BOOK REVIEW: Correcting inequality in Ugandan societies

Saturday June 18 2011

Social Policy: The Integrated Approach to Social DevelopmentTitle: Social Policy: The Integrated Approach to Social Development
Author: George Muriisa Zirimu
Publisher: Makerere University Printery
Reviewed by: David Mwesigye

How to bring about the kind of development that ensures equitable benefits for all groups within a society is a complex issue that spurs debate, discussion and controversy. The government, through its ministries and departments as well as various agencies, uses several approaches to realise this goal.

Policy is the guideline on how government and the other institutional actors would facilitate development and address the problems that hinder it. But in defining what policy is, the author draws from different authorities on the subject to build on his presentation of social policy, which is the main topic of the book. By his admission, “Defining policy is not an easy exercise. What makes it difficult is partly because of its dependence of one policy area on the others, for example, social policy is related to health policy, employment policy, education policy...” He concurs with many others that “defining policy is still contentious as it lacks consensus”.

However, the complexity and diversity of policy, in general, and social policy, in particular, does not prevent him from delving into making it clear for the users of this book, amidst the range of view points from a number of social scientists that they may already be familiar with. To this end, he concludes that most of the definitions contain three aspects: to promote welfare, have both economic and non-economic objectives, and involve some measure of redistribution.

The first six chapters are focused on defining social policy, explaining the different concepts and theories and exploring the myriad of factors that impact on it. Through this, a firm basis is set to understand the later chapters that tackle the social policy that has been formulated to address social problems, provide social needs, ensure resource distribution and enhance service delivery within the Ugandan context.

There are numerous cases, examples and statistics that are used to illustrate this. But these practical examples only come from the period starting 1986, that is the time that the National Resistance Movement has been in government. May be it is because the author is a civil servant and thus restricted himself to this period so that he is not misinterpreted as giving credit to previous governments’ efforts. This book would have benefited from case studies that cover how the various governments in Uganda, from colonial to post-colonial, have handled social policy. Needless to say, the readers would appreciate that too.

There are a few factual errors, which though minor, should be corrected in a second edition because the tremendous amount of work that the author put in to write a book on such a contentious complex subject cannot be discounted. For instance, the development of the Millennium Development Goals are attributed to G8—the grouping of the eight most industrialised countries (pg 10) yet these were formulated by the United Nations organisation. Also, in listing some of the organisations that involved in work in the HIV/Aids area (pg 168), Mildmay is referred to as “Maldmay Medical Centre”, which is not even its full name either.

Otherwise, the book is very helpful to not only students of development studies, social sciences and management, the practitioners and the policy makers but also to anyone who seeks to understand how inequality in societies like Uganda can be corrected. As most of the publications on social policy in university libraries are from the developed countries’ perspective, Dr George Zirimu is commended for adding one that is more in tune with our situation.