OpED

SR. DR. SOLOME NAJJUKA: Poverty and its long eviction trail in Uganda

Sr. Dr Najjuka Solome is a Senior Lecturer – Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Victoria University

Sr. Dr Najjuka Solome is a Senior Lecturer – Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Victoria University

Chinua Achebe tells a story of poverty visiting one neigbhourhood and knocking at one family’s door. Peeping through a crevice by the window, the owner answered in fear, “poverty does not come our way, we do not even have a chair for you.” Poverty answered, “not to worry… I have come with my own stool”. And so, poverty sat down on his own stool and could not be evicted! Could this be our story too? I do not believe so, for we are all trying to give comrade poverty a primordial eviction and his continued existence a bland termination, each of us in our own way. Besides mere preachments, I have the audacity to claim that poverty’s taproots will surely be extracted from most corners of our nation, in a-not-far- off future. If we really choose to concur and live out this assertion from this very second.

We do applaud the determination with which our leaders creatively seek pathways to change lives. The reality of poverty alleviation in Uganda, like in many other countries of the South is replete with the language of crisis, self-doubt, failure, and a sound of an apocalyptic tune in the main. The last nail in development’s coffin is sunk in by the disturbing and ever-rising rates and proliferating variations of corruption.  This, however, must not dishearten us, as much as it should be our springboard and push factor. There is an apportioning of blame to the executors of the various initiatives that have had their go at realizing the National Development Plans – beginning from the “Kulembeka drive, to the NAADs initiatives, up to the most upbeat Parish Development Model, but I resound the same tone of optimism that we are on a steady road to recovery for nothing should prey on our national confidence and positive stance on this long match. This is because negativity is only fine on magnets and electrical connections, even amidst the ramifications of the Russia-Ukranian war that has reached our shores.

Even before a host of oft-mentioned failed strategies for development, we must not pale before our efforts to search, experiment with, and find our unique and hidden key to better livelihoods, the way countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan did. Often times crisis moments are also magical rising moments. We all have our very spaces and individual responsibilities to give the development a go and deal with all the hot-button issues that stand in our way, all the way down to our neighbourhoods and households.

I for one, happen to live after Adam Smith’s Wealth of the Nations, I am truly a scion of the development discourse that professes human development more than wealth creation, and this is alright as we all can begin where we are most well situated to begin. It is crucial though to know and have a basic premise that: “The real wealth of a nation is its people. And the purpose of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy, and creative lives. This simple but powerful truth is too often forgotten in the pursuit of material and financial wealth.”   Poverty in Africa is such a monstrous hydra that must be tackled from all landscapes, just about everywhere and every how, this is why the debate about the supremacy of science, as opposed to Arts studies, is to me a futile and unfounded one. With such absolute poverty around us, we all need to be wide awake and find limitless entry points to strategize against poverty from our innate wisdom and from all fields of academia.

It is true that in the end, we need money for just about anything, and for realizing development – So money matters, and we must avail resources for income generation, environmental protection, human rights advocacy, and such like. Our moot challenge will always be to accompany this economic development dimension with a lot more reflection, thinking through, a good level of skepticism, as well as the proclivity to jump out of the sinking boat when the time for such sinking ideas gives their appropriate diving signals.

There are also such ideas we must bisect and pursue further, for instance, a visiting European friend observed that not until such time that we learn to conserve our wasted surplus food and eliminate the state of living from hand to mouth every single day, shall we set aside time to rationalize; reflect, analyse, predict, conjecture, and make any meaningful steps to development. Another observer posited that it is worthless distributing funds to desperately poor people, for how could you ensure this money is invested in the desired projects where dire issues like paying a child’s hospital bill, bailing a husband out of jail, sending a child back to school are on the other side of the scale? Note as many scholars say, that deprived people frequently exhibit “adaptive preferences,” preferences that have adjusted to their second-class status and it takes might to pull them out of this status. So, in one way, the right receivers of this financial help should be those at a fair distance above the absolute poverty line, who, like the wounded with slight injuries, are likely, with help, to substantially improve their situation. Then, we may pray for the trickle-down effect – or am I creating an even deeper problem?

Let me suggest approaches from one impeccable strategist and world mover, Napoleon Bonaparte. It is recorded that his achievements, not his battles, still endear him to the French people. For example, when sugar, which had always come from the British or French West Indies was cut off during wartime, he ordered experiments in producing sugar from European-grown crops. He saved and paid money to researchers for this task, (most of these simple village folk), and indeed motivated by financial gains, fame, and much else, the experiments paid off with the sugar beet, which up to now is Europe’s main source of sugar. This grand achievement did not come from universities but from common people that were rightly motivated to use their potential. Similarly, Charles Good year having been challenged by the Roxbury India Rubber company to produce a product that would improve their rubber, the man who was many times confined in the debt prisons for his racking poverty, did not fear to experiment with rubber mixing gum with anything that crossed his way, even when he did not have the background in chemistry and no funding for his work.  What are we waiting for? We do not need to spend money making inventors, rather we need to motivate inventors right from the fish folk, farmers, village folk, Boda boda riders, and carpenters, up to universities – is this really so hard?

Needless to say, during these hard times and skyrocketing prices of essential commodities we are challenged to break our development mental models and start all over again because we know we have the brains for our survival and happiness on this wonderful planet. Why not reel off a number of inventors’ contests right from the village level upwards. These may require some special motivation that may not hurt the economy for the dividends are always clear. I have my meal ensured for supper and so now I have time to think about lofty ideas of development during this crisis I know you are doing the same and even more than I could imagine, for it is ordained that poverty is going to be evicted from our common home, Uganda!

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