Tuesday, November 10, 2015

THE ECONOMICS OF POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS

Last week was presidential nominations week. On Tuesday President Yoweri Museveni and former Prime minister Amama Mbabazi were nominated and the Wednesday FDC (Forum for Democratic Change) flag bearer Kizza Besigye too was give the green flag to run his fourth consecutive race.

In a show of force each marshalled their respective supporters to come out as a demonstration of the credibility of their campaigns.

The multitudes who came out dancing, singing, screaming and waving tree branches were not your average white collar professional, many of them were unemployed youth or blue collar workers.
The rest of us “serious” people could barely hide our irritation at their processions as they held us up in traffic – especially on Wednesday night.

While we looked down our noses at these unwashed masses we wondered whether they had any jobs or had any responsibility to their families or planned for their future retirement. Our attitude was that they were wasting time and we who had slogged through the day at our desks were the ones who were on the right side of the economic equation.

But maybe we should think again.

The difference between the wellbeing of individuals from place to place are determined by political boundaries, imaginary lines in the sand that make the difference whether your children go to school or not, whether you can find work or not, whether there is enough peace and security to allow you to protect and grow your property.

How society is managed is determined by the political elite who run the country on our behalf enabled by our voting them into power or by our succinct approval of their stay in power even if we had nothing to do with it.

The challenge is that the elections are not a test for competence in economic or political management. Political processes often reward those who have the resources to project their will.

So back to our roving masses. We might thumb our noses at them but they are leveraging the process for their own betterment. Whether this materialises or not is another thing altogether.

They recognise that their welfare – beyond the few shillings they will get for escorting one candidate or the other, is dependent on the person in power and they express their support in the best way they can.

It’s like in the village if you cannot donate bunches of banana or beef to your neighbour’s function you can donate your labour to support the cause.

"The point is those masses standing by the aspirants are determining the economic direction of the country. You dismiss them at your own peril...

In more developed democracies, economic interest groups determine the candidates’ agenda. So the labour unions will back one candidate against another on the basis of guarantees on minimum wages and other employee benefits. The captains of industry will back another candidate in exchange for favourable tax legislation and a roll back of costly worker benefits. Depending on how well organised either groups is will determine whether a candidate wins at all and if he does what the tone of his administration will be.

So in western democracies who gets most support will determine whether working environments change or whether the rich get to keep most of their money at the expense of the rest.

So if Uganda is still lagging way behind on its development indicators it is an indication on who are the major pressure groups in our political processes. It’s not that your semi-literate cousin in the village deserves a lesser living standard than yourself but he probably does not know better to press for more. And because he does not insist on more his candidates need not exercise their mind too much in how to improve the general welfare of the population.

"In short, even if you have decided that politics is a dirty game, it’s the only game in town. And those who are leveraging the system to their own ends, whether these be detrimental to the general economy, are getting their way...

As an example, with our first growing population, which is doubling every 20 years, we need to shift progressively and consistently away from subsistence to commercial agriculture. So we need to be supporting all our farmers to make the transition through better infrastructure and extension services.

However to make this transition what needs to happen? Their needs to be land reform and distribution, more people have to be brought into the tax net so our huge infrastructure deficit can be bridged faster.

All unpopular measures that may alienate a candidate from the rural masses and cost them votes.


Ideally if a government panders to the productive forces of society – the manufacturers and other businessmen, the economy would become more productive and everyone would benefit from the improved public goods the government can offer as a result of the increased taxes.

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