Tuesday, January 17, 2012
UGANDA AT FIFTY
2012 is the Golden Anniversary Year of Uganda’s independence. On October 9, 1962, Uganda became a republic severing its colonial ties with Great Britain. However, as they look forward to the 50th birthday of their country, Ugandans face grim economic realities.
Prices have sky-rocketed with inflation running at 27% and there is no end in sight. I experience the impact of inflation every day. I used to pay 500 shillings for a small bottle of water during my last visit in late 2010. Now it costs 700 shillings.
Another source of trouble is the dispute between traders and banks. Kampala, the main economic and financial engine of Uganda experienced a crippling four-day strike by traders last week. Traders are demanding banks to lower interest rates on old loans and the banks adamantly refuse. The strike has been called off, but the stalemate continues. The government lost an estimated 40 billion Uganda shillings as a result of the strike and the traders are estimated to have lost 3 billion shillings in profits.
Troubles in the health sector are also ominous. Accusations of negligence, lack of drugs, congestion and poor working conditions in government-run hospitals and health centres are some of the problems in the sector. Serious difficulties also mark other sectors like education. Adding to the country’s woes is rampant corruption, which, like some other developing countries, Uganda is not able to wipe out.
Troubles with the economy tend to overshadow a significant achievement. After a period of post-independence political turmoil highlighted by Idi Amin’s brutal reign in the 1970s, Uganda has achieved political stability. The Lord’s Resistance Army that terrorized Uganda’s northern region for years has been brought under control and there are reasons to believe that the region and the country will live in relative peace. In return for peace and stability, Ugandans seem content with the one party/one-person rule which has dominated Uganda’s political scene since 1986.
Mountain Gorillas aid tourism
Uganda was named by the Lonely Plant magazine as the top tourist site globally. And, an Italian magazine, Agrigento, placed Uganda among the top 33 must-go to places in 2012. The magazine identified Uganda's mountain gorillas as a drawing card for tourists along with the country's stability. (From NEW VISION, January 9, 2012, page 2). I also consider Uganda’s natural beauty as a major tourist attraction. Lush green plants and vegetation are a treat to behold wherever you go. No wonder Winston Churchill called Uganda the Pearl of Africa.
Uganda is primarily a rural country; and, availability of clean water is one of the major issues confronting rural population. In scores of villages, people depend on contaminated water running through streams and gullies. As a result, they suffer from skin diseases and life-threatening ailments. There are public taps, but, in a number of villages I visited earlier, the flow of water from these taps is very low or negligent. In many villages, there are no public taps.
For village folks, one of the most important daily tasks is to fetch water. This chore is usually entrusted to children often as young as 6, 7, or 8 years of age. On a visit to Kisubi last Saturday, I saw these two boys toiling away at a pump. With sweat dripping profusely from his forehead, one boy was straining desperately because water was not flowing fast. At the same time, the other boy was resting, waiting for his turn at the pump. Similar scenes are repeated daily all over Uganda.