The Case of the Missing Development: Chapter 3 : “Where has all the money gone? Long time passing”

I had left off in the last chapter (“North to Gulu”) having described some of the challenges leading to the missing development in Uganda. But to be fair, development is not really missing, there’s just not enough going on to offset all of the challenges. Many NGOs are working towards solutions and, as mentioned earlier, most are staffed with local people who know the culture and who have the capability to help solve the problems. In addition, most of the credit has to go to the people themselves, who struggle day to day to fix their problems, to get back to living a normal life, to rebuild their homes, re-establish their farms, re-start their education, find jobs and make their lives a little easier. These are, for the most part, hard working people who are open to being assisted, not people who are addicted to being assisted.  The challenge for them is that without the tools and facilities that we take for granted, life is naturally difficult. But to find solutions, it was necessary to dig deeper into the challenges.

In this chapter, I’ll look at a few of these challenges in depth.

  • Impact of Disease
  • Education Systems
  • Where has all the money gone? 
  • Who are the perpetrators in this case?

The answers may surprise you…


Impact of Disease

We all know about the prevalent diseases in Africa, including HIV/AIDS and Malaria. But do we know how to solve these? HIV/AIDs more and more is becoming a treatable disease which people, even in Uganda, are able to live with. The difficulty is with the distribution of drugs which has been impacted by theft from certain distribution channels. The bigger challenge, however, is education related to sexual relations and activities. The word is getting out, it is a common topic in meetings, and on TV, but in a society where far too many people lack a basic education about biology and viral transfer of disease, it is only natural that it is more difficult to prevent it’s spread. Likewise, the fact that HIV is now treatable makes it less of a concern and this has seen the HIV rate rebound after a reduction from almost 20% down to 6% and now back up to 11% of the population. Let us hope that promising vaccines are finalized and become widely available.

The more challenging disease is malaria which disrupts family life, causes absence from work and frequently leads to hospitalization or death. Whenever someone gets seriously ill, it is almost always assumed to be malaria. Unfortunately, with the lack of clinics, money and healthcare, people often self-medicate to treat malaria thus delaying treatment for other common diseases such as typhoid. Malaria treatment does help for those who actually have malaria, but far too many people lack access to medication and far too few take precautions such as using mosquito nets. Malaria is accepted as a part of life, almost inevitable, and even during my short 6 month stay, many of my friends became seriously ill. Thankfully none of them died but others that I heard about did. What is being done about malaria? There is research on how to rid mosquitoes of the malaria parasite and other research to kill mosquitoes all together, however, the latter may seriously upset the eco-system. Since it is a parasite and not a virus, it can stay dormant within the body for many years after the individual has been bitten. Many medications work but some have nasty side effects and others are expensive, so are only taken once the disease has been contracted.

Education Systems

Regarding some of the other challenges, I had a brief chance to examine the education system. While visiting Gulu, I had an opportunity to visit several schools. After a visit to the Ministry of Education in Kampala, I was quite convinced that the plans set forth by the government were serious and reasonably well organized. The challenge, of course, was money to implement. For those students who had enough money to pay for private school, the education was quite adequate. Universal Primary Education was adopted many years back but has unfortunately not lead to better quality education. In fact, along with the UPE came the concept of “automatic promotion”. This has lead many students to forget about studying and working hard for their success. Instead, many reach high school without proper reading skills. Teachers in public schools are paid very low wages of between 150,000-250,000 shillings per month (about $60-$100), but at least some are provided a home to stay in on the school property since transportation systems are very limited and travel to the school from far away villages is difficult. Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem for children who often have to travel long distances each day on foot. Over crowding in class is another problem and this one is getting worse.  The country recently adopted Universal Secondary Education, but in reality many of the students are unable even to finish Primary school. But there is a bigger challenge. When students complete school, they have no jobs to go to. This leads to even more frustration with the education system. While more emphasis has been placed on technical schools, there is a very long way to go. A program manager at UNICEF also told me that the government was piloting various school programs which were designed to meet the needs of rural communities.  Teachers are being trained at a rapid rate, however, are most often individuals who were not well qualified to move on to higher education. Those with better education go on to university and some other path. Improving the pay of teachers is as also a vital part of the solution, but again, it is back to the issue of taxes which are necessary to fund the situation.

While some school facilities are quite adequate, there are others that were damaged during the war and are barely suitable for children. Add to that the lack of light in the villages for doing homework and it makes a difficult situation for many. Children are also required to wear uniforms and when money is not available either for uniform or for school fees, children are sent home. Some programs take the training to the villages where the children receive education after they complete their work in the field. Education combined with moral and social education has proven helpful in moving lives forward.

The one thing that was notably absent were business schools and mentorship programs that would train entrepreneurs and actively help them to expand their small scale businesses by creating higher value goods, hiring more people and creating a base for employment and taxation. Such schools, if created, could improve the economic situation for graduates and other Ugandans, would increase the tax base, and build the foundation for an economy that would be more self-supporting. I asked many Ugandans if such an institution existed and none of them were aware of any other than MBA programs and technical skills programs which, while helpful, don’t necessarily address the practical application of business skills.

How might such an enterprise be established? Well, the best I can imagine is that some well meaning multinational could focus its work specifically on raising the number of jobs through the creation of self-perpetuating entrepreneurial and business  training institutes.  While it may not be the most profitable venture, it is certainly a way to create good will and a better market for the products which the companies are providing.  Alternatively, foreign governments, working in concert with the Ugandan government could help them to establish such training institutes.

Where has all the money gone? 

Suffice it to say that recent studies by INGOs suggest that much of the funding given to INGOs go to administrative costs within the country of origin and impact few people on the ground, thus confirming rumors and suspicions. The good news is that INGOs are now measuring their own effectiveness, albeit in ways that are not always coordinated across the NGO community. In addition, local NGO workers get paid reasonable salaries by Ugandan standards. And of course, some of the money actually goes to administration of local organizations who run the programs, a necessary but often ignored part of the work. Some of the money has also gone to large scale government initiatives and as this is done, large scale theft is being found on a more regular basis. You might think this is a bad thing, but the very fact that it is being discovered more often is a good thing, since in earlier times, the theft went largely undetected. As the government matures and is better funded, it also creates institutions such as the auditor generals office, which provide a self-check to catch and dissuade those who might otherwise steel from the system with impunity. Prosecution is still an issue in that certain low level individuals are being made scapegoats, but even this is improving and more of the high level officials responsible for the theft are being caught.  There is still some impunity related to cronyism, but with time, I have no doubt that this will improve as more and more people become educated.

But based on my research, one of the biggest drains on the African continent are the multinationals who buy up the resources at low prices sometimes through bribing officials, and then sell high valued goods back at prices that most people can’t afford. Far too often, they use tax havens and other means to avoid fair taxation which would help to support the African economy. You might wonder what this has to do with you.

It’s fairly simple. If you have a conscience and live in a democracy, if you have resources and you believe that all people have a right to live a reasonable life, use what you possess to make a difference. Make sure you invest in ethical mutual funds. Why? Because Ethical fund managers controlling sizable portions of company shares have a louder voice and are able to steer corporations to be more responsible based on how they vote their shares and in their statements at shareholder meetings. How you vote in your local and country elections also influences the regulations put on banks and other multinationals and on industries which negatively impact other countries. In addition, your government can have a voice which influences the way that the G8 and G20 and the UN make decisions and this can influence responsible global taxation and regulation. So yes, individuals can make a huge difference and not recognizing us makes us part of the problem.

And yet, after having said all of this, I am convinced that one of the most important roles that NGOs can play is to teach people to monitor the activities of governments and their impact on the general society. This is difficult of course because it is seen, in some cases, as political interference which is punished by the government and far too often the CSO community and government see themselves as adversaries vying for the support of people, rather than as partners. The simple fact is that no nation will become stable through the activities of NGOs or INGOs alone. The most effective means of educating people is through mature government sponsored education systems. The most effective means of delivering health care is through government sponsored and regulated health care systems, and the most sustainable means of supporting these initiatives is through money that flows from the bottom up through taxation and top down through government institutions to the people. In a stable society, CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) play a vital role but mostly at the fringes where they government cannot always reach. It is the government that must address the majority of people within the country and it is the maturity of the government institutions that will, in the end, make the difference for the nation. So while it may seem counter intuitive to support a government that is known for corruption, in the end, they can still deliver more effective and sustainable services than CSOs for the majority of people.

The good news is that Africa is maturing and growing economically and I have no doubt that it will continue to do so based mostly on the efforts of its own people. If Africa is ever to get out of the cycle of poverty it must be through the maturation of the businesses and government, through the use of advanced technology and through their cooperative initiatives which include NGOs, especially those which have proven their effectiveness, bearing in mind of course, that maturation may not look exactly the same in Africa as it does here in North America. Sustainability of the system must also take into account, sustainability of the environment, a fact which is far too often overlooked in North American politics and business. In addition, as Africa becomes connected to the rest of the world through technology and the internet, I have no doubt they will have many opportunities to utilize new inventions and contribute to the world of invention thus helping them to leap frog many generations of advancement, as they did in the adoption of mobile technology and mobile banking which is prevalent in Africa.

Who are the perpetrators in this case?

There are many, but pinning it to specific individuals is difficult. Historical precedent of suppression and superiority based in colonialism has had a lasting impact especially on the way that government and elites view themselves as victors rather than responsible representatives, an attitude of scarcity which is based in current reality that promotes continuation of theft and corruption, tax avoidance especially by multinationals, the lack of maturity of government partially due to on large flows of money through INGOs which in some cases weakened the government’s ability to strengthen its own institutions and in the case of free food distribution in the country, destroyed markets for local farmers who were unable to make a profit by selling food.  But the biggest crime is the notion that conflict is a justified route to change. The destruction caused by conflict, to the economy, to the people, to generations in the future, is by far the biggest crime. It’s perpetrators are those who incited violence on both sides, who ignore the needs of others, who failed to use their powers to address injustice, and who suppressed dialogue, however frustrating those communications may have been, which shines a light on situations which need attention. While the government may indeed be the most responsible party for the last war, at this point, it is clear that consultation with an attitude of forgiveness and cooperation are the best means for resolving the long term challenges of the country.  In addition, it is we who remain largely unaware of our impact on the world who bear much of the burden of responsibility for injuries of the past and for those that continue to this day. It is our complicity with living a life of relative ease, un-examined, unquestioning in terms of how our leadership makes decisions, how our consumption of resources impacts others, how our daily decisions leads to our involvement, how our votes for leadership, our investments and our collective behaviors negatively impact other countries and the lives of those who we are unable to see except through targeted marketing which is designed to sway our sense of charity and make us feel that we have done the right thing by being generous. Generosity is laudable. However, taking responsibility for our own actions, our own government, and our businesses is even more laudable. In a perfect world, our generosity would be unnecessary. Our responsibility on the other hand, is essential.

Enough for today, when I come back in chapter 4, I’ll finish the story, but instead of just focusing on the Missing Development, I’ll describe my reasons for believing that although some of the development is missing and although some crimes have been committed, it is worth looking at the progress of Uganda. And I’ll look at the positives of the story (Chapter 4: “Uganda, the pearl of Africa”).

Keep well,

Garth Schmalenberg

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