Tuesday, May 2, 2017



A few years ago people begun to seat up and take notice of Africa. Previously seen as a basket case bedevilled by poverty, disease and war, the coincidence of improving economic management, high commodity prices and the and a promised demographic dividend as the continent’s young population come of age, led to the birth of the tag line “Africa rising”.

The initial optimism has died down as deeper issues surrounding the continent’s politics and structural deficiencies in the economy, have shown that while there is still cause for optimism, the initial positivity may have been overdone.

It is against this background that journalist David Sseppuuya wrote this book, a credible attempt to see the continent for what it is, how it got here and what its future prospects are.

"The constant theme throughout the book is the huge deficiencies the continent suffers, be it from capital mobilisation or human resource capacity or even in land issues, be it convoluted tenure systems or the declining fertility or the general inefficiency of its use....

Sseppuuya, while referring to an admirable bibliography as wide in scope as it is deep, draws parallels and divergencies with other development models, coming quickly to the conclusion that industrialisation – the adding of value to our natural endowments, is  the future.

For students of development this is an obvious conclusion and while the continent’s leaders have talked about it, there seems to have been a disconnect between the appreciation and the implementation of industrialisation.

Sseppuuya has some suggestions of why this is so, not least because politicians since independence have placed too much emphasis – in his view, on promoting agriculture.

The author suggests that this focus has seen the continent, stuck in recurring loop as supplier of raw materials to more advanced economies, led to deteriorating terms of trade and a perpetuation of rural poverty.

While in other parts he acknowledges the south East Asian nations’ evolution from agriculture to light industry to heavy industry and now to services, and how by raising agricultural productivity they became food self-sufficient but also saved critical hard currency, that would have gone to food importation, for Africa he argues that we need not follow the same cycle.

He argues that returns from agriculture are not enough to lift the millions of Africans out of poverty nor vault the continent into a 21st century economy. Focussing on agriculture will only serve to maintain the continent’s rural texture, counterproductive because urbanisation has been a major driver of development wherever it has happened.

He points to the fact that while up to 70 percent of people derive a livelihood from the land but only account for only 30 percent of economic output, as an indication that it is an “economic dead end”.

Students of development will most likely disagree with Sseppuuya’s views on agriculture and may even see this as the major shortcoming of the book, but it is only a chapter in the book and there is much else to commend about the book.

His expose of what ails our neighbour the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), examination of the short coming of the Structural Adjustment Programs of the 1980s and the inadequacies of our education system alone are worth the books steep cover price of sh70,000.

He draws important linkages between the major era’s of Africa’s existence—the slave trade, colonialism and post-independence. This back and forth treatment of the subject, with easy to read anecdotal evidence to support his findings makes the book an enjoyable read by anyone with half an interest in understanding the continent.

Sseppuuya, who has consulted with the World Bank in Tanzania and Uganda and done work with Bank of Uganda, has been privy to how the people at the center of driving the continent’s agenda think and work, liberally peppering the text with some of these insights.

"As a citizen of the continent, having lived through Uganda’s most harrowing times and using the testimony of the everyday man, he then draws a bridge between the theory and its very real implications. The conclusion oftentimes is that the prescriptions have delivered results so wide off the mark as to wonder about the real motives of development set....

Many people have tackled this very subject and Sseppuuya’s extensive reference to studies from as far back as the 19th century to the present lends the book a gravitas that is hard to ignore. It is a useful addition to the discussion on development and will serve as useful rallying call for us to at least learn from our history.

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