World Bank, IMF and capitalism in Uganda

Friday December 14 2018

Yoga Adhola

Yoga Adhola 

By Yoga Adhola

I was struck by Mr Okodan Akwap’s article, “How we became a nation of red lips, sad eyes and boat hiccups” (Daily Monitor, Friday, December 7). By the title, it is difficult to know whether the article is about the economy. However, it does try to discuss the economy.
I would like to advance the argument that to discuss the economy the way Mr Akwap is trying to do would require identifying the character and nature of Uganda’s economy. In that regard, the Ugandan economy is a peripheral capitalist economy.
To understand what a peripheral capitalist economy is, we need to know about the emergence of imperialism in the late 19th Century. Briefly, imperialism is the expansion of the capitalist mode of production beyond the borders of Europe.
This occurred with the acquisition of colonies by the European powers. It is through colonialism that the capitalist mode of production was imposed in the colonies. With this imposition of capitalism, the whole world became one capitalist economic system.
The system had a centre in Europe which acted very much like the heart of a human being. Just like the heart from where the blood is pumped to the rest of the body, all activities of the world wide capitalist system originated from Europe and radiated to the rest of the system.
Nothing much changed when independence came. Imperialism remained in place. However, the colonial powers lost the full control they originally exercised of their respective colonial economies. We now came to have what [academic Prof Dani] Nabudere used to call multilateral imperialism. In other words, all imperial countries were free to join in the exploitation of the former colonies. The Ugandan economy continued being a peripheral capitalist economy.
However, there was still a need to superintend these economies. The power of superintending was handed over to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
And so when Mr Akwap writes: “By taking the ‘bitter medicine’ conditionally, the Obote II government ceded control of the economy to the World Bank/IMF,” He totally misses the point. He sort of believes there was some sort of independence of the economy which the Obote government ceded. No; there was nothing like that.
Mr Akwap goes on in his article: “Unfortunately, the SAPs never worked. Instead, they deepened poverty in our country and even threatened food security that had enabled us to survive during Amin’s era.”
Mr Akwap needs to learn that as long as Uganda is a peripheral capitalist economy, those World Bank and IMF programmes will not solve our economic problems. A peripheral capitalist economy is ground for exploitation or transfer of resources to the centre.
And as Prof Robisnson of Cambridge University once said, aid is given so as to enable the conditions for exploitation.
Mr Akwap is not alone in this lack of understanding. In the early 80s, when president Obote was working with the World Bank and IMF, the way one should, the NRMs, then opponents of the government, were running him down, saying he was selling out to imperialism.
When the NRM stumbled into power in 1986. Initially, they thought they had carried out a socialist revolution the way the Cuban had carried it out in 1959. In this frame of mind, they thought they could do without the World Bank and IMF.
However, the NRM leadership was to suffer a very serious embarrassment that consisted of them being forced to eat their words.
The late Joshua Mugyenyi, a high level NRM cadre, again wrote in an article on May 15, 1987, that the government announced a comprehensive IMF-supported package that had all the ingredients of shock such as tough budgetary measures, massive devaluation from Shs14 to a dollar to Shs60.
This was a condition to be fulfilled before the IMF could release funds. However, before that was done, the government announced budget measures that contradicted the agreed package. This unleashed a crisis. “Within a week, a Uganda negotiating team was in Washington, and within days of their arrival, the NRM team was “persuaded” to abandon its budget and make a new one or else the agreed programme and funding would be called off)”. The result is what is popularly known as the TELEX budget.
That is a budget that was drawn under intense supervision by the IMF. In real terms, it was dictated.
From that point on, the NRM’s ideological stance swung from the infantile left wing to the extreme right wing. They began doing exactly what they had criticised Obote for. And so we cynics have one question to ask: why did they have to go to war if they were eventually going to do exactly what Obote had been criticised for?

Yoga Adhola is a leading ideologue of UPC