Saturday, December 17, 2011

Robert Mugabe..what happened?

Today I attended the Amakula Kampala film festival. This was the very first film festival there ever was in Kampala and I have faithfully attended all their annual outings since their inaugural in 2004.

There was an intriguing film on the programme with an intriguing title and I thought... I should make time for this one. And I was no disappointed,

'Robert Mugabe...what happened?' was the title of the film by Robert Wright,a Zimbabwean film director. Boy! is that such a legitimate question indeed!

Robert Mugabe was considered an independence hero of Zimbabwe for leading a popular struggle for independence from Britain and subsequently against Ian Smith's white supremacist rule in the then Rhodesia. He was imprisoned for eleven years for his efforts and was only released at the height of natives struggle for self-governance with Zimbabwe gaining independence on 1980.

Robert Mugabe was supremely articulate,eloquent and spoke the finest queen's English and he duped many who accepted him as an exceptionally educated leader for Zimbabwe and this persona helped him eclipse other erstwhile contenders such as Joshua Nkomo from a rival ethnic group.

But the Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe's independence struggles wouldn't recognize today's Mugabe.

As his people lost confidence in his leadership, he resorted to desperate measures to keep on his grip on power which became an all- consuming occupation.

With the passage of time and failure to live up to the expectations of his people he lost his legitimacy to lead Zimbabwe and resorted to the most repulsive approaches imaginable to desperately keep state power including rigging elections,seizing white farms,fermenting tribal rivalries, tribal genocide,relying on the military for survival (and not his own people) and a shameless and naked drive to keep power at all costs including human lives.

Robert Mugabe is clearly past is sell-by date (he is shooting 90!)and watching him now gives one a strong impression that his mental faculties have suffered natural waste-the passage of time.

His Zanu-PF party doesnt have any more faith in his leadership but only see him as their assurance of a meal ticket and their continued partake of state largesse such as handouts of white farms to party extremists. In Morgan Tsvingrai's MDC (who actually won the last presidential polls) they have a formidable foe and Robert Mugabe is the only one who can guarantee that they will win an election even when they lose one.

Zimbabwe embodied lots of promise for Africa and could have been a success story if Mugabe hadn't screwed it all up.

To be fair, the question of land tenure justice was one borne out of the colonial history of Zimbabwe and the failure of Britain to come good on its promise to aid efforts for a fairer land re-distribution arrangement in Zimbabwe where black Zimbabweans had a fair stake in owning a piece of the arable land of their homeland is part of the problem of the tragedy of Zimbabwe.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tanzanians: The reluctant East Africans

In November 2009, I penned an article in 'The Monitor' inspired by a road trip I took from Kampala, through Nairobi, to Arusha in Tanzania.

The article, 'The dream of one East Africa is a distant one', decried the delay in attitudinal change by East Africans in shifting to a 'one East Africa' mentality.

I argued that the idea of one East Africa is clearly one we ought to nurture and realize given the global blocks of the EU,USA, China whose combined populations, market and GDP give them a competitive edge in the global race in which we find ourselves.

I also mentioned that the dream of one East Africa is currently a top-down vision held largely by heads of state which needs to trickle down to the regular East African in Kikuubo, Kariakoo or Kibera.

The doubts on the pace of East African integration in 2009 don’t seem to have gotten any much better despite the numerous announcements of milestones. Only that Tanzanians now seem even more reluctant East Africans. And there is plenty of evidence.

Only two weeks ago, It was reported in our dailies that Tanzania has slapped a 25% tax on Ugandan imports contrary to the recently signed customs union among all East African states that bars taxes on member countries' exports .

Tanzania has declined to sign a defense protocol of all East African countries-a project of the East African community. Tanzania says it doesn't want to be mired in the conflicts common to other East African countries. The defense protocol provides that an attack on one makes it a duty for all the rest to rise up in a mutual defense pact akin to NATO.

The High Court in Tanzania recently ruled against the East African Development bank in favour of a Tanzanian businessman-borrower to the tune of over USD$ 163 million which threatens to effectively bankrupt the bank, a survivor of the earlier East African community of the 1970s. You may say that the Tanzanian executive has no control over the courts but then East African community treaty (which Tanzania signed) says member countries should not allow litigation against East African community assets.

Observers who attended a meeting in Bujumbura at the end of last month at which East African community ministers were supposed to sign an agreement for the establishment of the East African Community Political Federation reported that Tanzania declined to sign the agreement and dramatically left its seat at the meeting.

It was only after hand-wringing that Tanzania finally singed the agreement- days after the rest of the countries had signed on.

Despite an agreement(common market) earlier this year that goods and services should freely move across all borders within East Africa(including human resources),Tanzania still bars other East Africans from getting jobs in Tanzania.

Ugandans in Northern Tanzania tell me once they get a job in Tanzania they are swiftly reported to the authorities under a community whistle-blowing arrangement.

I arrived in Tanzania again earlier this year and the 'visa' stamped in my Ugandan passport showed that I was given 14 days in Tanzania. Even the Americans and British have granted me alot more days in their realms.

At the root of all this is Tanzanian mistrust and suspicion of other East African countries. There is a widespread belief in Tanzania that in an integrated East Africa, Kenyans will take their jobs and Ugandans are a chaotic lot given their turbulent history and lifting of presidential term limits.

And it is not only Tanzania which has fallen short. The East African community recently mooted the idea of a common foreign policy protocol by June 2011 but, to date, not one East African country has come good on that milestone. And the East African common currency? Don't get me started. The Greek tragedy in the EU is a cautionary tale.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

'Priceless': A delightfully priceless french movie

Today I watched a delightful french movie. Priceless is a french gem of a romantic comedy.
Being accustomed to Hollywood movies, 'Priceless' is a breadth of fresh air. Its not a recent release at all having come out in 2006. But I chanced on it by sheer chance.

I strolled by Alliance Francaise of Kampala (I did a french beginners course with them) at their Nakasero home in Kampala and a quick scan on their noticeboard showed Thursday was movie nite.
I had planned on jogging around the adjacent soccer field and had stopped to have a quick coffee before a 40 minute work out but abandoned the plans instantly. 'Priceless' was showing and a quick perusal through the plot,I was sold. So, work out was out and movie was in!

The plot is actually a simple but brilliant one. It tells the story of a meeting between a gold digger attractive young woman (AudreyTautou) and an accidental 'rich 'eligible young bachelor (Gad Elemlah) who meet at high-end hotel bar and mistaken identity on the part of the gold digger young woman. It's a comedy of mistaken identities that blooms into an unlikely love story.

Audrey Tautou reminded me of Julia Roberts in 'Pretty Woman'. They are both convincing as women who sale their wares.

Audrey Tautou plays a woman who is about to marry a rich but elderly man for his money and one late evening on her birthday (after a frustrating slumber from her elderly companion) she strolls into a hotel bar and is smitten by a dashing young man sleeping on a couch( the bartender) who she mistakes for a rich patron.

The bartender allows Audrey to continue in her mistaken belief and pass off as a rich young man. From then on, the laughs come fast and furious as the mistaken identity begins to unravel in the most hilarious of ways.

I have watched several french movies and their attraction , for me, was their being the anti-hollywood, not being formulaic not forcing a 'hollywood ending' but Priceless manages to be french and still attain the success of a hollywood formulaic movie- having a clear plot,an intelligent ending and keeping tabs on the clock. It is a delight

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Forget AIDS: Tobacco-related diseases are the next big epidemic in Uganda

‘’The Tobacco diseases epidemic is already with us in Africa’’ says Prof Peter Odhiambo, Chairman of Kenya Tobacco Control Board. ‘’Soon you will hear people announcing that the epidemic is coming to Africa. It is already here. I treat the victims of tobacco everyday’’. Prof Odhiambo was speaking at Kampala Serena Hotel on 1st November 2011 in a public lecture entitled ‘The journey from the Farm to the Lungs: Who gains from Tobacco in Africa?’ at the inauguration of the new regional Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa (CTCA) to be hosted by Uganda.

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the world today. Tobacco use claims more lives globally than HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria combined. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unless urgent action is taken, tobacco could kill one billion people during this century. WHO data also shows that in comparison to HIV/AIDS which claimed three million lives globally last year, Tobacco deaths were nearly six million cases.

According to WHO, more than 80% of the world’s tobacco-related deaths will be in low and middle-income countries by 2030.

‘’Tobacco is the only legal product in the world which, when used as intended by the manufacturer, kills half of all the people who use it ’’ says Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, who is the Tobacco Control focal person in the Ministry of Health.

Tobacco use is also known to cause at least 15 cancers (particularly lung cancer), heart and respiratory diseases and leads to lifelong heath and developmental disorders among exposed children.

In a study conducted at Mulago Hospital, Uganda’s main referral Hospital, 75% of patients with oral cancer had a history of smoking, with the number of years of smoking ranging from 2-33 years, according to a 2008 study report by Fredrick Musoke of Makerere University.

“Tobacco use is the only risk factor associated with all major non communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, tuberculosis, asthma and pneumonia. It is a risk factor for six out of eight leading causes of death, globally” said Dr Douglas Bettcher, Head of WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative at the opening ceremony of a regional Tobacco Control centre in Kasangati, near Kampala.

Dr Bettcher also said that tobacco use in women causes infertility and leads to low birth weight of babies born to tobacco-using mothers. For men, tobacco use can cause low sperm count.

Almost a quarter of Ugandan males (22%) aged between 15 and 49% are smokers while 4% of females are smokers -according to the 2006 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey.

However,the threat posed by second-hand smoking or ‘environmental tobacco smoke’ which is said to affect almost a half of all youths in Uganda and is a much more mainstream public health threat in Uganda. Exposure to second hand smoke increases the risk of heart disease by 25-30% and the lung cancer risk by 20-30%.

Smoking has been banned in public places, including in bars, restaurants and educational institutions, in Uganda since 2004 . But the judicial and political will to enforce this law has been lukewarm. Not a single person has been prosecuted under this law despite smoking in public places, such as bars, being widespread in Kampala and other towns of Uganda.

In August, British American Tobacco (BAT) Uganda, announced that that cigarette sales had gone up by 29% in Uganda compared to a similar period in 2010.

The Ugandan tobacco industry argues that tobacco is economically important to Uganda given that the industry is a leading tax revenue payer and that the livelihoods of 600,000 tobacco farmers, particularly in Arua District in the West Nile region, where BAT runs an out-growers programme, depends on the cash crop. The industry also argues that it is important export crop for the country.

‘’It is not the tobacco companies which pay tobacco taxes, it is the smokers’’ counters Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, who argues that taxes on tobacco are simply passed on to consumers. Dr Ndyanabangi also maintains that the health care costs of treating tobacco-related diseases, such as lung cancer and heart diseases, far outweighs the economic benefits of the tobacco industry.

Tobacco use poses a heavy burden on the governments of low and middle-income countries, through increased healthcare costs, aggravates environmental degradation through clearing forests to make way for tobacco farms and leads to diversion of agricultural land to tobacco farming since tobacco crops can only be grown alone.

According to Rachel Kitonyo, a Kenyan working with the Africa Tobacco Control Consortium based in Lome in Togo, Uganda is out of step with other East African countries such Tanzania and Kenya which passed a Tobacco control law in 2007.

Uganda is yet to pass a tobacco control law although a Bill has been in the works for the past few years with a draft announced in 2010. The Ugandan parliament is now set to discuss the Bill after being dogged by delays.

The resurrection of the bill was disclosed on 1 November 2011 by Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of Parliament, while opening the Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa(CTCA), which is based in Kasangati township, about five kilometers from the Ugandan capital, Kampala. One of the proposals of the bill is a two-month jail sentence for public-smoking offenders.

According to Kadaga, the bill will have its first reading in parliament soon and will be tabled before parliament as a private members’ Bill moved by Dr Chris Baryomunsi, Member of Parliament for Kinkizi West.

In addition to tobacco control law, Dr Joaquim Saweka, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Uganda country representative, calls for an increase of the tax on tobacco in which globally is recognized as the most effective tobacco control measure to deter people from smoking. Increasing tobacco taxes is seen as a win-win option as it means more money in government coffers and a reduction in consumption of tobacco products. A World Bank study shows that a 10% increase in tobacco taxes was followed by an 8% reduction in consumption of tobacco products.

Uganda’s tax on tobacco products has been increasing marginally in the last three years but is still far below the threshold set by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Uganda consented to the FCTC in June 2007, which is a set of internationally-agreed strategies for tobacco control that has force of international law. The FCTC calls for a ban on advertising of tobacco products, the display of graphic warnings on cigarette packs, an increase in tobacco taxes and alternatives to tobacco farming. However, Uganda is yet to give full effect to FCTC guidelines such as using graphic warning on cigarette packs.

‘’The size of health warnings on cigarette packs, as a percentage of the surface area of the cigarette packs in Uganda is till small and below FCTC guidelines’’ says Gilbert Muyambi, Secretary General of Uganda National Tobacco Control Association.

An effective tobacco control regulatory regime in developed countries has constrained the operations and profits of big tobacco companies such as Phillip Morris and BAT which has made them consider Africa as a lucrative alternative – an untapped market with weak anti- tobacco laws and policies. Thus tobacco giants have set their sights on Africa as a ‘new’ marketing hope for the tobacco industry.

With multinational tobacco companies switching their attention to African countries, the non-communicable disease epidemic of heart diseases and cancers which, until now, have been more widespread in the west, are certain to shift to African countries which already have high burdens of infectious diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis epidemics to contend with.

It is estimated that by 2030 tobacco-related illnesses will be the leading cause of death in the world and 70-80% of these deaths will occur in low and income countries.

“Be wary of multinational companies, which come here and sell you death in the name of freedom. These are merchants of death. The tobacco disease epidemic is already here,” warns Professor Peter Odhiambo.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Viva Riva! movie and the promise of African cinema

Last evening I watched the critically acclaimed 'Viva Riva' Congolese feature film that is having a lot of buzz around the world.

It is a film with an African story ,an African director, African actors and but with clear global appeal. You have seen this film before in western cinema.

The film centres around a charming, forty-something protagonist who

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Delayed Uganda tobacco control bill set to be tabled before parliament

The Ugandan parliament is set to discuss a proposed new law to curb tobacco use in Uganda.This was disclosed on Tuesday, 1st November 2011, by Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of the national assembly of Uganda while launching a regional tobacco control agency-Center for Tobacco Control in Africa(CTCA) at Kasangati township, about 5 kilometers from the Kampala city centre.

The proposed anti-tobacco law known as the Tobacco Control Bill 2010 will be tabled before parliament under a private member's bill to be moved by Dr Chris Baryomunsi, Member of Parliament for Kinkizi constituency in South Western Uganda.

CTCA will be a regional agency for Tobacco control in five countries including Uganda, Kenya, Angola and South Africa and will be mandated to support governments in the region to build and sustain institutional capacity for Tobacco Control in Africa, according to Dr Possy Mugyenyi, the manager of the centre.

'This centre is the first of its kind in the world' said Dr Joaquim Saweka, WHO’s Uganda country representative, at the opening ceremony and 'a dream come true' according to Dr Christine Ondoa, Uganda’s health minister.

The CTCA is funded through a, three year, US$ 3.5 million Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant which was a won through a WHO-mediated competitive grant that attracted 20 competitors from all over Africa.

According to the WHO, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide. Globally, it causes more deaths than AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria combined. Smoking is also estimated to kill half a billion people in the world over the next fifty years.

'' Tobacco use is the only disease that is associated with all major Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as Lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, tuberculosis, asthma, pneumonia'' said Dr Douglas Bettcher, the head of WHO's global tobacco control at Geneva who was present at the opening ceremony.

He also mentioned that tobacco use in women causes infertility and leads to low birth weight among tobacco-using mothers. For men, tobacco use is a risk factor for impotence.

The Tobacco Control Bill 2010 was drafted by tobacco control advocates in Uganda spearheaded by the Uganda National Tobacco Control Association. One of the proposals in the bill is a two-month jail sentence for public-smoking offenders.

Uganda is a signatory to the WHO framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which is a set of internationally-agreed strategies for Tobacco control and has force of international law. The FCTC calls for a ban on advertising on tobacco products, display of graphic warnings in cigarette packs, increase in tobacco taxes, alternatives to tobacco farming etc.

At the opening ceremony, a theme song for tobacco control was unveiled and was presented by popular musicians who included Keko and Dr Hilderman who made an original composition which should catch on as an anthem for tobacco control advocates in Uganda. 'Smoking is not cool' raps Keko one of the performers at the opening ceremony. Fittingly, the theme song was composed by the younger, hip generation who constitute the 'breeding ground' for the tobacco industry especially young people in Ugandan secondary schools.

Because of an effective tobacco control regulatory regime in western advanced countries which has constrained the operations and profits of tobacco companies such as Phillip Morris and BAT in western countries, Africa is seen as a lucrative alternative, an untapped market with weak anti tobacco laws and regulations and tobacco giants have set their sights on Africa as a the 'new' hope of the tobacco industry.

‘Be wary of multinational companies which come here and sell you death in the name of freedom. These are merchants of death. The tobacco disease epidemic is already here’ said Professor Peter Odhiambo of University of Nairobi in Kenya who delivered a public lecture on tobacco control at Serena Hotel in Kampala in honour of the newly opened Center for Tobacco Control in Africa(CTCA).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why Libya may miss Gaddafi's dictatorship

The head of Libya's National Transitional Council(NTC) ,on Wednesday(yesterday), formally called for an extension of NATO's Libya mission till the end of the year ' to ensure the security of Libyans from some remnants of Gaddafi's forces which fled into neighbouring countries' reports the BBC.

You may be forgiven for thinking that the NTC is merely appeasing their NATO backers but the NTC will actually need support to hold the country together in the post-Gaddafi era.

For all their failings,dictators are not credited for their masterly in securing national security and the art of ridding their countries of turmoil and anarchy.

After the US invasion of Iraq and ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the US,with that unforgettable image of former president George W Bush on an aircraft carrier, declared 'mission accomplished'. But they spoke too soon. With Saddam Hussein's feared security apparatus all but dismantled, Iraq soon descended into an endless quagmire of home-grown terrorism and occupation-resistance. As we write,Iraq has never recovered its Saddam-era stability.

Closer to home, Somalia which was a stable country albeit with simmering political divisions where 'dictator' Siad Barre was ousted by political opponents. He departed along with the Somalia state as we knew it. 'Strong men' in ethnically-diverse countries or 'dangerous places', to borrow a Paul Collier term, have an uncanny ability of preserving national security.

After 9/11, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to rid it of state-inspired terrorism and deny Islamic fundamentalists a breeding ground for terrorists. After ten years of US occupation and a trillion-dollar military operation, Afghanistan is yet to return to normal-lacy and the Afghan insurgents are boasting: 'you have the watches but we have the time'.

So, what makes dictators so tick when it comes to preserving national security?

Well, irony of ironies. It is everything we abhor about dictatorships- a secret police,ruthless crack down on dissent,instilling fear of the state within the population, maintaining patronage networks, playing the ethnic politics of divide and rule,repressive laws,,denial of press freedom etc. There is always that classical question. As president of a 'dangerous place',would you rather be feared or loved?

At the moment Libya is a hot favourite to step into the foot steps of Afghanistan and Iraq. The NTC is not on top of things and will have struggle to rein in the 'rats'as we saw with the gruesome extra-judicial murder of Gaddafi. Libya is made of dozens of rival ethnic groups and the idea of a one Libya is a work- in- progress,as it is with most African countries. It is littered with small arms(thanks to the eight-month revolution), there is a high population of 'demobilized' soldiers and security personnel, there are Gaddafi-avengers waiting to pounce-the ingredients of civil anarchy.

Although Gaddafi's was labelled a 'village tyrant' and was chided for playing tribe against tribe, his genius in tribal manoeuvrings is about to be appreciated by the NTC. How do you successfully govern an ethnically diverse and heterogeneous country such as Libya?

The irony is that electoral democracy in the developing world may be an enemy of peace and stability as research by Paul Collier,an Oxford professor have found. The things you deplore in a dictatorship may be the things that precisely hold a culturally-fragmented country together. Pre-colonial societies were rarely homogeneous and an artificial creation put together by band-aid.

Gaddafi and Saddam, who clearly were not beacons of democracy, in crafting a repressive system in their countries, secured stable and peaceful countries and at their ouster, the 'band aid' that holds their countries together tends to unravel.

But dictators such as Saddam and Gaddafi were not being terribly original in the 'dark arts' of statecraft. Colonial Britain in Uganda used the same tactics of 'divide and rule'(Buganda vs Bunyoro), indirect rule(Kakungulu in Bugisu), repressive laws(preventive arrest,sedition) brutal crackdown on political opponents (Mau Mau in Kenya).

So, before you label me a Gaddafi apologist, a tutor of tyrants,an enemy of democracy.. review a brief history of 'regime change' in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Can Uganda be the food basket it aspires to be?

Today is world Food Day. I have not always paid much attention to food prices as food in Uganda, for the middle class at least, has been pretty affordable for many years now.

Many food crops in Uganda grow easily in the country side with minimal farmer in-put, dependent on natural rain water and rudimentary farming knowledge systems. Food ,in Uganda is largely grown on subsistence production basis although commercial producers are increasing.

Even international food producers are buying large tracts of land in Uganda, clearing it, and setting up large scale food farms for export. Recently, a British company bought a large expanse of land in central Uganda to produce for export and evicted many natives on the land and the news story made the 'New York Times'.

Most staple food crops in Uganda such as bananas,potatoes,cassava and maize are ferried in by lorries and trucks from upcountry food farms to the capital Kampala and other urban centres for a profit by food traders who pay the fuel costs for transporting this food after paying a pittance for them from up country food farmers.

In Uganda, it is the middle- men who make the killing in the food business. They will buy a bunch of bananas from a village farmer at about one US dollar and sell it in the capital Kampala for about ten times that price. Yes, they have to buy diesel to transport the bananas but the profit margin seems a little too steep. Many think the food dealers in Uganda are part of the problem of rising food prices.

I began paying attention to food prices in July this year. Food prices at my local market began shooting up overnight. Inflation in Uganda including on food prices has reached 28% according the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. All of a sudden, prices doubled. The household food budget more than doubled as well and food which initially only took a small percentage of my household income took a much more uncomfortable percentage of my personal income. I started to take notice.

In Uganda there were widespread popular protests when food and fuel prices shot up. The Ugandan opposition took advantege and rode the wave. Government was slow to respond and blamed the prices increases on the rising cost of fuel which, they claimed, was external to the country, and they didn't have much control over. But the people were not convinced.

Uganda often projects itself as a food-secure country owing to the country being gifted by nature-a good tropical climate,regular rainfall and fertile soils. Uganda even aspires to be the food basket for the greater Eastern African region.

In fact,Uganda does actually export food to neighboring Kenya,South Sudan and Congo(DRC) and this has been part of the cause of high food prices in Uganda since regular Ugandans have to compete to buy locally-produced food with say, the Sudanese ,who are willing to pay much higher for food than Ugandans who have taken low food prices for granted.

Uganda is actually not yet food-secure as the Ugandan government would have us believe. Famine is perennially reported especially in the Northern part of the country and when disaster strikes parts of Uganda,such in the mountainous Bugisu region, food scarcity always results because of an absence of effective local food storage and preservation systems. Even Ugandan traditional food granaries of per-colonial times have diminished. Yet as a child, about twenty years ago, I used to seem some in my rural village.

As Pacey and Paine have suggested in their food production theory, one has to look at the entire supply chain of food production to diagnose the food-security challenge facing Uganda.

Uganda largely depends on natural rain water which of late is not reliable and climate change has changed weather patterns and Ugandan farmers can no longer plan for the planting season due to changing weather patterns. Uganda therefore needs to mainstream irrigation among local farmers instead of blaming climate for constant food shortages.

Land tenure systems in Uganda are not helping either. Unlike many countries of the world, the majority of Ugandans own in-herited small individual plots of land which is not conducive for large-scale mechanized agriculture. Food production is mainly at subsistence level with few industrial-commercial producers. Land reform is therefore another another potential remedy in Uganda.

Many other options such as embracing more scientific and economically efficient farming methods and systems could lead Uganda into achieving its ambition of being a food basket for the region.

In the mean time, below par food production levels, an absence of food preservation technologies,rising population rates,external demand for local food will continue to impact on food prices in Uganda.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Development economics for the rich industrialized world

I love Jeffrey Sachs. He got me interested in development economics with his best seller 'The End of Poverty'.

He writes in an accessible way and simpifies all that jargon into main street material. Economics for dummies, if you like.

Jeffrey Sachs is a renown economist especially in development circles for his proposals to end extreme poverty in Africa, Asia etc.

Lately, it appears his economics are needed in struggling economies like the US and in Europe.
He has written a new book, 'The Price of Civilization' and written op-eds in Newsweek and Time magazines about what is wrong with the American economy.

One of his arguments is that the US economy needs more taxes not tax cuts and that the US should invest in education and infrastructure. Invest in education? That sounds like a message he would give to a poor country like Uganda! Of late he has been on the circuit dispensing advice for the US economy when the poor world needs his attention more.

There was a time when the US didnt need advice from a professor who dabbles in ending extreme poverty but how things change.

And the europeans were desparate to retain the top seat at IMF not for prestige or power but out of real need for the IMF's help in their own countries! Now, all social studies students in Sub Saharan Africa know about IMF because it has always been there to dispense wisdom for failing economies. Even the World Bank comes in later. IMF is to dying economies what CPR is for dying patients.

This is indeed is the era of development economics for rich advanced countries! How times change.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Was Libyan Victory declared prematurely?

We all recall that banner: 'mission accomplished'.On an aircraft carrier behind former president George W Bush after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. They spoke too soon. And it appears in Libya too, the rebels spoke too soon.
It now is clear that Muammar Gaddafi is digging in for the long haul. Choosing a long-drawn out guerilla resistance to tire out his opponents.
The 'rebels' celebrated after the fall of Tripoli and now feel reluctant to follow up on their Tripoli victory and take Gaddafi's last standing strongholds. They celebrated the end of a six-month protracted struggle and now feel reluctant to fight on and finish the job.
They issued two ultimatums for the Gaddafi-held towns of Ben Walid and Sirte -for the loyalists to give up arms and even extended the deadline but with no result.
Their choice of a negotiated settlement with the Gaddafi loyalits seems to suggested a reluctant military stance in favour of a negotiated exit for the vanquished.
Clearly, the Gaddafi regime has fallen and there is not any real hope that he will forge a come back worth its name but prolonged guerilla warfare doesnt seem out of his reach.
He seems to have fled with huge sums of US dollars,euros and gold as reported by his generals who fled into Niger. So, the vanquished Gaddafi-machine still has access to some resources on which to launch a feeble guerilla campaign even when we all know it is a matter of time before Gaddafi is found.
It would appear that his early exit from Tripoli was a tactical rather than a clear military defeat. Instead of confronting the rebels head-on he prefered to engage them in a guerilla-style resistance, afterall, the NATO air strikes proved too decisive in favour of the rebel forces.

Friday, August 19, 2011

AIDS treatment in Africa at the crossroads with looming drugs ban

I attended an insightful intellectual property workshop in Kampala. It is amazing how much access to essential medicines such as ARVs has to do with intellectual property laws.
Would you believe for instance that come 2016, generic AIDS drugs which are consumed in Uganda (originally from India) will no longer be permitted owing to international trade agreements(TRIPS)?
The Ugandan parliament has shelved a bill(industrial properties bill) which would buy Uganda some time (under the flexibilities of TRIPS). Now Uganda faces the real possibility of having to buy ARVs from western pharmaceutical companies at prices beyond the reach of the overwhelming majority of Ugandans.
Generic drugs made AIDS treatment possible for millions in the developing world now that the grace period is running out for copy the formula of these drugs by pharmaceutical companies in low-income countries then the real prospect of drug stock outs becomes a real and present danger.
Can parliament wake up to its mandate before millions die out of their negliegnce?
Of course the whole international trade law is ranged against the poor world and serves 'big pharma' but our own negliegence may worsen matters.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Is the US really flat broke?

With the political stalement in the U.S., it is hard to believe that the US of A is in such debt. How did the most financially successful country in the history of the mankind reach such a point where the state doesnt have enough money to run and needs foreign borrowing to survive?
These are very strange times indeed. For Greece,may be. But then the U.S,?
The United States was a country founded on the ideals of self-reliance, individualism, the free market and it's embarasing and humuliating that the US finds itself in this position in the first place. The founding fathers would have surely chided the current generation of Americans.
Many argue that the very idea of capitalism led the US, and subsquently the rest of the world, in this state of affairs.
The US is now heavily indebted to China(most of all), to Japan,the UK, Germany and city-nation of Singapore!
The economic decline of the US is very astonishing especially given the speed with which it is being manifested. Even ten years ago,no one really saw this coming. We all knew that Americans love to live beyond their means and that they love the credit card but flat broke? That would have been pure fiction.
And the trouble for the world is that the US's financial woes dont end in Washington DC but extend to the rest of the world. The U.S. is still such a central player in the global economy.
The global financial crisis which started in 2008/2009 was actually sparked off by events on Wall street. Remember Lehman Brothers,Freddie Mae, AIG and the 'too big too fail' talk?
Industrial production is declining in the US as is export perfomance and it is hard to see that the US will regain its economic predominance pre-global financial crisis.
Its a difficult situation that President Obama finds himself-politically. He cant borrow to run government and the republicans wont let him increase taxes to finance the budget deficit. How in the hell is one supposed to run a government in these circunstances?
President Obama shouldnt be blamed for economic times that the US finds itself. In all fairness the root causes of the American malaise go back many years.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Can we treat our way out of the HIV epidemic?

Today afternoon I attended a very engaging and thoughtful debate. Can we treat our way out of the HIV epidemic?
The debate was at Makerere University's School of Public health where the presenters were up and coming Ugandan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) fellows. And so, the perspectives were largely Ugandan.
It was a debate akin to a secondary school debate with proponents and opponents for the motion of the day. And a very topical one indeed, seeing as it is ,that its thirty years since the onset of the HIV/AIDS pandemic which started way back in early 1980s among American gay couples.
Well, it emerged at the debate that there is scientific proof to show that the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be eliminated through a universal 'test and treat' approach where all are tested for HIV and those found positive are put on AIDS drugs.
Scientists have shown ,through modelling, that universal access to voluntary counselling and testing for HIV and putting all eligible patients on antiretroviral therapy(ART)can end the HIV epidemic while controlling for behaviour change and prevention efforts. The recent National Institutes of Health study among HIV discordant couples shows that starting early on ART can reduce the HIV transmission risk by 96% proving that that ART is both a treatment and prevention tool. An observational study conducted in Rakai,Uganda by Steven Reynolds which followed 51 discordant couples showed than none of them contracted HIV while the positive partner was on AIDS drugs. In Botswana, 90% coverage of prevention of Mother to Child Transmission(PMTCT)eliminated mother to child transmission of HIV altogether.
Those arguing that we cant treat our way out of the HIV epidemic hard a far easier task of the afternoon.
They simply made the case that we dont have the resources to treat all those in need of ART in terms of the financial,human,pharmacuetical and laboratory and other associated resource needs. That we dont have the health systems in which to dispense the drugs in Sub Saharan Africa even if they were suddenly available , in Uganda for instance, and that many countries have showed limited capacity for absorbing AIDS aid. The Uganda treasury recently returned 50 billion shillings of unutilized funds for AIDS drugs. The latest Auditor General's report shows that many AIDS drugs have expired in our national medicine stores and will have to be destroyed.
That the socio-cultural and behavioural drivers of the epidemic will continue to spread HIV even if all those eligible are put on anti AIDS drugs. The proponents though showed that those on ART have shown a 78% reduction in risky sexual behaviour. That ART drug adherence would be problematic and lead to an even more complicated situation of drug resistance due to posible low drug adhrence necesitating the use of second line drugs which a lot more expensive and not widely available in Sub Saharan Africa. And that stigma is a barrier to testing and treatment for HIV in Africa and would be a huge hurdle for universal coverage efforts.
And where will the finances come for treating all those in need of ART? How sustainable can it be fiscally speaking? Simple: the usual donors will pay for it! And by usual donors is meant PEPFAR,Global Fund, World Bank etc. In short, the west. This was the response of Sarah Nakku one of the proponents. Of course it is alot more complicated than that. She however argued that the west has a direct self-interest in combating HIV in Africa given the globalised world we live in. A traveling Ugandan can have breakfast in Kampala, lunch in London and dinner in New York.
And do we have health sytems within which to deliver these drugs in Sub Saharan Africa or Uganda at least? According to the proponents, yes we do. That an infrastructural skeleton exists in Uganda and all we have to do is beef it up. Read, pay doctors better salaries,equip hospitals with labs and drugs and that you dont necessarily need medical degrees to treat HIV since lower cadre health workers can be trained to do the job etc. Again a little simplistic if only for arguments's sake. And 80% of the generic AIDS drugs are from India ,from where Uganda an mot AIDS-affected countries get the ARVs, which has now asked to stop the production of generic drugs whose patents are help by western pharmaceutical firms.
And then the mainly academic audience weighed in. What if we targeted
specific epidemic drivers such as sex workers,truck drivers and fishermen instead od the entire population came a thoughtful question.
At the 2000 international AIDS conference in Durban South Africa, the west was skeptical about the abillity of African health systems to scale up access to ART because of fears of
drug adherence and weak health systems(again!) but see where we are now. In Uganda more than a half of those in need of ART have it. In other words, the west may be skeptical about mass treatment like it was before the scaling up of ART but it was proven it can be done. That it took truly global efforts to eliminate small pox,river blindness, polio etc and the same can be done for HIV/AIDS. And what is the alternative anway? The risk of not treating AIDS is a lot worse than actually treating it and studies show expenditure on ART is actually an investment in future generations.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Chinese are coming!

Yesterday sunday evening I watched an insightful BBC documentary on China's rising interests in Africa. The reporter takes us on an intimate trip through Zambia,Tanzania and Congo DRC to see first-hand China's budgeoning interests in Africa.
From a large-scale chicken farmer in Zambia to a large scale mining concession in DRC Congo, Chinese businesses are becoming new economic players in Africa.
China's interests are driven by an insastiable apetite for raw materials for their industrial machine that has been described as 'super market to the world'.
China's interests in Africa provide a new lease of life economically to many destitute African countries which cant seem to refuse the irresistible Chinese offers.
In Zambia, the copper mines had been closed until the Chinese came calling. In DRC Congo, the mines were there for locals to exploit using stone-age era mining implements.
Clearly, China is giving a new lease of life to poor African countries. But it has not come without a price. The Chinese are not missionaries in Africa. Their interests are pragmatic. They need raw materials and markets for their products and alternatives for their billion-strong population.
There have been reports of human rights abuses at Chinese factories. There has been an influx of Chinese entreprenuers at scale that is attracting the ire of many small scale Zambian chicken farmers. Do the Chinese have to compete at this level as well in Africa?
The irony is not lost on a History major here. China a country branded as communist is beating the capitalists at their own game. It has outcompeted european industry on cost and now the small scale African trader is next.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The ugly return of Uganda's Amin image

The 'walk to work' protests are having a more profound effect than the architects hoped for.
Uganda has returned in the international media and regained its former pariah status.
The Ugandan president is being called names reserved for Robert Mugabe by internation media houses such as Al jazeera and 'The New York Times'.
The governments brutal handling of riots against the rising fuel prices has earned it internation notriety and turned back the clock to the very darkest days of Uganda's history in the 1970s.
The savage arrest of Dr Kizza Besigye the opposition leader by police forces has gone viral on Youtube.Uganda is once again the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The immediate casualities are a dip in foreign direct investment and tourism sales which had reportedly gone south. No one wants to take a vacation in a riotous and restless Kampala where foreign presidents are stoned on the way to the airport.
Uganda's international credit rating is set to suffer as fears of instability and turmoil gain currency.
There seems to be no end in sight as both the Museveni administration and the Dr Kizza Besigye camps dig in. The Ugandan government insists it will let the high fuel prices stay and the Dr Besigye camp insists it will continue the protests until government relents.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The changing face of the Libyan conflict

Is the situation in Libya a civil war or is it a case of a desparate leader dropping bombs on unarmed protestors?
Is the west foray into Libya still guided by the United Nations security council resolution?
We now hear that Britain has sent in military advisers near Benghazi and that the US has 'unmanned'drones which have already launched attacks against Gadhaffis' forces?
For starters this is no defence against Muammar Gadhafi,the world more than know what his ills have been as Libyan leader.
Are the international actors in Libya changing goal posts in Libya?
At first we were told the military strikes were there to forestall Gaddhafi from advancing rapidly against rebels and thereby preventing a sure bloodbath.
Strategically, the aims of the initial mission was to secure a 'no fly zone' and to build a buffer for the Libyan's opposition stronghold of Benghazi. It was to kind of enforce a ceasefire through military means. But character of the west's onslaught in Libya is changing very rapidly we need to be afraid,indeed, very afraid.
Arent we breaching international law by sponsoring an armed internal rebellion against a sitting government by providing them with direct military support?
Arent we setting a precedent?
Are we still within the UN security council mandate?
Is it legitimate for external forces to support a partisan party in a civil war?
We all know that the country that we know as Libya is actually a hotch potch of ethnic sects and tribes and that this a major part of the current conflict in Libya. Gadhafi is detested partly because he is from a different ethic group from the peoples of Benghazi.
How much support does international law accept in a conflict as peculiar as the one in Libya?
Initially, the libyan sage could be seen in black and white. A dictator using excessive force against his own people including peaceful demonstrators. Are we still at this stage of the conflict?
Arent we getting into Vietnam territory here?
Where is the worlds's rage?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What I have learned from the Libyan saga

Abraham Maslow was right. Satisfaction of physiological needs gives rise to the need to satisfy higher needs. The people of Libya may have had good good health care,education and roads but they had unmet civil and political needs. The west will intervene in a crisis if the country in question has oil and the conflict is getting in the way of the world's supply of crude oil. The African Union is toothless in the face of the west's hand wringing. The United Nations' Security Council is a mouthpiece for western interests. Staying in power for over four decades makes conditions ripe for a revolution given the right spark. Do not shoot and drop bombs on unarmed street protesters no matter how much power you think you wield. Do not ignore events in your neighbourhood they have a bad habit of spreading to your backyard. All conflicts have underlying economic undertones. Air prowess and strikes dont win wars on their own. 'You need boots on the ground'. Getting direct international intervention in national conflicts takes more than three weeks.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Uganda,its a tense election eve

Many have been taken aback by the lack of violence in the Ugandan presidential election this year that goes against the experience similar elections in 2001 and 2006.
Ugandan jouralists are bemoaning an uneventful election season that makes it difficult to run 'all the news that is fit to print'.
Many ordinary Ugandans now feel that the unexpected calm before the presidential polls is akin to the calm before the storm.
In church yesterday, the priest strongly advised all his faithful to stock up on cereals just in case the election results spark violence and anarchy.'Buy lots of rice and maize meal and dry beans'he implored.
It is shocking how much violence is expected in the banana republics.
We are to lose almost an entire week in electioneering,voting and returning from upcountry voting trips.
May God bless Uganda!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

China is not Russia: Why the US and China can be strategic partners

In the cold war mindset,a country that didnt agree with you ideologicallywas an adversary.
Many in the US view China's economic rise in adversarial terms but China is no USSR.
It is not communist in the strict sense of the world and its pursuit of export market capitalism rules it out of the strictly marxist-lennist lane.
To understand that China is not the ideological opposite of the United States one needs to go back to the power struggle between Mao Tse Tung and Deng Xiopeng in the early 1970s.
Chairman Mao, at the time the paramount leader of China,espoused marxist ideology and wanted China to follow a purist leftist doctrine in its politics and economy. Deng Xiopeng who is the father of China's economic reformation-and therefore it's recent rise to the second largest economy in the world,wanted China to pursue a leftist political ideology but a more liberal economic regime.
China and the United States need each other. They need to see themselves as strategic partners in the coming decades.
A strong and vibrant United States is good for China. Most of China's foreign reserves are in US dollars. The United States is a leading destination of Chinese products.
All major US corporations have operations in China where labor and expertise are cheap.
China constitutes a huge market for US products. The buyer of the Hummer brand of General motors was from China and almost all US computer hard ware companies such as Hewlett Packard,Dell etc have operations in China.
The US and China can strike up a dual partnership that can shape the coming decades.
The thorny issues of a devalued Chinese currency and human rights concerns can be resolved diplomatically without a recourse to more adversorial approaches.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hope fading for Gbagbo removal from power

Hope is fading fast for the removal of Laurent Gbagbo, the Ivorian leader who defied a presidential election loss and has continued on president despite stringent international pressure to step down.
Diplomatic efforts and threats of his removal by force seem to have done little to weaken his resolve to cling to power despite clearly losing to Outtara according to the Independent Electoral commission of Ivory Coast and UN observers.
Despite several diplomatic pleas including visits by Thabo Mbeki,and an ECOWAS presidents' delegation and Kenyan Prime Minister Odinga's visits to Abidjan under AU urging to plead with Gbagbo to step down, the Ivorian leader is still hanging tough and rejecting any pleas to vanquish state power.
The United States recently proposed to him a generous offer for a post-presidential residency in America which he flatly declined.
Even threats of a military removal have not bore fruit.
And cracks are beginning to emerge in West Africa's ECOWAS resolve to bring Gbagbo to relinquish power.
Ghana announced yesterday that it would not take part in the military removal of Gbagbo because its military is 'overstreched',a clear signal that the alliance against Gbagbo's removal is cracking.
Already the international press is talking about a 'unity government', language which just a few days ago, was alien territory.
It would appear that the prospects of Gbagbo's removal from power are fading fast and a Kenyan-Zimbabwe option seem progressively alluring.
The losers will be Ivory Coast and electoral democracy on the African continent.
The Kenyan and Zimbabwean precedent and now in Ivory Coast seems to point to the demise of African presidential electoral democracy.