How a chapati in Gulu shone light on our grinding poverty

Author: Musaazi Namiti. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Ugandans call it a Rolex, although it has absolutely nothing to do with the Swiss luxury watch brand. Compared to what the watch costs, the price of the edible Rolex is infinitesimal.

The story I was reading as I was preparing to write this column went something like this: A man in Gulu District ordered a chapati with fried egg rolled inside.

Ugandans call it a Rolex, although it has absolutely nothing to do with the Swiss luxury watch brand. Compared to what the watch costs, the price of the edible Rolex is infinitesimal.

The man who ordered the Rolex was to pay Shs1,000 — about as much as you need for a bottle of mineral water. He did not have the money, and a fight broke out. The chapati maker, who demanded his money armed with a knife, stabbed the man several times and killed him, according to police spokesperson Fred Enanga.

This incident, reported on March 13, came months after a fairly large crowd in Kampala was filmed on December 22 scooping cooked rice that had spilled on a very dirty road.

The video went viral, and one Kenyan newspaper wrote about it, giving it an attention-grabbing headline: “Ugandans scramble for cooked rice spilled on the ground.”

There is probably no problem in Uganda that is more serious than poverty. And that is why, for me, the most important metric when it comes to Uganda’s economic development is money in people’s wallets or bank accounts.

We may have all the nice statistics suggesting we have made or are making progress in combating poverty, but as long as annual average incomes remain laughably small, we are a desperately poor country.

And “poor” is one of the worst adjectives you can use to describe a country and a person. Poverty is the armchair of problems, and there are few problems that do not live off poverty. Yet our progress in lifting people out of poverty and growing incomes is painfully slow.

We may need something of a miracle to attain high-income status, which, in my opinion, is the definition of zero poverty. The government says we are inching closer to middle-income status, but many countries enter this category and simply fall into the middle-income trap — defined as the failure to transition to a high-income economy.

A conference held last week in Doha, Qatar, about the world’s most vulnerable countries, collectively called Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and of which Uganda is one, brought into sharp focus the arduous journey ahead.

The 46 nations, home to 1.1 billion people, are still described as the “poorest and weakest segment” of the international community.

Forty percent of the world’s poor live in the 46 countries, 35 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. They account for about 1.3 percent of global GDP and less than 1 percent of global trade and foreign direct investment.

The UN says barely a fifth of the population in LDCs has access to the internet, yet strong internet connection has become the driver of growth in many places.

The conference was the fifth and followed one held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2011. Every 10 years the LDCs meet and agree on a programme of action.

At the Doha conference, member states committed to measures that will help quicken the pace towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which include (from No. 1) Zero Poverty, No Hunger, Good Health and Well-being and Quality Education, among others.

Achieving these goals — and others — means the war against poverty has to be won first. We may be lifting people out of poverty, but the Rolex killing and the scrambling for rice spilled in the middle of the road are screaming one thing: Not enough is being done.

Mr Namiti is a journalist and former

Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk

[email protected]    @kazbuk