SO Spain is not Uganda. No kidding. In case you missed it: this was the casual and admittedly not very PC text message by Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to his Finance Minister with some strategic advice for Spain's bail-out discussions with the EU: 'Stand your ground, we're the number four power in Europe. Spain is not Uganda.'
Deserving of a sharp side-eye, perhaps, but then how many times have you said something similar? Say, some throwaway comment about all Nigerians being 419 scammers? But these are digital days, so Mr Rajoy became the instant target of a hysterical flap on the internet. Uganda is the pearl of Africa, and Spain is the pearl of nothing! Spain has no mountain gorillas! There were also some slightly more economics-focused claims.
For example: Uganda needs no bailout. Umm, really? Spain is looking for a one off, and a loan at that. Uganda lives on a perma-bailout: 30% budget funding by donors for years. You can say a lot about donor funding, not the least that a good part of it is recycled to donor staff and procurement, but the bottomline is: Uganda's public household doesn't work without external support, hasn't done so for many years. Uganda has a lower debt to GDP ratio? Yup, after several rounds of debt write-offs. The latest round, the MDRI write off of 2005, lowered Uganda's external debt from USD4.5bn to USD1.8bn - but it has shot up to USD5.3bn in early 2012.
Of course this might all change soon when Uganda starts producing oil. Not that this is necessarily going to make the lives of the poorest much better: Angola's bail-out of former colonial power Portugal has attracted a good number of headlines, and it is a fun story. But take a look at income inequalities and poverty levels in Angola and other more recent oil economies like Equatorial Guinea and Chad. Impressed much? Nope, me neither.
The BBC had a useful short overview of some key indicators on Spain and Uganda. I think they got the wrong figure for Uganda's unemployment rate, but this is really what it boils down to: Spain's 2010 national per capita income, adjusted to reflect local living costs, was USD31,800. Uganda: USD1,250. Of course average per capita income is merely average, but look at average life expectancy: 79 and 85 years for Spanish men and women, 54 and 55 years for Ugandan men and women. Get real. Spain isn't Uganda.
It's so easy: chuckle at the economic slowdown and crisis in the US and the Eurozone. Look, they screw up, too, just like us. Now the IMF can lecture them, too. Yes, it's amusing seeing the big boys at the receiving end, but once you're done grinning, look at it again, and look properly. Not just because economic growth is a win-win game: if the Eurozone grows, it's good news for African exports of goods and services. But also because there's plenty of food for thought in what's happening at the moment.
Regional integration has been very promising in the EAC for business (and, therefore, economic growth), but the EAC is pushing for a common currency without having made much progress in the area of a political union. Aren't there some lessons to be learned from the EU here? Also, with Somalia and Southern Sudan applying to join the EAC, take another, closer look at how the core EU dealt with the integration of weaker, poorer countries on its edges. In Spain's case, the EU is ready to the rescue of one of its strongest member states, but seemed a lot more reluctant in Greece where it feels Greece has messed up for years and wants an easy way out. Will the EAC aid member states? Under which conditions? Just as importantly, can it actually bail out its members? So far, all EAC states with the exception of Kenya still rely on significant donor funding just for their own budgets, and the EAC institutions are also part aid funded.
David Kalinaki wrote in the Ugandan Monitor on why this kind of outrage really is pointless: 'We gloss over newspaper stories that speak to the modern-day horrors of parents tying their ill children to trees because there is no proper medical care available for them from a government that spends USh350 billion a year in sending its officials and cronies to foreign hospitals.
Where is the outrage over that? I am proud to defend my country when our honour and genuine achievements are disparaged, but I am unable to find it within myself to ride the bandwagon of empty, predictable navel-gazing, played to a cyber gallery, while ignoring the potholed boulevard of our broken dreams. (...) The Spanish have a load of problems with their debt, unemployment and lack of economic growth. We can spend all the hours we want pointing to our own positive economic growth rate, our mountain gorillas and all the beautiful things we have. Or we can look in the mirror and see our tattered clothes and our lost dreams. Uganda is not Spain, but neither are we South Korea or Singapore. That is what should upset us.'