Uganda: What Museveni’s Middle-Income Status Really Means!

It has become a catchphrase and in the last general election it was a campaign issue for President Museveni and government bureaucrats. Uganda will be a middle-income country by 2020, President Museveni declared during several campaign stops.

At last week's discussion with journalists, the National Planning Authority chairman Dr Kisamba-Mugerwa said that actually Uganda will be a first-world country - in league with USA, Singapore, UK, among others - 50 years from now.

But what does middle-income mean? According to the World Bank, you become a middle-income country when you cross the $1,000 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita threshold. This means that every citizen will be assumed to earn at least $1,000 (Shs 3.5m) annually.

Currently all Ugandans are estimated to earn at least $740 (Shs 2.5m) each annually. This figure is a calculation of the country's GDP divided by the total population. It has nothing much to do with the reality on the ground. Some people earn a lot less than that while others earn much more.

Does it mean end of poverty? No, even at $1,000 per capita, many of these countries still have high levels of poverty and poor human development indicators. Gabon, at over $10,000 per capita income - is right on the heels of first-world economies - but millions of its citizens still languish in poverty and it has some of the worst human development indicators.

In East Africa, it is only Kenya which reached the lower middle income status last year, with per capita income of $1,290. Can Uganda achieve middle income by 2020? Possible if oil revenues start to flow, analysts say. Uganda expects to earn at least $3bn annually from oil. This can make the average of every Ugandan's earning high - even if you as individual haven't received a coin from oil.

It would also not mean that lives of many Ugandans will have changed. Countries like Angola, Congo (Brazzaville), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Sudan are rich in natural resources, mainly oil. They are all ranked in middle-income status, but by all social standards they remain very poor, with millions languishing in squalor and despair.

In Uganda while official figures show that just 19.7 per cent (seven million people) are still in abject poverty, analysts have said as many as 70 per cent (24.2m people) are vulnerable - occasionally fall in and out of poverty. For instance, some people are out of poverty when it is harvest time and in poverty when crops haven't matured.

So, while Uganda can attain the much-talked-about middle-income status, it does not mean ordinary persons will be much better. It might be just superficial when the rich become better and the poor actually fall more into poverty. Schools can be awful, health can be dire and millions can't put food on the table yet a country can still boast of middle income status.

Source: The Observer.

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