Govt admits poverty fight failure in northern Uganda

Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja. Photo | File

What you need to know:

  • Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja told Parliament last Tuesday that constructing roads and building schools, hospitals and water points over nearly the past two decades have had limited impact of poverty reduction.

The government has admitted that its efforts over the past decades to lift northern Uganda out of poverty, including substantial investments in infrastructure upgrade, have failed.

Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja told Parliament last Tuesday that constructing roads and building schools, hospitals and water points over nearly the past two decades have had limited impact of poverty reduction.

“An audit was carried out,” she said, without specifying by whom. “A lot of money has been sunk into northern Uganda and the communities continue to suffer with poverty.”

She added: “We realised that all that money was going into infrastructure development.  So, what have we done [now is that] all that was going into infrastructure development; building schools, health centres [et cetera] … we have said this time on, no schools, no health centres, no roads.”

The government’s proclamation dovetails with findings of this newspaper’s own independent reporting that, based on analysis of official documents and statistics as well as interviews with researchers, leaders and ordinary citizens, proved poverty in northern Uganda was rising despite an injection of Shs4.5 trillion since 2003.

According to various stakeholders, things have not worked according to plan due to poverty-alleviation projects being spread over a geographical territory wider than that which was directly impacted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebellion, corruption and defective programme conceptualisation.

The government, on President Museveni’s insistence, about a decade ago made infrastructure a priority of budget allocation, arguing that better roads and abundant electricity would open up the hinterlands to investment and reduce the cost of production while increasing profit margins for entrepreneurs by connecting the farms to factories, producers to markets

 In her November 22 address, Ms Nabbanja said the realisation of a less-than-satisfactory return on infrastructure investment has buoyed the government to focus on Parish Development Model (PDM) where households clustered into groups will pick profitable enterprises that the central government will directly bankroll.

“We are injecting this money directly to the people. A lot of money is going to people now. All areas must be covered and this time we must push poverty out of Uganda,” she proclaimed on the back of piling failed poverty alleviation projects.

Among such floundered flagship interventions were Entandikwa, Poverty Action Plan, Poverty Eradication Action Plan, Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture and lately the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF)-barrelled Operation Wealth Creation.

The premier’s admission and proclamations in Parliament were in rejoinder to a matter of national importance raised on the floor by Mr Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, the Member of Parliament representing Bardege-Layibi Division in Gulu City, highlighting the persistent poverty levels in the greater north despite multiple interventions

Mr Ojara shared that at the end of the third phase of the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (Nusaf) last year, the government had in the works a successor programme which has moved nowhere due to lack of resources.

“It is sad to note that the phase has stagnated because the resources required have not been provided. The successor programme will not take place unless the designs are undertaken.  Government should show commitment to ensure the successor programme kicks off,” he said.

In a separate interview for our original reporting on the irony of more money and higher poverty in the north, the line minister Ms Grace Kwiyucwiny said discussions to launch Nusaf IV to be bankrolled by the World Bank are on course.

The project’s priorities, she said, will be commercial agriculture.

Kilak South MP Gilbert Olanya, in a submission during the Tuesday sitting last week, said “[the] government has introduced so many programmes in northern Uganda, but look at the statistics: Acholi sub-region and northern Uganda are still the poorest. It is necessary to audit all those government programmes”.

Ms Anita Among, the Speaker of Parliament, however said it is critical for Ugandans to have a mindset shift in order to work their way out of poverty.

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