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The long way home

By Kalundi Serumaga

This is the second and last part of this Outlook as the author comments on technocrats and leaders `who remain silently loud on issues they once propagated.

In Africa, capitalism first came in search of free labour giving rise to the transatlantic slave trade. It then developed its interest and simply began seizing land and whole countries through force and fraud.

It should therefore come as no surprise to see that when faced with another crisis, capitalists again seek to rescue themselves by accessing public wealth, this time from the taxpayer. It has always been the case.

The problem is where this leaves us in Uganda today. We have given away our capital base (often to foreigners); we have opened up the economy to speculators trading unfairly using cheaper capital sourced from outside Uganda (and getting handouts from the government at the same time); we have handed the entire banking sector to foreign capital. Now, the economies on which we have made ourselves totally dependent have collapsed. It is difficult to see the possibility of the creation of an independent economy with this set of factors. This is why it is critically important that we hear some kind of explanation from those who talked, bullied and coerced us into this policy dead end, beyond the descriptive and speculative discussions of the type reported at the NPA meeting.

As things stand, the four pillars of the much vaunted economic model are all under serious threat.

As the Finance minister, Dr Ezra Suruma/NRM national budget (2008/2009) shows, Uganda is expecting her income from earnings from exports (especially coffee); loans and grants from donors; Foreign Direct Investment (FDI); and finally money sent home from Ugandans working abroad (Kyeyo).

With regard to the last one, Dr Suruma informed us: ‘Remittances are increasingly becoming a major source of foreign exchange earnings, and are playing a strategic role in supporting macroeconomic stability as well as private investment.’

It doesn’t take much thinking to realise that all these income lines depend heavily on the health of a foreign economy or economies out there in the west. Therefore, the current economic meltdown in the industrial countries, which means reduced imports of non-essentials like coffee (a possible indicator is one early estimate saying that exports orders for Kenyan tea have already dropped by 60 percent this year), reduced wages or redundancies for foreign workers there, reductions in aid (since they now have to use their taxpayers money to salvage their own banks and corporations), and a reduction on long-term foreign investment, will have to force Dr Suruma back to the drawing board to find out what the shortfall will be this year, and where he is going to organise Uganda’s income lines for 2009/2010.

The tendency has been to look at the global economy as something that Uganda is struggling to join or rejoin. This makes us enter into arrangements and accept prescriptions from the west as if we are talking to people we have just met. In reality, Uganda -like the rest of Africa- has been part of the global economic system since capitalism went global in the 1700s. What our leaders have not understood is that our participation is a long predetermined roles that were undemocratically assigned to us all centuries ago. The west wants and needs products and labour from us at the cheapest possible prices, if not for free. A ‘good’ African leader is one who helps guarantee this supply through keeping the economy open by persuading his population (through bribery if need be) that it is good and necessary, or by using effective force if the persuasion fails. The privatisation and deregulation mania of the last two decades was achieved by buying off those opinion-leaders who had a price, and using state coercion to lock all the more determined opponents of this prostitution out of the political process altogether. This was the real meaning and purpose of the 1986 NRM Legal Notice No 1 (that became the 1995 Constitution’s Article 269) that upheld the one-party ‘Movement System’.

What we actually need is leaders who reject the relationship that the industrial economies want to maintain over us, and begin to challenge them on the fundamental questions. If the west wants to nationalise its economy, we should stop being shy about public ownership here, where necessary. If the west is going to maintain its protectionist policies for its own economies, then we should not be shy about re-instating our own tariffs and subsidies. In short, our leaders should stop allowing themselves to be fooled into thinking that those people see them as ‘partners’ and equals, and recognise that we are all in the middle of a vast economic global jungle where only the sharpest will survive, and so it is critically important that they learn to properly identify our interests.

First on the list, is that they must stop swallowing wholesale these western economic doctrines that are now finally openly discredited, and build mechanisms that allow us to think and act for ourselves. In our own interest. For example, as professor Dan Nabudere has pointed out, now could be a good time for the recently merged Southern African Development Community (SADC), East African Community (EAC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) economic bodies to look into the establishment of an independent African money currency based on the actual value of our economies, and break away from being pegged to the United States dollar.

In the beginning, we used to think for ourselves all the time, until the colonial mission school system brainwashed us into silencing our own instincts. Having followed western thinking all the way into this deep dead-end, we are now forced to re-evaluate who was wise and who was the fool.

They say the longest journey is the one you make to discover yourself. This has certainly been a long journey home.


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