Invest in production, not politics or lose 2023

Author: Nicholas Sengoba. PHOTO/NMG

What you need to know:

Someone joked that this year’s Christmas was themed ‘at least we are still alive and breathing.’ Being alive to many was the most important achievement.

Someone joked that this year’s Christmas was themed ‘at least we are still alive and breathing.’ Being alive to many was the most important achievement.

Christmas like with most things adopted from foreign culture, has always been perceived and designed by the recipients in most African settings in a way that suits our happy communal nature.Many do not reflect on it for its theological significance of beginning and renewal. It is that once in a year, glorified global ‘birthday party.’ So it must be marked by plenty of excitement, good clothing, food, drink and merry making.

These things require means and money if they are to happen and bring the memorable bliss that we intend to achieve.The last two years have been an overwhelming challenge mainly due to the disruptions of the global Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdowns buried very many businesses for good. Those that survived are not what they used to be. They are limping. The story everywhere is about cost cutting and looking at doing things differently, like working off site.The war between Russia and Ukraine has added insult to injury. Essential commodity, food prices and oil have almost doubled. Inflation figures in most places are in double digits.  This means that you get to purchase less for the money that you have yet your opportunities to work and get more are also limited. This ironically is partly because of government’s solution of cutting back on spending to stem inflation.Yet the economic outlook is nothing to write home about and point to a tough road ahead.

According to the 2022 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Africa’s economic growth has decelerated rapidly.

“Economic activity is expected to expand by a moderate 2.7 percent in 2022 and 2.4percent in 2023 following a rebound of 5.1 percent in 2021.

Almost 60 percent of Africa’s low income countries are already in debt distress or at high risk of it as debt levels both private and public stand at record levels. (Debt distress is a situation where a country is unable to fulfill its financial obligation and debt restructuring is required.) Besides  more than 60 percent of African countries need external assistance for food with hunger further spreading across the continent.”The biggest challenge for many African countries like Uganda is that a lot of recourses are spent on very pertinent but unproductive things like politics and democratisation. There is a perception that has been popularised that politics is paramount and is what gives power to the people. They have been mocked about having all the power to decide who rules them, which is only true in theory. So the amounts spent on elections and by-elections, ‘bringing services closer to the people’ by creating more administrative units like districts, are extremely colossal. We even have to borrow and increase that national debt the repayment of which is at the expense of investment in production and social service.As such we are pre-occupied with politics at the expense of production. The purpose of politics is to help harness resources and deliver them to people for the betterment of their lives. This means there must be a deliberate effort to enhance productivity of the people.

Productivity means empowering people to bring the best out of themselves. They will have better skills and ways in which they do their work. And if all goes well the reward for their effort translates into greater economic and financial rewards. The downside of this is that does not seem to work in tandem with the power relation that has been created overtime to perpetuate our leaders in power. What gives leaders power, is the poverty and lack of means of the poor. In fact for them the more poor people the merrier. Poor and jobless people are the ones who create the parades and crowds at political rallies. When people are always stressed and in begging mode two things happen. They are less likely to find the guts to demand and hold leaders accountable. They risk annoying them and lose the lifeline that comes to them by way of gifts and other form of aid to sustain themselves.

Consequently they are easy to rule and manipulate. They will always be nice and candid to those with means. That is what creates the distinction between the ruler and the ruled.

The African politician has created the situation in which political activity supersedes all things. So there is the fallacious assertion that at least there is democracy even when people are going hungry and begging to stay alive.

The Christmas of 2022 gives you an insight of what to expect when it comes to the Christmas of 2023. More investment in politicking is a recipe for disaster. There has to be meaningful emphasis on productive activities at the micro level. The focus should be on helping the small holder farmers to add value to their output and get better rewards for their efforts. Cottage industries need the same, especially the artisans who craft tools and machines plus other simple affordable technologies that are used by a majority of people in rural areas like stoves and farm implements. Over 80 percent of the workforce that lives in rural and semi-rural environments need these interventions to boost their incomes. In theory they will eventually be part of the tax base and gradually ease the need to borrow. Otherwise the current emphasis on encouraging foreign investors with all manner of incentives to come and set up enterprises and pay the people salaries is futile. It is based on the idea of the investor who will only invest where it feels safe and not where the majority of people are- in rural settings. The investor may not even create that much of forward and backward linkages since his enterprise may require importing most of their raw materials and inputs. Besides and most crucial the foreign investor repatriates their profits, which is a strain on the economy unlike a person at home who will strive to reinvest in order to expand their enterprise -even if it is a chicken farm. If we don’t get these things right, 2023 will not be any different from 2022. In fact it will only get worse. Those who will be alive will be gasping for breath if they are lucky enough not to be on life support.

Dear reader, may the new year be filled with blessings so that you enjoy a bright Christmas just like the one you had before Covid-19 and the war between Russia and Ukraine, came to spoil the party.  For emphasis, a more productive, prosperous, blessed, safe, fulfilling, life changing and glorious, 2023 to you all.

Twitter: @nsengoba