Living on a dollar a day: How far has Uganda tackled poverty?

Matayo Karuru, his wife Ms Beatrice Tumuhaise and their children at their home in Katamba Biharwe, Mbarara District. The family is hardly able to afford decent housing or education for their children, let alone meals. PHOTO BY ALFRED TUMUSHABE.

What you need to know:

MDG 1 to eradicate extreme hunger and povertyPart II of the series looks at what measures have been taken to help people have a stable income and more importantly have enough food.

In 1993 when Eliezer Magezi dropped out school he had his eyes set on processing honey. He had grown up in a family whose source of income was selling honey, so he was determined to do what he had learnt as a boy.
However, when he started out, things were not as obvious as they had earlier seemed.

Magezi started out small and his objective thereon was to get farmers to come together and start processing honey as a group as one way each of them could benefit from the advantages of collective marketing and selling. Bunyangabu Beekeepers Cooperative Limited (BBC) was born.

He explains, “The idea was simple. There were beekeepers but they were scattered. We spoke to them about the need of coming together to process honey. They had been selling their honey using rudimentary methods, one of these being using a spoon.” BBC would also use mosquito nets and buckets to sieve the honey from combs.

But this is a yesteryear story. With hard work, commitment and focus today Magezi leads fellow farmers. He is proud of the fact that their sales have grown from a mere half a tonne of honey to 13 tonnes annually. This has been with support from United National Development Programme (UNDP) through their partners Support Development of Inclusive Markets in Tourism, the group that helped link them to Andrew & Brother’s supermarket which buys their honey.

His story is not different from a good number of rural poor. Many people are actually using their time enterprisingly to better not just their lives but those of others with whom they share business aspirations and interests.

In her speech during the reading of the Budget, Finance minister Maria Kiwanuka said the proportion of people living below the poverty line has declined from 56.5 per cent in 1992/3 to 24 per cent in 2009 and further to 19.7 per cent in 2012/13. This, she added, indicates that Uganda has already surpassed the Millennium Development (MDG) target of halving the proportion of its population living in extreme poverty by 2015. “This is the first and most significant MDG,” she said.
“As Uganda celebrates progress with the MDGs, our work force is growing due to better life expectancy and social service delivery.

Their pathway to stable value-added employment is our economy’s opportunity but also our challenge. SMEs are critical in creating jobs and mobilising the informal and rural economic activity,” the Finance minister read from her speech. She added that government needs to implement the Skilling Uganda initiative in the business, technical and vocational education training with an emphasis on provision of hands on technical skills training, business skills development, and re-orienting the mind-set of potential entrepreneurs as well as enhancing financial literacy and inclusion.

As government works towards achieving MDG 1, the likes of Magezi and BBC will look to them to keep their promises.

Progress made
According to UNDP, Uganda has made great progress in terms of reducing the proportion of the population below the national poverty line. The poverty headcount- the share of people living in households below the poverty line- declined from 56 per cent in 1992/1993 to 31 per cent in 2005/2006.

“Using the former survey as the benchmark, this means that Uganda is well on its way to meeting the 2015 global target of cutting poverty in half, which would correspond to a poverty level of around 28 per cent for that year,” the UNDP assessment report reads in part. According to the UNDP report, the poverty gap, a measure of how far the poor are below the poverty line, has also narrowed. This, it adds, is an indication of improvements in monetary welfare even among those who have not risen above the poverty line.

“Uganda is five points away from the expected target for reduction of the number of people living on less than $1 a day. Between 1990 and 2012, Uganda reduced hunger by 15 per cent. However, there were set backs in the reduction of under nutrition which increased by 30 per cent in that period,” the report states.
In the State Of The Nation address, however, President Museveni gave a rosier picture, saying Uganda has achieved economic growth.

“Consequently, the proportion of people living below the poverty line has further declined from above 56 per cent in 1992 to 24.5 per cent in 2009/10; and now to 19.7 per cent in 2012/13. Uganda has, therefore, already surpassed the first MDG target of halving the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty by 2015,” he said.

However, Kiddu Gozanga, a field research for Hunger Free World Uganda, an international NGO working to build a world free of hunger, says research that was carried out in June last year in Namayumba and Busukuma in Wakiso District, in central Uganda showed some pitfalls.

Gozanga explains that from their findings, there were overall changes in household welfare as they had experienced a significant growth in consumption expenditure since 2000 when the MDGs were set. Central Uganda had registered an increase in consumption while northern Uganda showed a decline in terms of income.

While there has been some success in meeting MDG 1, challenges remain. The government, therefore, needs to find solutions. It also needs to encourage in various ways, individuals who can commit themselves to work hard and smart like Magezi to find solutions that can earn them a source of livelihood and change their lives for the better.

what it is like to live on shs1,000 or less, a day
It is midmorning and the sun’s rays pour out on Nakivubo Channel which is filled with discarded plastics, clothes, metallic stuff and polythene bags, some with human waste. This part of the channel is located in Namuwongo’s Zone II and children innocently play in the dingy puddle of water.

Adjacent to this pool that stinks, and is an attraction for flies is Agnes Kyamanywa, seated on her stool, sorting dry beans on a rusty platter. Besides her stool is a bowl which contains half cut onions, green pepper and curry powder.
Her housing facility does not have much, just two plastic cups, and two plates in the corner of a muddy floor. The walls are muddy too. There is no ceiling.

In the opposite corner is a small bedding of old sponge that Kyamanywa shares with her three-year-old daughter and three months’ old son. Until recently she stayed with her nephew from a sister who came to Kampala from the village in Tororo. Namuwongo is a stone’s throw away from the capital city and 23-year-old Kyamanywa is one of the urban poor.

Ever since Kyamanywa was deserted by the father of her three-year-old child, in 2011, things have not been good. She is one of the vendors who have suffered at the hands of the city authorities who confiscated her merchandise and thereby rendering her unemployed.
She says she is looking for ways of surviving and raising capital and for now lives on hand-outs from friends in the neighbourhood.

“My plan is to find some money and find means of selling water in this neighbourhood. With this I can be able to raise at least between Shs1, 000 and Shs2, 000 to cater for my daily needs,” she says. A jerry can of water goes for Shs150.
Kyamanywa has a plan but hardly the means. She is one of those who live under a dollar a day, not knowing where the next meal will come from.

MDG 2: to achieve universal primary education,More children enrol in school but the quality of education is lacking

Schools opened recently and many parents are happy that their children are receiving an education. With no more talk of teachers putting down their tools, especially in government aided schools, everything appears to be “normal”. This, however, is not an accurate representation of the state of affairs especially for learners in the primary section. When universal primary education (UPE) was introduced in 1997 in Uganda, many people, especially the rural poor, sighed with relief because this was an opportunity for all school children to finish, at least, primary school.

At the time of introducing UPE, there were 2.2 million pupils in primary school, but by 2007 the number had risen to 7.5 million, according to the 2007 MDG progress report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Seventeen years down the road, although UPE is still in place, the quality of education provided by schools under this programme is under question. The 2013 Uwezo East Africa Learning Assessment Report released early this year states that there are large differences in learner achievement among the three East African countries, with Kenya performing better, and Uganda faring the worst.

The report observed that out of every 10 teachers, at least one is absent from school on any given day in East Africa.
Fifty-year-old Alex Charicha, a teacher at Amanang Primary School, Bukwo District says although the programme was a good initiative, little has been done to motivate the implementers of the programme. He says: “I am out of the house by 5am to begin my 12kms walk to school to teach. It takes me about three hours to get there. By the time I get there, I am already tired, sweating and covered with dust, from my shoes to trousers. Our roads are very bad, so on days when it rains; I have to wait until it stops. If it doesn’t stop early, I postpone lessons to the following day.”
Yet in spite of his working conditions, Charicha has not received his salary for almost two years. He adds: “It is demotivating to walk to and from school knowing that you won’t be paid at the end of the month.”

There are several teachers who find themselves in Charicha’s situation which in part explains why there is increased absenteeism. According to statistics from Uganda National Teachers’ Union (Unatu), about 30,000 primary school teachers’ names have been scrapped off from the government payroll.
That is not to say that nothing is being done. In fact, Uganda has scored relatively well on MDG 2 which is about achieving Universal Primary Education. The target here is to ensure that by 2015, children will be able to complete full course of primary schooling. The success, however, is threatened by challenges of the quality of education under UPE in the absence of adequate facilities and teaching resources, especially in rural areas.

According to a United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) survey report conducted in 10 districts between 2012 and 2013, female pupils miss one to three days of class per month, which translated into eight – 24 school days per year.

This coupled with the high dropout and increasing failure rate has blighted the programme. According to a Ministry of Education report, in the 2008 Primary Leaving Examination results, only 17,021 pupils out of 463,631 passed in division one, an almost 50 per cent drop compared to 2007 results which returned 31, 969 first grades out of 404,985.

Statistics show that the national completion rate fell from 60 per cent in 2004 to 48 per cent in 2006. These are some of the challenges that the programme has to contend with, in its effort to achieve the goal on universal primary education.
Another study by the Uganda Debt Network conducted between 2012 and 2013 in 10 districts indicates that poor funding of government schools has greatly affected UPE performance.
The study further states the meagre resources allocated to schools for school operations does not equal their budgets.

Although by 2010, performance indicators showed that Uganda had reached an 87.4 per cent literacy rate of 15-24 year olds, it is highly debatable that the country will be able to meet its goal of ensuring that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. The Net Enrolment Ratio (NER), which is a key MDG indicator and measures the share of children of school-going age who are actually in school, has hovered above 90 per cent in recent years, close to the 100 per cent needed to meet the MDG. But according to a report by the UNDP, the other key MDG indicator, the proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach the last grade of primary school, referred to as the completion rate, remains low. Although enrolment rates look promising, only 43 per cent of boys and 27 per cent of girls actually complete primary school.

To address the problem of non-completion of school, the government in recent years has adopted numerous quality initiatives, policies and curricula reform. These include a revised lower primary thematic curriculum in 2007, which focuses on literacy, numeracy and life skills and teaches through the medium of local languages, and a revised upper primary curriculum.

Uganda’s history is also a key factor in the challenges met. It is marred with political and civil unrest and as a result, the education system has been affected. According to, a non-governmental organisation, since fighting stopped in 2006 in northern Uganda, there has been relative security in the region which has seen more than 90 per cent of the population return to their villages. In spite of this move and the advent of UPE, hidden costs like books and uniforms still prevent children from attending school. Furthermore, the organisation notes that early marriage, poverty or household duties mean that many children drop out of school because they are needed at home.

Although there have been strides in the progress of education, it has not been at the pace it was anticipated.
With 2015 already knocking, in spite of all the interventions in place and Uganda seeming to be on the right path to achieving the MDG target by 100 per cent, all these indicators show that the country is far from observing this deadline.
The budget allocation for education in the 2014/15 National Budget was Shs1,699.4b. This is a decrease from last year’s allocation and this will certainly have an effect on service delivery.

Dropout rates and grade repetition remain high, and it is unlikely that all Ugandan children will be able to complete the full course of primary schooling by 2015. James Tweheyo, the general secretary for Unatu agrees with this assertion and says with conviction, “there is no way Uganda can meet the target for MDG2.”


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