Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Uganda; Government should do more to reduce regional inequality

By Ouma Alex Okello

The riots in Kampala following the government’s blocking the Kabaka from visiting Kayunga and the recent youth demonstration against civil servants in Amuru District over what the youth perceived as misuse of government resources have shown the power of a democracy where citizens demand for what they believe are their rights. What will the government do to stop future uprisings over regional inequality?

According to a Human Development Index (UNDP 2008) report, Uganda remains one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 145 out of 177 countries despite making significant development progress over the last two decades. In 2008, per capita income was estimated at $340. Although Uganda has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, many critics have said the rapid economic growth and development is limited to the south, western and central regions. Northern and eastern remain backward.

Poverty decline has not been experienced uniformly across the country according to a 2009 Overseas Development Initiative report on regional inequality and primary education in northern Uganda. In the north, for example, poverty decline has been modest at 17 per cent since 1992/93 compared to the progress made in the west and central regions where poverty has declined by about 60 per cent since 1992/93. Northern Uganda is lagging behind in several other dimensions - infrastructure, access to health care services, economic activities and education. This huge difference is associated with the effects of the long period of war in the region, poor allocation of services by the government and partly colonialism.

Whereas the government has made some attempts to bridge the gap through initiatives such as the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (Nusaf), Northern Uganda Reconstruction Programme and the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan, many critics have cited the massive corruption in, for instance, Nusaf and other government projects as a real obstacle to the success of these projects. The Equalisation Fund that the government sends to northern Uganda is too small. In 2005/2006, for example, it was equal to Shs265 for every person.

Similarly a quick analysis of the education sector shows very low and worrying statistics for the north. Poor performance in national examinations by schools in northern and eastern Uganda is testimony to this. The impacts of the 20-year conflict on infrastructure and educational resources, financial disincentive for teachers to teach in the north and east compound the problem. Where parents in the south and other regions supplement teachers pay through PTA, most families in the north cannot afford this. Many schools lack staff houses.

According to the assistant DEO of Pader District, Mr Obol Okidi, with an enrolment of about 123,426, the district has only 477 and 791 semi and permanent classrooms respectively. However, the district requires 1,368 classrooms. The district has 100 teachers’ houses but it needs 1,810. The teacher to pupil ratio is 1:81 against the national figure of 1:55; pupil to classroom ratio is 1:81, and pupil to desk ratio is 1:9. The district needs 33,597 desks yet it has only 13,714 at the moment. The level of poverty in the region affects the learning environment. Poverty limits attendance and enrolment as children have to offer their labour to their families. Other children who make it to school can barely afford to have meals. These lead to poor performance and low quality education.

As people in the north return to the villages from IDP camps, the provision of social services including health facilities, water and sanitation, education and access to markets must be given priority by the government. The government should also focus more on providing increased opportunities to children and the youth from northern Uganda to bridge the gap.

Also available at; http://www.monitor.co.ug/artman/publish/opinions/Govt_should_do_more_to_reduce_regional_inequality_93292.shtml

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Democracy; Uganda's unfinished political struggle

By Ouma Alex Okello

The news around the emerging rebel groups in Uganda, the return of Olara Otunnu and the involvement of “some Acholi” members of Parliament including Gulu’s Chairman Norbert Mao in rebel activities has raised the political stakes much higher ahead of the 2011 elections in Uganda.

It’s nearly 47 years since Uganda gained its independence from the British but to date, numerous questions continue to be asked in relation to whether the country’s current leadership structure manifests the true principles of democracy.

In a democracy, Abraham Lincoln once noted, “dissent is an act of faith. Like medicine, the test of its value is not in its taste, but its effects.” To sum this all, Uganda’s Supreme Court Justice George Wilson Kanyeihamba was quoted in a local daily describing the country’s democratic journey as taking “reverse strides for the worse.” The experienced judge’s comments came in the wake of the recent release of a watchdog report that assesses the overall performance of the country’s legislators, on individual basis. Note that Uganda’s ruling party members boast of majority numbers in the House.

But a quick look at Uganda’s political history gives interesting but contradictory scenarios. For instance, less than 10 years after colonial independence, former president Idi Amin overthrew the former president Milton Obote’s government in 1971 with claims to restore democracy.

However, with the firm support of Tanzania, Mr Obote restored himself back in 1979. Not long after then, Mr Yoweri Museveni fled to the bush after losing the election to Uganda People’s Congress and consequently took over power in 1986. Part of the claim was that the election was won by the Democratic Party.
Mr Museveni also preached the gospel of restoring democracy and instituting a broad-based government under the National Resistance Movement. In Northern Uganda, Alice Lakwena and Joseph Kony were all proclaiming the struggle against marginalisation and the dictatorial regime of President Museveni.
The consequences of all these struggles have had far-reaching impact especially that our past leaders and the current regime have stuck in power, using cheap rhetorical gimmicks about bringing democracy.

Hitherto, analysts predict that poor governance will continue to oppress Ugandans, even for the next 50 years, unless the country’s political leaders demonstrate the will and commitment to create positive change. On the other hand, many have argued that the real enemies of the country’s democracy may well not be far from the very people who currently manage Uganda’s state of political and economic affairs, citing in this case those who intimidate, torture and accuse members and supporters of the opposition parties wrongly.
More worrying is the misconception that at the base of the colonial philosophy was the myth that European culture was superior to African culture; that the white man was more ‘civilized’ and ‘moral’ while the black man was ‘backward’ and ‘savage’.

Another part of this myth, perhaps less cruel but no less insidious, was the idea that ‘black people’ were children and needed guidance.
It thus became the white man’s burden to help these poor unfortunate people grow up, under the guise of “civilization”. But nothing was more inferior to the Africans, than this patronising attitude.

However, did Uganda require such freedom 47 years ago? If it did, what could have happened in the past years after independence, where our leaders (both the deposed ones and the ones in power) deliberately failed to exercise the true principles of freedom and democracy?

What will happen to all the years that the opposition political parties have been confined to one corner of the house? What will happen to all the years when we cannot express our opinions freely in our own country? Your guess is as good as mine.

Over the years, it has been noted that to destroy Africans’ beliefs in the white man’s myth was one thing, but to change the politics of a country like Uganda is another.
It has become obvious that a more powerful force is needed to bring real change in Ugandan leadership. This new force is democracy and we must finally come to it.

Unfortunately, however, democracy in Uganda has never been about more than organizing elections or in words; the people in themselves have a lot of doubts on the meaning of democracy.

The Western world has got tired and embarrassed at the sound of the word democracy in Africa and particularly sub-Saharan.
Unless Ugandans are willing to get rid of these antagonists, the concept of democracy in the country will fall short of realities.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Poverty and Hunger Worsening Primary Education

by Alex Ouma Okello

Growing food insecurity has become a serious concern in north and eastern Uganda over the recent months, caused by high food prices due to limited supply and overwhelming demand, quarantine on animal movement as a result of foot and mouth disease and prolonged dry spell.
The World Food Day this year will also mark the ninth commemoration of the global millennium target, following the signing of the UN Millennium Declaration by 189 heads of state in New York in 2000.

Two of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) centre on hunger fight and poverty eradication and increasing access to Universal Primary Education by 2015. Leaders who attended the Millennium Summit 2000 committed themselves to reducing the number of people experiencing extreme hunger and poverty by half, come 2015. Development analysts, however, look at this projection as a myth.

They argue that such a goal can only be achieved if governments commit themselves to revitalising their economies and improving agricultural sectors. So what efforts are being put in place to make this initiative a success in Uganda?

A 2006 World Food Programme (WFP) report estimated that 854 million people worldwide hardly met their daily food needs, while a quarter of the African population could hardly afford a meal. In the same year, another independent report estimated how nearly 100,000 of the Northern Uganda population remained food insecure.

Uganda, it has been noted, made significant steps in poverty reduction according to the 2007 Millennium Development report. For instance, poverty levels in Uganda reportedly reduced from 56 per cent in 1992 to 31 per cent in 2006. Meanwhile, the same report says the proportion of the population unable to meet the recommended food caloric intake increased from 58.7 per cent in 1999 to 68.5 per cent in 2006, and the poor still spent over 70 per cent of their income on food.

But what could be the biggest problem for Uganda in the wake of this? The wave of hunger that has hit north and eastern Uganda poses a great challenge to achievement of UPE. In 2005, the WFP and the government school feeding programme in north and north eastern Uganda largely contributed to increased enrollment and retention of pupils. Uganda has made significant improvements in overall primary education enrollment and was on track for achieving the 2015 goal.

Despite other constraints to UPE, the growing food insecurity has become a genuine concern. In Labwor Oyeng Primary School in Kitgum, several children do not attend school on regular basis because of hunger.

There is an overwhelming need for government to introduce programmes to increase food and nutrition securities in schools to encourage academic attendance and concentration in school.
Interesting strategies would also be for government to encourage establishment of school gardens, introduce school farming in the curriculum to teach children basic agricultural skills and train teachers with practical vegetable gardening to enable them manage school gardens.

Okello, Alex Ouma. 2009. Poverty and hunger worsening primary education. Uganda: Daily Monitor. On-line. Available from Internethttp://www.monitor.co.ug/artman/publish/opinions/Poverty_and_hunger_worsening_primary_education_90311.shtml, accessed Wednesday 09 September 2009.