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Lessons on poverty from COVID

Food relief being distributed in the suburbs of Kampala to the needy during the COVID-19 lockdown. The lockdown threatened the livelihoods of more urban than rural people.

Why measuring poverty using income is misleading and why we need to switch to using wealth

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | It is seven months since Uganda locked down due to COVID. The lesson I have learnt from the lockdown is not related to health but economics. It concerns the method we use to measure poverty (indirectly, wellbeing). Currently, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), like nearly all measurements of poverty elsewhere in the world, relies on income. COVID has taught us that income can sometimes be a misleading indicator of wellbeing.

To be accurate, UBOS believes that people are often unwilling to declare their income. So it uses people’s expenditure as a backdoor to understand their income i.e. the “mean consumption per capita.” This refers to a basket of goods and services someone needs to sustain a bearable lifestyle. UBOS believes people can be honest about how much they spend not how much they earn.

Now according to UBOS, the number of people living in poverty in Kampala District is only 2.6% and in the surrounding Wakiso District, 2.7%, making these two districts the richest (or the least poor). The districts with the largest percentage poor people are Kotido (73.4%) and Nabilatuk (73.1%). Ideally we should conclude from these poverty numbers that people from Kampala and Wakiso have the least precarious livelihoods in Uganda. Right?

However, during the COVID lockdown, government distributed relief food in Kampala and Wakiso, not Kotido and Nabilatuk. Why? Why were the districts with the least number of poor people the ones that got relief food during COVID lockdown? Or was this a sign that government was politically pandering to the most articulate section of our society in Kampala and Wakiso while neglecting of the most vulnerable in Kotido and Nabilatuk?

Governments everywhere tend to fear urban constituencies. This is because being educated; urbanised and articulate, they have a higher ability to organise politically. Cities are centers of political gravity; so urban constituencies can threaten the security of governments, even dictatorial ones. Thus in cases of emergency, governments would be much more responsive to urban than rural demands. We cannot therefore remove this political calculation from the analytical arithmetic that caused government to distribute food in Kampala and Wakiso, and not in Kotido and Nabilatuk.

Yet even with this insight, I think the main reason government provided relief food in Kampala and not Kotido has much more to do with the precariousness of livelihoods than political calculation. I am inclined to believe that the more urbanised a place is the more precarious life would be for those at the bottom. This is because practically everything that sustains livelihoods of people in urban areas is secured through the intermediation of the market – they pay rent; buy food, water, energy for cooking, etc.


  1. 1.Most Ugandans are too dense and not curious enough to search for what to do like Rajab…they simply wake up, watch movies and series, then get into bed and repeat the same process the following day.
    2.In America, the destitute can apply food stamps and not end up in precarious conditions.
    3.Covid has even caused most people to give up their religious beliefs for the sake of getting money so that they can survive e.g Judie Mutesasira

  2. Kudos Mr Mwenda! You’ve woken up to the reality, albeit after wasting a lot of time & resources heaping praises on useless statistics. In the recent past, M9 would bombard you with numbers of Uganda’s economic growth & development to the extent of getting tempted to believe him; until you pushed your hand in your pocket then realize that these statistics do not equal to cash. He would overwhelm you comparative figures and reach fallacious conclusions, for example he would tell you how Uganda’s economic growth rate is far better than any country in Sub-Sahara Africa, or even so-called Asian Tigers such as Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia which are now some of the most developed countries. In Mwenda’s theories you’d be forgiven to think that surely in the next five, ten years M7’s Uganda would be counted among the few countries having achieved that much-cherished middle-income status! Now Mr M9 having discovered that it’s not true to say that if you want to calculate Uganda’s per capita income you add M7’s number of cows plus Margaret Muhangi’s number of goats, (all in monetary values) and then divide that aggregate by 46 million Ugandans, do you realize that the so-called middle-class in Uganda is so insignificant? Those numbers couldn’t put even mere posho & beans on table for just three weeks in Uganda’s most richest two districts i.e Kampala & Wakiso! But your cult M7 is deluded that he’s taking this country to middle-income by 2020 (sorry, are we already in the year 2020?) I swear with this current runaway institutionalized looting (politely called corruption), M7 will go to his grave leaving Uganda a sad – slip of the tongue – third world country just like any of his predecessors did!

  3. @ The online editor;please differentiate between the two Winnies who contribute on this page i am the original and only contributor called Winnie so the first post was not written by me.(The lawyer)

    1.COVID 19 has exposed the fraud called capitalism i mean why can’t a company use part of its profits to pay workers rather than laying them off?
    2.COVID 19 has hit cities with the most big headed people for example Newyork,London,Paris,Nairobi and Kampala.
    3.COVID 19 in Uganda has showed the preparedness of the scientists in Uganda. we were for the first time just gaping at the systems M7 put in place incase of any eventualities and all over a sudden Ugandans understood English coz M7 would address the nation in English and everyone would understand what he was saying.
    4.The food that the people of Kampala and Wakiso were waiting for was a sign of embarassment and a message to those upcountry that its not a big deal to live in Kampala;Government was just shot of saying Kampala and Wakiso should belong to a certain class of people.

    • The first Winnie writes better Emglish than the second one. What appears to be common between them is that they both seem to be extremely dense!

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