In September 2000, world leaders gathered at the United
Nations in New York adopted eight development goals, with
specific targets to be achieved by the year 2015. Although
the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are thus branded,
they are basically minimum standards of human development.
With less than 10 years to the target year for achieving
these goals, where is Uganda? Are we doing enough to improve
the lot of our people? What must we do if we are to score
these crucial goals? These and other questions are what
The Weekly Observer will be asking over the next eight weeks,
with a view to putting the spotlight on human development.
In this first part, RICHARD M. KAVUMA looks
at Goal One, which concerns absolute poverty and hunger:
Michael Mibuulo cut the figure of a desperate man as he
crawled out of a four by six feet hut in Nagojje, 25 km
from Mukono town.
“I have not eaten in three days,” he stammered
weakly, resting his head against the mud and wattle wall,
and looking up at the thatches.
He said life was much better when he used to earn up to
Shs 20,000 ($11) a month as a casual labourer. But now he
is sick, he can’t dig and therefore can’t earn
money. Earlier in the week, he said, a neighbour had been
kind enough to offer him a sick pig.
“I just ate the meat; I had no other food –
not even cassava or sweet potatoes.” Nagojje is one
of the remoter areas of Mukono district. Though most people
live in iron-roofed houses, a sense of desperation hangs
over the village. Barefoot, half-naked children with distended
bellies are a common sight. Most people can only manage
one meal a day.
By all definitions, Mibuulo is poor.
The World Bank defines poverty as “a pronounced deprivation
of well-being related to lack of material income or consumption,
low levels of education and health, vulnerability and exposure
to risk, and voicelessness and powerlessness.”
Poor people are likely to be hungry, lack decent (or any)
shelter, be unable to afford medical care, have no job and
lose children to preventable illnesses.
In Nagojje, I met Yoana Makapu, 45, who came from his home
in Kayunga in search of work. He used to depend on coffee
but then the prices fell drastically and coffee could no
longer sustain his family. The situation was worsened by
the coffee wilt disease.
“A strange disease attacked our coffee trees and
they wilted one by one. Now people who know my home, when
they see me here, think I was arrested,” Makapu said,
embarrassed as he looked at his bare feet and patchy trousers
folded up to the knee.
The situation would have been worse for farmers like Makapu
if the market had not been liberalised in the early 1990s.
According to David Kiwanuka, manager for Quality and Information
Services at the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, farmers
used to get 20 percent of the market price until the late
1980s. This rose to 45 percent after liberalisation and
80 percent last financial year.
But while farmers get a fairer deal, international prices
have plummeted. Kiwanuka, for instance, says that in September
1995, a tonne of coffee cost $4,320 on the international
market. Today, it fetches only $1,200. Analysts blame oversupply
for the price drop.
Makapu has found work in a neighbouring sugar cane plantation
where he earns Shs 1,800 ($0.98) a day.
“We eat sugar canes for lunch,” he says, throwing
his hands in the air in desperation.
Fighting poverty is the first of the eight internationally
agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
In 1990, about 56 percent of Ugandans were living in extreme
poverty. The MDG target is to reduce this to at least 28
percent by the year 2015. However, Uganda had already set
itself a more ambitious target of reducing poverty levels
to 10 percent by 2017.
But having fallen to 34 percent by 2002, absolute poverty
has since risen to afflict 38 of the population. That is
10 million Ugandans, compared to 9 million in 1990.
By the United Nations yardstick, Mibuulo and Makapu are
on the wrong side of the poverty line. Makapu has something
in the pocket – roughly one dollar a day, which puts
him marginally below the poverty line. Even when he used
to earn $11 a month, Mibuulo would be counted as extremely
Despite Uganda’s impressive economic growth rates,
averaging 6 percent per annum through the 1990s, the country
remains one of the poorest. On a scale of 147 countries
on the World Human Development Index, Uganda was number
129, according to the world Human Development Report 2005.
Why the poverty
According Alexander Aboagye, the Economic Advisor at the
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kampala,
rampant poverty says something about the sources of Uganda’s
growth and its beneficiaries. While peasants like Makapu
are losing out, Kampala is teeming with new office blocks,
residential bungalows and the latest car models.
“Inequality has increased,” says Aboagye. “If
the source of growth is agriculture, then agriculture should
benefit [the rural poor]. But look at what happened to Vanilla:
people came in, and when the prices fell, they lost out.”
He argues that poverty is much higher in the countryside
largely because most benefits of growth and government programmes
go to people in the urban areas – health facilities,
water, roads or electricity. Yet barely 30 percent of Ugandans
live in towns. Much of Mukono, for instance, is littered
with unfinished houses belonging to people who had reaped
big from Vanilla before the prices tumbled.
Development experience shows that many countries start by
making agriculture more efficient, requiring less labour
to produce higher volumes. Then labour moves into industry,
where it requires services, spurring the service sector.
In Uganda, however, people go into watch repairing and shoe-shining
– because agriculture has failed.
As people move into the towns to escape rural poverty, they
bring what Aboagye calls the ‘subsistence mentality’
“People like the boda boda boys - some of them are
just marginally surviving. Real development would require
more organised emerging sectors,” he said.
Dr. Augustus Nuwagaba, a poverty eradication specialist
from Makerere University, blames Uganda’s poverty
on lack of government intervention against household poverty.
For long, government focussed on macro-economic policy and
provision of roads, health centres etc., but this proved
insufficient especially in the face of fluctuation of the
prices of agricultural products.
It is a point reflected in the government Poverty Eradication
Action Plan (PEAP), the country’s development planning
framework. The PEAP document says that government wants
to get poorer households to participate in economic growth.
The PEAP sets out four major approaches to end poverty:
restore security and deal with the consequences of conflict;
grow the incomes of the poor; human development; economic
growth and using public resources efficiently to eradicate
poverty. These approaches are derived from the five pillars
of Economic Management; Production, competitiveness; Security,
conflict-resolution and disaster management; and Human Development.
Nuwagaba says that economic liberalisation had spawned
about 200 local coffee exporters by the early 1990s. As
coffee prices fell, many of them were driven out of business
by very high lending rates. Today, there are barely 20,
mostly foreign, exporters who easily fix the local prices
to the disadvantage of the farmers.
| POVERTY CAMP: Displacement
camps in northern Uganda have ensured poverty remains
critical in the war ravaged area
It is not that government is doing nothing, Aboagye says,
but programmes do not trickle down to the grassroots where
poverty bites most.
Here, Nuwagaba mentions corruption as a key factor, citing
the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF) and the Global
Fund against AIDS, TB and Malaria, which have been marred
by allegations of corruption.
“Money targeted to households has not reached households.
For me this has been the major cause of poverty. Government
has not done enough to stamp out corruption.”
Uganda has 69 districts, up from 56 early last year, and
32 a decade ago. These districts, Nuwagaba says, have taken
poverty (not services) closer to the people.
“We have done research on the impact of decentralisation
on household incomes. There is no evidence that increased
districts can actually cause a reduction in household poverty.”
New, unviable districts have handed peasants the burden
of building infrastructure and buying vehicles for the district
“What we would have required for households to eradicate
poverty is for government intervention in the production
process at the household level,” argues Nuwagaba.
Government, he says, must take the lead in fighting rural
poverty and not leave it to private production.
Aboagye agrees: “The challenge is to ensure that
government programmes go where they matter most. To ensure
that resources like fertilisers get down to the villages
and that people get the necessary technical support to appreciate
that using modern approaches will change their lives.”
In its 2005 report, the Uganda NGO Forum cites population
growth rate as a major factor in poverty. At 3.6 percent
per annum, it is the third highest in the world behind Yemen
and Niger. To cater for such a growth rate, the economy
must grow at about 11 percent every year, compared to the
current rate of around 6 percent.
Explaining the rise in poverty since 2003, the PEAP document
blames “high population growth rate”, among
It is a concern echoed by the State Minister for Planning,
Mr Isaac Musumba, “The one most obvious factor is
that many families have [recently] been getting overpopulated
beyond their means,” Musumba told The Weekly Observer.
“There is a relationship between the population in
a household and the poverty level. The more dependants you
have, the more you have to produce to maintain your quality
Musumba says a right balance between population and productivity
enables people to finance healthcare, education and other
needs that reflect a better quality of life.
A major problem is the lack of political leadership to
address the population issue. President Museveni and some
other political leaders publicly argue that Uganda needs
a bigger population to expand the domestic market. What
Museveni does not say is that a large but impoverished population
will not constitute a market.
Obviously, this puts development workers preaching smaller
families in a difficult situation: who will the people believe?
Where are the poor?
According to the PEAP document, the particularly poor economic
performance in the rebellion-ravaged North is a key source
of poverty and inequality.
The regional inequality, however, epitomises a bigger trend
of a growing rift between rich and poor Ugandans, as captured
in the 2005 UN Human Development Report. The Gini coefficient,
which measures that rift (with an ideal of zero) rose from
0.35 in 1997 to 0.43 in 2003.
While the national average for Ugandans below the poverty
line is 38 percent, in northern Uganda it is 66 percent,
according to the PEAP document. Yet the surveys omitted
the most insecure areas! That means the situation in northern
Uganda is graver than the figures suggest.
The eastern region, which has hosted refugees from the
North and even had its own share of insecurity, is second
to the North in terms of poverty. Ending the conflict in
the North and parts of eastern Uganda is therefore vital
to the country’s efforts to reduce poverty.
According to the 2005 NGO Forum report, poverty levels
in Uganda can go even below 28 percent in the next 10 years,
if special efforts are made to take the benefits of growth
to the poor.
Planning minister Musumba points out that tackling household
incomes is a central theme of the 2005/06 budget. In his
budget speech, Finance minister Ezra Suruma identified the
Rural Development Strategy (RDS) as a vehicle for development.
RDS is based on supporting farmers’ groups, enhancing
rural microfinance services, access to markets, provision
of farm inputs to the core-poor and agricultural extension
services, among others.
Government hopes that this strategy will deliver households
from poverty. But like many other programmes, the challenge
shall be in implementation.
The PEAP document says that if Uganda maintains a 6% annual
growth rate, inequality reduces significantly and the population
growth rate falls to 2.4%, poverty will reduce to 18% by
This would allow the government to meet the MDG target on
poverty, but not its more ambitious PEAP target.
Only in The Weekly Observer Next Thursday: How Uganda
is performing on primary education