For three months I lived and worked in Uganda as a volunteer for the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) from the United States. I came to Uganda because I believe it is important for people in the North to act in solidarity with people in the South. Also I was curious to learn the answers to the following questions:
· What are the people in Uganda like?
· What is the experience of living in Uganda?
· How is Uganda handling the threats to the environment – climate change, deforestation, water pollution, sanitation, mining and oil extraction?
· How has Uganda progressed in the fifty years since independence?
Uganda will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary as a nation on October 9, 2012, sparking discussions about the country’s future. As an outsider, perhaps I can add a different perspective to the debate about where Uganda should be heading. My comments are based on personal observations, research and discussions with many Ugandans that I have had the opportunity to meet including school teachers, environmentalists, members of the media, shopkeepers, students, villagers employed in agriculture, and governmental officials. Here are my observations and conclusions:
Uganda is a land blessed with a wonderful climate and abundant natural resources. The bounty of nature in Uganda was a delightful eye-opener to me. The weather is marvelous, warm sunny days, comfortable nights broken by rain showers. In most of Uganda plentiful rain keeps the countryside green all year round, ideal weather for growing a large variety of grain, vegetables and fruit. Native hardwood forests still survive in Uganda and the country is fortunate to have many large fresh water lakes that provide fish and water to local communities. The world’s largest river, the Nile, begins in Uganda and the country has magnificent areas for wildlife.
While I could praise further the natural beauty and richness of Uganda, I am concerned about the destruction of this heritage that should be used to sustain future generations. Much of the hardwood forests have been cut down to make way for extensive agriculture including large scale sugar and oil palm plantations. Lake Victoria and many other lakes are being damaged by pollution from human, and industrial wastes as well as pesticides and fertilizers. Climate change poses a special risk to Uganda because the country is dependent on agriculture as a basis for its economy. Unpredictable rain from climate change could translate into the diminishment of agricultural production. There could be hunger where there was plenty.
|Along Entebbe Road, a worker in a metal|
fabrication shop making brackets for a bedframe.
For Uganda to grow and prosper, hard work must be supported by education. This idea is echoed in the Swahili proverb, “Wealth, if you use it, comes to an end; learning, if you use it, increases.” Uganda has expanded public education with the Universal Primary Education act of 1997 when education at public cost became available for four children per family.
My Uganda colleagues, however, voice concerns about the quality of public education and the need for more schools, and more better prepared and paid teachers. With a very young population – half of the population is 15 or younger – improving education should be, I believe, the country’s top priority to unlock economic progress.
|The Gini Coefficient is the accepted |
measure of income inequality. The
higher the number the greater dis-
parity of income among the
In the USA, income inequality has increased markedly over the past two decades with most of the new wealth concentrated in the top 1% of the population. The United States, among the very richest countries in the world, now has many people who are homeless and many that do not receive proper medical care. Moreover, income inequality distorts the political process as the wealthy have the means to influence governmental action by funding the campaigns of political parties – both the Democrats and Republicans. If Uganda follows the US model of economic development, it faces the danger of replicating the problems that accompany it.
Uganda at fifty is still a young country full of possibilities. Uganda citizens should use this anniversary to reflect on the kind of future that they wish for their children. My hope in the years to come, Uganda's natural resources will be protected, education will be supported and income inequality reduced.