9 July 2007

Uganda: Poverty Solutions Can Come From Within Us


Africa's 53 First Heads travelled to Ghana, no doubt outdoing each other in who cruises the most expensive jet, ironically, to discuss why their continent is poor! Our presidents never run out of reasons that explain Africa's poverty - but, the real reason eludes the 'men of vision'. While blame-everything-on-colonialism remains the old time favourite, they also blame Africa's woes on past leaders, the World Bank, IMF, trade with the West, bad agricultural practices, civil wars (never mind that they are self induced), the weather (I wouldn't be surprised) and yes, aid.

Blame Everything But Us

Lately, the low populations in African countries seems to be the excuse of choice, so they are all over the place, with renewed enthusiasm arising out of their latest discovery, to solve Africa's endemic problem - through territorial integration. They cite China and India's billions of people as the cause of those countries' economic growth. They forget to cite Botswana and Costa Rica, who are doing well with their small populations.

I hate to disappoint you, but the reasons for poverty in Africa are not colonialism, past leaders, World Bank, IMF, subsistence farming, civil wars, the weather or foreign aid. I don't need to go to Ghana; in fact, there is only one, universal principle to beat poverty - hard work, saving, invest the savings and sensible, financial practices. The biggest jackpot cannot subdue poverty, unless it is managed within universal sound financial practices.

India and China are not aspiring world powers because of their populations; or else they would have been super powers from the beginning. They work hard, save and are very thrifty. Look at Chinese food - chicken is shredded into strips which go a long way where one African is served chunks.

Looking around the world, I see no logical pattern between a country's population and its economic indicators - Botswana has a population of 1.8 million people, with a GDP per capita basing on Purchasing Power Parity of $10,500. Uganda, with a population of 26 million has a GDP per capita of $1,800. Costa Rica's population is four million people with a GDP per capita of $11,000. Rwanda with a population of nine million people has a GDP of $1,817.

Belgium has a population of 10 million people and a GDP per capita of $31,400. Colombia with a population of 45 million people has a GDP of $7,900. Angola with a population of 12 million people has a per capita GDP of $3,200. Holland with a population of 16 million people boasts of a GDP per capita of $31,500. Peru, with a population of 28 million people has GDP of $5,900.

African Arrogance

We have all sorts of excuses for poverty in Africa. Now we say we no longer want aid, therefore, we demand (for goodness sake) fair trade terms with the West. We demand that the American government should stop guaranteeing their country's food security by paying a subsidy to their farmers, conveniently forgetting that when America pays subsidies to their farmers, they give grants and soft loans to Africa.

Why don't we use the grants and loans to pay subsidies to our own farmers? Instead, we buy expensive presidential jets, allocate the smallest percentage of our budget goes to agriculture while a large portion goes the Gavi funds embezzlement scandal way.

Why doesn't the Uganda government account for the 10 years of Agoa and even more years of EBA, before they demand better trade terms with the West? How can aid be bad at all? It is a windfall that can only improve one's balance sheet. Africans should progressively wean themselves off aid, as each successive year yields better results because of aid.

Instead of the President of Uganda globe-trotting, at great expense, looking for solutions to Uganda's poverty, he would do well to look at the corruption around him, the bloated cost of public administration, where each ministry has three ministers, a desk in State House and a Presidential Advisor.

Resource Misuse

Never in the history of Uganda has the cost of public administration been as obscene as in the President Yoweri Museveni administration.

There are measures that can be taken in Uganda, at minimum cost, to improve the country's economy, before we should resort to seeking external solutions.

The writer is a member of the FDC and MP, Rubaga North.

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