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.