By Kato Joseph Sserusiba
By the time the NRA liberation war was concluded in 1986, Uganda’s economy was totally down to its knees. There was a scarcity of goods and services, a total decline in exports due to a reduction in production caused by insecurity and a total breakdown of infrastructure.
When the NRM government came in, one of the first assignments of the liberators was to forge a way to kickstart the economy that had totally collapsed.
After much agonizing over the direction of economic policy, three fundamental reforms of legalization of the parallel foreign exchange market, liberalization of coffee marketing, and the establishment of fiscal discipline brought macroeconomic stability. Together with trade liberalization and privatization, Uganda was set on the road to a liberal, capitalist economy.
Concern that growth was bypassing the poor led to a focus on poverty reduction between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Measures such as decentralization, the Poverty Eradication Action Plan, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, the Poverty Action Fund, and Sector Working Groups succeeded in attracting increased aid and channelling it into poverty reduction.
Sound economic management and a clear commitment to poverty reduction together explain why Uganda was the first beneficiary of both HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) debt relief and the shift from project aid to budget support. The result was an increase in public service delivery which contributed to rapid poverty reduction.
The NRM government’s first attempt at poverty alleviation was the Rural Farmers Scheme (RFS). RFS funds were channelled through the Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB). Under RFS, the farmers were never given cash but instead, they were grated credit in form of inputs.
This led to a gradual increase in production that led to availability of food which previously was scarce. The RFS had some short comings since it was a pilot project but many lessons were learnt from its inability to hit the bar as earlier projected.
Following the conclusion of the RFS, the Entandikwa scheme was rolled out. Under the entandikwa programme, money was loaned to the farmers so that they could set up income generating activities such as poultry, beekeeping or crop production. This helped to a large extent stabilize the economy making goods available and for the first time, Uganda’s exports started to shoot the skies once again.
There were however a few mistakes registered as some farmers perceived the money as a gift from the government and never really understood that it was a credit facility. Most of the farmers hypothesised that it would be Politically toxic for the government to confiscate their land or bibanja or to imprison them for failure to repay the loans.
In the circumstances, most of the farmers used the money for personal purposes most commonly consumption and never paid it back. It was another lesson to learn but by and large, the program added a brick to the social economic transformation of Uganda.
In 2007, Bona Baggaggawale (Prosperity for All) kicked in as an all-encompassing program aimed at boosting the country’s economy through measures such as microfinance, increased production, agro-processing and marketing.
Its main component was Saving and credit cooperative societies that would encourage saving and provide affordable credit to citizens. Agro-processing and Saccos became successful and continue to be championed by the government of Uganda. It also saw the growth of agroprocessing and it has created the transformation that the NRM government hoped for.
Following a few shortcomings with Bonna Baggaggawale, NAADs took over the mandate of providing inputs, markets and extension services to farmers which addressed the weaknesses of its predecessor. Fertilizers, seedlings, animals, and poultry chicks were supplied by the government at zero cost to the farmers something that increased productivity and provision of job opportunities to people. The Coffee exports for example shot up by 28% an increase that had been last registered in the early 60s before independence.
With a number of successes registered by NAADS, the government saw it necessary to roll out Operation Wealth Creation to boost the farmers. Operation Wealth Creation was managed by the army after concluding that some civilians were irretrievably corrupt. OWC took over the procurement and distribution of agricultural inputs with the aim of improving the livelihoods of Ugandans through promoting commercial agriculture under Gen Salim Saleh.
Other Poverty Eradication Programs like Emyooga and now the Parish Development Model have been rolled out to find a lasting solution to poverty in the country. Each Parish today receives 100 million shillings meaning 100 households in a parish each financial year are given direct monetary support for investment. The NRM government should be applauded for that.
However, the country should know that the fight against poverty should not only be left to the government but individuals should also take responsibility for their actions against this disease.
Village gatherings should be used to spread financial literacy, saving, investment and entrepreneurial, ethics and culture. Leaders at all levels should encourage people to take advantage of these government programs and also help them shun outmoded, extravagant, and wasteful practices, especially during ceremonies.
This could unburden the poor who usually spend so much time and resources celebrating what should be outdated traditions. The stories of local achievers should be spread so that the poor are motivated and feel proud of freeing themselves from archaic practices.
Kato Joseph Sserusiba is a former Student Leader, Youth Activist and writer at ONC Media Desk. He can be reached at [email protected].
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