Twenty nine years ago, precisely on September 13, 1985, government soldiers deployed at Buhimba in Hoima District to fight the guerrilla army of Museveni. The deployment, just two kilometres from home, sparked an exodus that I could not join. Reason, I just could not abandon our property! In fact, a one Majwara (not real name) said hakwiruka abe mpali emu (meaning “people running have one pair of trousers” – no property. Nevertheless, I told my cousin mpe nkoni (give me my ‘cattle-stick’). I took the cattle away and came back to keep the other property. Of course, weeks later, a land mine explosion close to home ejected me from the village.
Economics literature is increasingly linking inequality in terms of property, opportunities and socio-political power to instability and wars. Global terrorism in places like Mpeketoni in Kenya, the Middle East and Boko Haram in Nigeria is linked to inequality. Disaantaged people are susceptible to influence by extremists as they see no difference between such groups and the leaders of the day. People with little or no hope are easily convinced to trust in any alternative systems even when such may be worse or non-existent. After all, a drowning man can cling on a serpent!
It is time to rethink our economic and political systems as inequality is not only an economic problem but one that triggers social problems that generate political instability. When people do not get the benefits of economic growth, they question the whole paradigm of development, nationalism and human co-existence. Bad economic realities raise political tensions to an extent that politicians resort to management rather than fixing the problem, which is bad politics that undermines fair processes based on strong institutions. Uganda’s current institutions can hardly offer such opportunities as they have been undermined by ‘politicking’ – bad politics.
The disaantaged need to protect and build their asset base through effective land laws, education and health systems, and fair judicial processes among others. There is no doubt that my family property of 29 years ago was not just the cattle but the knowledge, which was further enhanced by quality education over the years. Uganda may have more children in school today but the quality of education is creating an unequal society where the majority have little ability to create or realise any opportunities. Resolving inequality is a win-win situation that can follow the German approach of a social market economy, which favours effective sharing of national wealth and opportunities.
Economists argue that the distribution of wealth and income is based on each person’s contribution to the production process. For anyone with no physical assets or relevant skills, it becomes impossible to get any economic gains. Politics plays a major role in determining ownership of productive assets and distribution of the resultant wealth through provision of basic services. However, bad politics yields bad policies, resulting in poor services, including failure to protect assets of the poor. Eventually, the poor also lose their social voice, self-esteem, and sense of belonging. With nothing to lose in the event of political unrest and war, the ground is set for potential violence that can unravel decades of gains. This is a case of lose-lose situation that Uganda should work hard to avoid.
I finally went back to my village to find a war-ravaged home, testimonies of death and peace that the guerrillas had brought following a fierce battle. But somebody needs to tell me that the dark clouds of land wrangles and manipulations of the poor that I see today are not similar to what I saw in 1985. So far, so near!
Dr Muhumuza is a senior manager at KPMG – Uganda, working with the Financial Sector Inclusion Programme.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor