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.