Monday, October 27, 2014

On Betty Kamya and her Maria Antoinette tendecies.



Ugandans Aren’t Lazy And Mediocre, They Lack Exemplary Leadership.
I was disappointed by Madam Betty Kamya’s opinion in the Daily Monitor of Thursday 23rd October 2014. It was a rebuttal penned to express her disappointment to the Daily Monitor editorial of October 6 titled MPS should reject tax on paraffin. In her piece, Betty dismisses Ugandans as a lazy bunch of mediocre folks that deserve no mercy or welfare from the state at all.
The suggestion that people can sell wild mangoes and or throw seeds through their house windows to grow food crops is unfortunate. We need to probe the status quo of the Ugandan rural economy to make sense of poverty that continues to prevail there. The Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development in their Poverty Status Report May 2012 indicate that 24.5% of Ugandans are living below the poverty line and thus can’t afford to consume 3000 calories of food a day. Then, 43% Ugandans are not necessarily poor but are “Insecure non-poor” or “vulnerable” and thus can easily slide into poverty due to inflation, poor harvests, heavy rains/floods or prolonged drought or high taxes on basic commodities like paraffin, maize flour etc.
Secondly, the Background to the National Budget 2013/2014 indicates that close to 67% of non-monetary GDP is from the Agricultural sector. Considering over 75% of Ugandan population is involved in agriculture that accounts for slightly over 20% of national GDP and 67% of the non-monetary GDP, it is clear that a sizeable number of Ugandans actually engage in economic activities that don’t involve exchange or utilisation of money. They eke their living on the land and rarely interface with money in the economy. They are subsistence farmers par excellence. These are the people Betty is calling poor, lazy and mediocre. This is quite unfortunate coming in from one of our leaders. Uganda’s problem is actually not it’s so called “lazy and mediocre” people, but a lack of leadership. Leadership that is deficient of the populism but is exemplary in all matters economics and production. If the community members see the LC 1 chairman or LC3 councilor taking good care of his banana plantation, diversifying to coffee or fruit trees or engaging in productive commercial farming, they are more likely to learn from this exemplary leadership and thus engage in economic activities that shall not only earn them income to effectively demand for goods and services in the economy e.g. paraffin, clothes, iron sheets, solar lights  but also give them the dignity they deserve as citizens of Uganda.
This sad state of affairs has now given rise to the “rental-democracy” where voters clamor for sugar, salt and soap not issues during elections. With this, Ugandans haven’t gotten the exemplary leadership they deserve, they have either ended up with leaders that dismiss them as “lazy and mediocre” or rent their support using soap, paraffin and salt during election time. The closest we have come to this kind of exemplary and people-centered leadership has been President Museveni’ s paradigm to popularize the 4-acre model of agricultural production that would guarantee many a house-hold a sizeable amount of income every year. The challenge is that this grand strategy has not been customized or well-articulated by his army of advisors and ministers, to suit the local context of millions of households that do not own even two acres of land! This would require a message of efficiency and increased productivity on small land holdings. This is also best explained by the former Minister of Finance Prof Ezra Suruma in his new book “Advancing the Ugandan Economy, A Personal Account”. He posits that the provision of roads, schools, national security, law and order and public health does not necessarily satisfy the basic needs of people. People need stable sources of income e.g. employment or small business, commercial farming to allow them afford their personal basic needs. In traditional agrarian and peasant economies like ours, we need exemplary leadership both on the farm in rural countryside and within elite circles of government and corporate Uganda to foster economic transformation and help our people get to the promised land. Madame Betty Kamya’s dismissive reference to Ugandans as lazy and mediocre doesn’t fit that bill.

Agaba Rugaba
Political - Social Commentator
Twitter: @RugabaAgaba