19 June 2017

Uganda: On the U.S. Embassy Report to Ugandans

Photo: PPU/Daily Monitor
President Museveni (right) and the US ambassador to Uganda, Deborah Malac, recently. This week, the US embassy published a document titled ‘Report to the Ugandan People.’

This week, the United States Embassy in Kampala published a document titled 'Report to the Ugandan People.'

It was a kind of report on the state-of-the-nation called Uganda and the different areas of intervention and support by the US government on behalf of Uganda's people.

It is much better-written and much-better designed than the reports by the Ugandan government to or about its own people.

Well-punctuated, edited and written in a measured, formal tone, the Uganda government, Ugandan civil society organisations, and our own news media should borrow a leaf from the way Americans write and edit formal documents, if they can't borrow anything else from the report.

As is typical of most American and European publications and television features about Africa, the US embassy report in its photos portrays the typical, naïve, unsophisticated rural African, smiling, celebrating in dance and song, eager to please "our visitors" when they arrive in rural Uganda.

All the Ugandans in the photos published in the report look like at most being educated up to primary school and no more.

Perhaps these reports depicting the naïve and clueless native are what the reality is.

Maybe, the pockets of laptop-carrying Ugandans notwithstanding, the typical Ugandan is that native with an eager, naïve smile.

The Ugandan depicted in the US embassy report will never become competitive in Uganda's economy, never mind on the global stage.

This helpless, naïve Ugandan will remain dependent on foreign and government aid for the rest of his or her life.

Quite a few who read the report will note the patronising tone.

What it does, though, is reveal the reality of what it means to be Uganda.

The economic growth (if that is what it is) over the last 25 or so years has been largely because the United States government and governments of the European Union took on what should have been the primary responsibility of the Uganda government.

It should be the Uganda government providing emergency food to its people during times of crop failure. It should be the ministry of Agriculture supplying seedlings and basic subsistence tools to rural farmers.

It should be district agricultural and veterinary extension workers reaching out and down to the rural village to explain to farmers the basics of how to tend to their crops, not American Peace Corps volunteers.

Beekeeping, poultry, cabbage, these cottage and quite basic trades and artisan activities should have been the responsibility of the Uganda government.

In a sense, the US embassy by publishing that report has inadvertently exposed the bankruptcy of the NRM government.

In future by-elections, parliamentary and presidential elections, it will be difficult for NRM candidates to claim it is they who have helped the rural farmer or provided health for the poor.

We now know who really props up Uganda.

Not that we did not before, but we now have a document to refer to when rebutting the government's claims that "due to our correct policies", Ugandans now enjoy better farm yields and better health.

The European Union mission to Uganda should follow suit and also publish a report directly to the Ugandan people. That should be followed by a report from the Chinese embassy in Kampala.

What does govt do for its people?

When we read all tree reports, we shall be left with the question: So, exactly what does the Uganda government do for its people?

The US embassy report in its next edition should include the indirect aid the American government extends to the civil service, civil society, the media, academia and other white-collar middle class Ugandans, through scholarships, funding our little NGOs, workshops and footing the bills that give us the veneer of being "emerging Africa".

This report is a sober and embarrassing reminder that underwriting the so-called story of an Africa emerging since the early 2000s has been a Western social and humanitarian aid and Chinese infrastructural investment and construction.

Without this foreign aid, Uganda today would still be in the 1950s.

Oh, but those pictures of naïve, barely literate, rural Ugandans! Next time the US embassy should contract me to take photos that don't portray Ugandans as all that naïve and clueless.

Uganda

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