Obote and Amin couldn’t ‘did it’, Museveni too may not ‘did it’ - Part II

Saturday June 15 2019


By Samuel Sejjaaka

Now that you have listened to the State-of-the-Nation address and the Budget speech, we need to get back to the question of why the cruel vicissitudes of history may prevent our leaders from delivering Uhuru for the majority. In Part I, we saw three significant epochs that mark the history of Uganda.

These are the Obote, Amin and Museveni eras. These leaders are the ones who have had a singular opportunity to address the question of African economic marginalisation in Uganda.

A caveat is necessary here before we proceed. This particular analysis is not about the persons of Obote, Amin or Museveni. You can replace any of them and the results would have been exactly the same, if not worse! Indeed this list excludes more erudite men like Lule and Binaisa who never registered on the leadership scale.

Our leaders have performed dismally but why so, we must ask. In analysing this question, we by extension are analysing the African question because the Ugandan condition is not unique.

Here are my three most critical hypotheses (others may have competing explanations as to why we have failed to address the issue of African economic marginalisation). First is the weak and fractious nature of our nationhood. Ours are countries that never fully realised nationhood. Ethnic and religious factionalism and lack of a national ethos are the order of the day. For example, Uganda still consists of four or more sub-states which have divergent goals.

Because of this stillborn nationhood, we are prone to exploitation and other societies do indeed take advantage of our inherent weaknesses and divisions in the absence of a national ethos. It is not surprising that the State will donate freebies to foreigners while practicing tokenism with natives. Even as we proclaim love for the natives, it is plainly obvious that we face west or east rather than forward (Kwame Nkrumah).

The second hypothesis is an irrational utilitarianism engendered by the entropy of political and economic convergence. Politics is economics and economics is politics. Because our economic institutions and interests are subservient to political interests, it is difficult for economic decisions to be taken without rent seeking considerations. Resource allocation is, therefore, not primarily intended to maximise long term economic development. Rather, it must meet the political expediencies of the day. From the village chief to highest public servant, it is difficult to find where politics does not trump rational behaviour.

Additionally, we (the middle class) now have vested interests in the status quo, even if that status quo is intuitively anti progress in the long run.
My third point is our failure to harness knowledge to master our environment. This results in a failure to industrialise (based on innate advantages) and hence low productivity. Africa produces primary products which earn more money for the West and the East than they earn for us. For example, coffee earns $3 billion for Germany and $500 million for Uganda per annum. The former do not grow a single coffee tree in their country. Of course this is a more complicated problem, because we are subject to unfavourable and deteriorating trade terms and non-tariff barriers. It is a vicious cycle that is almost self-perpetuating.

Paulo Freire (The Pedagogy of the Oppressed) notes that several years after independence, the balance of power between the coloniser and the colonised remains

He writes that “Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion”. The powerless in society can be frightened of freedom but freedom can only be achieved by informed action. Spare a thought then for the poor fellow who hopes to lead his/hers society out of this conundrum.

Prof Sejjaaka is country team leader at Abacus Business School.
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