The Price Paid

Stagnation of villages

The high population growth rate has placed an incredible burden on our villages, as our agricultural and economic systems have struggled to meet the demands of so many more people. Life remains particularly in the villages. Over-exploitation and mismanagement of land, coupled with changing climatic patterns, has resulted in degraded soils and declining agricultural yields. Traditional institutions, technologies, values and livelihoods that were once successful now barely cope and are fading away as they fail to manage the complexities of the present day. As a result, our villages are caught in a limbo: far from modern, but not exactly traditional either. They lack the institutions and technologies to help them develop – and indeed, adopt many of the more negative value systems that are as a result of ‘modernization’. Village economies have stagnated and there is no clear path forward. Many seem lost, and it is here in the rural areas – above all in those places still ravaged by conflict – that the toll of disease and poverty extracts its highest toll.

The invisible damage of aid

Another feature of Uganda today is our heavy dependence on donor aid which covers up to 85% of the development budget and 55% of government’s recurrent expenditure. But what has all this aid accomplished? Despite the abundance of resources – rich soils, a wonderful climate and the abundant donor funds, Uganda still remains one of the poorest countries in the world lagging behind in human development. Much of the aid seems to leak away invisibly or perversely harms our sense of priorities. Each time we receive more aid, it seems that our defences are weakened leaving us more helpless and more dependent. But just as rats soothe the heels of a sleeping man as they continue to gnaw his soles, Ugandans seem to be so soothed by aid that they fail to recognize its harmful effects.

The natural price paid

At the time of its independence in 1962, Uganda was referred to as the ‘Pearl of Africa’ – alluding to its rich and abundant flora and fauna. However, as population increased and urbanization and economic development progressed, the natural resource base – the source of our wealth – has been the major victim. Valuable wetlands were drained for construction and industry. Forests yielded to infrastructure developments and were logged for fuel and timber needs. For example, the tropical high forest cover has declined from a high of 3 million ha in 1900 to a mere 700,000 by 1987 . The lakes and the land have been vigorously exploited to sustain an ever-increasing population. Wild animals have seen their habitats invaded by humans and some species once plentiful are on the decline . Shifts in climate are providing new challenges – in Kabale for instance, increased average temperatures have seen malaria-carrying mosquitoes enter the area with a corresponding rise in malaria incidence – a disease that was previously unknown there.

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