In his preface to the 1982 edition of capitalism and freedom, originally written in 1962 when monetarism and neo – liberalism were still being mocked,
The arch – monetarist Milton Friedman commented, ‘Our basic function is to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable’.
This is where progressive thinking stands today. Why is change afoot in the way politics operates in Uganda, and how has this led the focus of poverty alleviation policies to move away from their social roots and towards economic remedies such as tourism?
These are the questions I seek to provide some answers to. With the compliments paid to the success of Uganda’s model of development in increasing its scores on many poverty indicators, particularly around health and education, it is easy to overlook the problems of poverty that still exist.
These have proved difficult to remedy for two primary reasons. One is that factors exist which are related to the social conditions in Uganda that still require government scrutiny.
The other is that government policies are not simply the product of popular pressure, but have been shaped in recent years by international organisations, which have been the driving force behind successive reforms in economic policy in Uganda as a whole, which has impacted on the provision of services by the government in Uganda.
The country adopted a structural adjustment programme in 1990s, aimed at opening the economy up to foreign investment and decreasing its expenditure. She was made to assume that factors of production would become flexible and mobile. Whether, the government was ill advised, I will revert to this later.
The UN has noted that Uganda government has encouraged tourism as a source for quickly earning foreign exchange vital for development’ and recommends that government still has an important role to play in facilitating this through taking measures such as investing in infrastructure projects.
Important as infrastructure investment may be, it should be noted that from a political perspective, tourism will only produce opportunities for poverty alleviation if it is embraced by those living in poorer communities and any potentially detrimental effects on the well – being and quality of life for denizens are carefully considered.
The political environment in Uganda is distinct from other East Africa states, characterised by relatively high levels of corruption and a very politically involved electorate. Uganda’s political structures have been progressively decentralised and made more accountable under NRM. Though with limited decision making powers.
Local governments have made great progress in reducing poverty, and not allowing them into decision-making processes regarding economic opportunities is justified currently by the argument that it is central government which can see best what industries will create employment. However, this has in effect sealed tourism projects off from intervention by the people whose lives will be affected by them.
The lack of decentralisation in the industry also undermines efforts to fight corruption because it disables people from calling to account businesses, which act unethically. The active participation of people in both politics and civil society means that the already widespread concerns about tourism will be difficult for the government to ignore or put off addressing.
For tourism in Uganda to have a positive impact on economic development that will not undermine human development it is essential that it pursues strategies that ensure benefits will be felt at all levels of society, include democratic public consultations.
Walter Ochanda, the author is an international development specialist