicate poverty.

Despite hardships developing countries face, China was able to eradicated extreme poverty among her huge population of 1.4 billion people, and has consequently successfully built a moderately prosperous society. As I write this, Beijing has already set another ambitious target of building a country of high-quality development also known as “common prosperity”.

However, as we think to borrow ideas of development from China, developing countries must as well seriously look at the role of leadership in development of societies/countries. Arguably, we must note that for any country to develop – at least using China’s example, leadership plays a key role in development. Also, for any country to achieve meaningful development, people must be at the centre of such development efforts. This helps in ensuring inclusive development which is key in ensuring prosperity.

For example, in his paper: “To Firmly Drive Common Prosperity”, President Xi explains that while China succeeded in ending extreme poverty, they still face a tough challenge of ensuring equal development between urban and rural people and reducing the gap between rich and the poor stressing that this impedes common prosperity. This to happen, leaders must help citizens create their realistic desired vision and then support them to achieve stated goals.

Therefore, as African countries embark on implementing projects identified in nine areas under FOCAC action plan for 2022-2024, policy makers and leaders must be mindful and ensure that all projects undertaken have reflect interests of citizens and inclusive development. African governments must use the opportunity of China’s willingness to discuss which project needs to be funded and select funds that directly touch livelihood of people.

The author is Executive Director of Development Watch Centre; a foreign policy think tank.


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