What is Africa’s problem? Productivity

In Senegal, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and Kenya, it is now becoming a new fact of life for heads of state to serve their terms in office and depart. There are no discussions about the extension of presidential terms.

And yet, look at the above-mentioned countries. There is no difference in economic and social terms between the above countries. Kenya is about twice the economic size that is Uganda, but that is what it was even under the one-party, one-man rule of president Daniel Arap Moi and the independence party KANU.

Botswana is better run and generally more prosperous than most African countries, but the reasons are not because of the smooth handover of presidential power.
In fact, Botswana’s capital Gaborone itself while generally cleaner that Kampala, still looks like an African capital. Much of its investment is by the same South African supermarket and other chains we see in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

Gaborone has cleaner, better built Bwaises and Kisenyis, but they are still Bwaise and Kisenyi, not Stockholms or Genevas.

The former Communist states of Eastern Europe, at the height of one-party rule, were much like many African countries today. But Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, the Soviet Union, Romania and Poland were nowhere near the kinds of pathetically underdeveloped countries that are to be found in Africa.

North Korea is much more aanced than nearly all African countries, and yet its one-family rule is more extreme, if you will, than most one-man rule in Africa.

The best example today is communist China, which is now the fulcrum of much of the world’s economy.

So while we celebrate the downfall of African tyrants, it does not appear convincing to argue that a change of leadership at the top can lift the vast majority of Africans from their eyesore poverty and shabby lives.

Will Burkina Faso, as we know it, suddenly start to look modern and clean now that the people have spoken and risen up? I doubt it. The rural population will still continue to mostly use firewood to cook and to draw water from wells and boreholes.

If the opposition Jema party were to take power in Uganda, how would the country be different from what it is under the NRM? There would be much more modest living and governance by the Jema cabinet and most likely the presidential cult of personality would come to an end.

Jema has managed to run its affairs without any of the public and damaging wrangling we now see in the NRM, FDC, UPC and DP. It is a small party, but gives one a glimmer of hope.

However, it would still have to negotiate with traditional centres of power and public influence, none of which shows much sign of undergoing its own transformation. There would still be two rival wings of Islamic leadership in Uganda, Ugandan sports administration would remain riddled with intrigue and corruption.

The Catholic and Anglican churches would still demand or lobby for a representative voice in a Jema government, which would be forced to do what all governments since 1962 have done – appoint token opinion leaders to placate the masses and their respective camps.

It would not matter how these appointees perform in public office their holding of those offices would be an important and necessary gesture. The other Opposition party, the FDC, even while not yet in government, is still structured to reflect this problem of populism and symbol-over-substance that is the Uganda political system.

The FDC has vice presidents representing northern, western and eastern Uganda and Buganda in the central. The purpose of this is mainly to give the appearance of fair representation, not that this geographical structure delivers better leadership.

The only head of state, to a certain degree, immune from this pointless and resource-draining political populism was Idi Amin. He was feared and that fear alone deterred many political voices, which is why he was able to get done in eight years some things the NRM after nearly 30 still struggles to achieve.

But even Amin was not totally immune from Uganda’s historical populism. The most popular of his populist acts was the effecting in 1972 of the expulsion of non-citizen Asians which the three East African countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda had agreed on in 1967.

That action by Amin changed the business face of Uganda by bringing more indigenous Ugandans into enterprise, but the fundamental result remained unchanged to this day: Uganda is still a weak economy and heavily dependent for any chances on Western and Asian investment and technical skill.

The expulsion of the Asians boosted Kampala businesses but robbed upcountry Ugandan towns of vital skills by Asians in education, medicine, trade, philanthropy and public administration.

Even with the arrival of the Internet that was supposed to free up the potential of the younger Ugandan generation, put them on an equal footing with the youth in aanced countries, from the comments and calibre of writing and thinking on their main social platforms of Facebook and Twitter, I don’t see the intellectual depth that will lift Uganda to a new level.

Our problem, as far as I see, seems to be rooted for the most part in a lack of intellectual productivity. Europe is where it is because of the solid middle it has, the middle made up of very well-educated, skilled, imaginative and competent citizens and the institutions they create and run.

You only have to visit fashion, cookery, book, photography, archaeological, design, film, music and other websites run by Europeans and Americans to realise that this solid, apolitical middle section of their societies is the basis of their economic and intellectual aancement, regardless of which government is in power in the capital.

It is partly this realisation that in creating the Kampala Express page on Facebook, I am trying to focus the content away from our usual obsession with the political leaders in Kampala and to try and emphasise the geographical, historical whole that is Uganda.

That is why I am publishing many photographs of bridges, traffic scenes, schools, small businesses, remote rural historic sites and upcountry towns, so that we can start thinking beyond politics and instead think of productivity intellectual and creative productivity.

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SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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