Tuesday, July 13, 2010

EXPECTING TOO MUCH OF OURSELVES

Yesterday the country commemorated its 47th Independence day. I wrote this before the major speeches of the day were made. It would be amiss if these speeches did not remind us of where we came from and where we are heading.

Fifty years ago the British empire was a load the British treasury could barely carry, coming out of the Second World War. Things were so bad that Britain, on the verge of bankruptcy borrowed $3.5b from the US to stabilize its economy, boost reconstruction and kick start production. The last installment of this loan was paid back in 2006.

Had the British and all other colonial powers economies, not suffered such a battering during the second world, it is debatable whether independence would have come as soon as it did.

In Uganda as in many other countries of the empire, Britain ceded political power to the most vocal cliques of the day. The economy however was designed to serve foreign industry – railroads to the ports, growing of cash crops and a battery of apprentices to run an administrative system programmed to serve foreign over local interests.

Decades of wandering in the desert, blundering from government to government, means we have placed little emphasis on rejigging the system to cater to our needs.

"Instead in Uganda and on much of the continent, we have cultured a state so predatory as to be more vicious than its colonial forbearers in serving an urban elite while simultaneously sucking the lifeblood out of the rural masses...

In tossing up numerous what-if scenarios I have come to the fatalistic conclusion that given our context at independence what ever we would have done in the last 47 years would have brought us to more or less the same place we are at now, with very little variation.

Where did we go wrong? We went wrong like a bride on her wedding day who thinks the wedding is an end rather than the beginning of a new journey.

Because we did not see beyond independence day the project developed cracks at the first instance of stress. And for lack of a longer term, collective vision anchored by a desire to improve the lot of the people, we have not recovered from that first test. The same can be said for any number of countries on the continent.

With the benefit of hindsight it is obvious we expected too much of ourselves on 9 October 1962.


The book Germs, Guns and Steel by Jared Diamond provide a nice framework from which to analyse human history.

Diamond’s explanation for why the northern hemisphere is more advanced than the south hinges on a geographical accident – the east-west orientation of Eurasia (Europe-Asia) versus the north-south formation of the African continent.

Across Eurasia climate was more consistent allowing for the growing of the same crops and rearing of similar animals. With shared information between societies, agricultural practices were improved and the peoples of these regions were able to produce food surpluses – regardless of the fact that they had one planting season a year.

The surpluses were employed to, feed the thinkers – who run society and accounted for its advancement in all fields and support professional armies, which served as a buffer against internal unrest and helped project the country’s will beyond its borders.

By lurching from crisis to crisis, taking one step forward and then three back they have now settled upon a workable and people sensitive system of government.

These developments were initiated hundreds of years ago, in a protracted process during which Eurasia saw its share of senseless and bloody wars, irredeemably corrupt leaders and failed states.

"Which brings me to the conclusion that if we take our attainment of independence as a starting point, it is too soon to believe we shall see functioning states on the continent, when we are not producing food surpluses, let alone cash, skill or surpluses of any description...

We therefore can not sustain the critical mass of thinkers to examine the issues of the day and chart a way forward for our societies.

Instead we blunder around making the same mistakes over and over with the best case scenario being that we stay in the same place, but the more likely outcome being that we regress every year.

Published October 2009, New Vision

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