Saturday, October 16, 2010


Jiggers were discussed during a cabinet meeting. It would be hilarious were it not for the irritation and pain this little creatures can inflict on the human body and spirit.

It reminds me of a book written in the seventies, “You have got to cry to laugh” and it too I believe was about the African condition.

My holding to the conventional wisdom that jigger infestations are about a lack of hygiene were shaken this week when someone asked “So what about all the beggars, street kids on the streets of Kampala, how come they do not have jiggers?”

Yes. In the 21st century we have been reduced to discussing jiggers.

But then again as President Yoweri Museveni told us more than more than 20 years ago we are backward and we better acknowledge that and do something about it.

Just because we have layered ourselves in bad English, cheap suits, counterfeit black berry’s and second hand cars does not mean we have ascended into the league of developed nations or peoples.

But maybe its not our fault. Recently economist Bill Easterly wrote about the findings of a research he participated in which showed that, on the whole, countries which had not attained certain basic technological advancements by 1500 AD – oceangoing ships, paper, printing, firearms, the magnetic compass and steel, remain underdeveloped to this day.

Even more worrying is that these stratification occurred much earlier.

Luckily we are not doomed to perpetual poverty and underdevelopement, as North America , Australia and New Zealand has shown. Technology can travel.

But as the history China has shown, to resist technology transfer can be detrimental to your world standing. In the 15th century China was ahead of western Europe in technological advancement, but a series of paranoid ruling dynasties closed China off form the outside world, purged its scientists and thinkers and allowed the western world to overtake them.

In just over 30 years by opening up to the outside world and encouraging technology and innovation China’s is taking back its place as a leading world power.

And why is technology so important? Because technology is a building block of future innovation which in t urn drives economic growth.

But for technology to take hold or to be transferred you need an educated people. Education allows for technology transfer.

So it was with much shock that I read this week about a survey of the efficiency of our education system.

The survey done by the Uganda National NGO Forum showed that despite our reported high enrollment figures the quality of the product walking out of our school gates is shockingly bad.

Eight of ten children between six and 16 who were tested on a P2 math paper failed while 19% of the P3 students tested in the 27 districts surveyed could not read the alphabet.

If you can not read or count your educational foundations are fundamentally flawed and your chances of advancement economically or careerwise are seriously hampered, but more importantly for the nation is that the adoption of new technologies will be more laboured, putting a ceiling on economic development.

Technology is not only about machines but in the broader sense is about the way things are done.

At the end of the day the people of the jigger infested areas have only themselves to blame, no government or authority figure can rid them of jiggers if they are comfortable living with them.

But an epidemic of jiggers is a very manifest sign of underdevelopment not only of the infested but of the whole country. It points to a technological backwardness that does not augur well for future economic growth.

But since apportioning blame is a favourite past time in this country here is what Easterly wrote on his blog this week,

“What the history of technology tells us …Top-down development programs simply don't work. In fact, the principal beneficiaries of Western largesse today -- African autocrats and dysfunctional regimes -- are themselves the main obstacles to development. If there's anything that "must be done" to spur future development, it's to create the conditions necessary to empower the ordinary individuals who will create new and unforeseen technologies out of old ones.”

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