Tuesday, 21 December 2010 08:54 by eriasa mukiibi sserunjogi
There is a lot Buganda Kingdom can learn from the successes registered by the Aga Khan Foundation in the fight against poverty within the Ismaili and other communities. This is the key proposition made to the attendees of the Third Buganda Conference convened at Hotel Africana in Kampala on Dec. 17.
Kabaka Mutebi addresses subjects at one function.
Although Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) figures released on Oct. 27 indicate that central Uganda (Buganda) has the least number of absolute poor people (10 percent) of all the regions of Uganda, the organizers of the conference take exception to this view. The comparable poverty figures for the other regions are 18 percent for western, 24 percent for eastern and 46 percent for northern.
Kingdom Attorney General Apollo Makubuya, who chaired the conference organizing committee, told The Independent in the run-up to the event that the conference would front the view that fighting “pervasive poverty” in Uganda requires the active involvement of cultural institutions, whose “record regarding mobilisation is not in doubt”.
He isn’t wrong, at least in the case of the Ismaili community. The Aga Khan, the religious and cultural leader of the Ismaili community, founded the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), currently one of the largest private development networks in the world. Prince Karim Aga Khan IV is the forty-ninth Ismaili Imam, claiming lineage to Ali, cousin of Prophet Muhammad.
His network not only works with the Ismaili community, who originate from Persia, but also with several African and Asian countries to improve living conditions and promote education. In Afghanistan, for example, the AKDN says it has mobilised over US $750 million in development projects to date.
This is why the Buganda Conference organizers found it important to invite speakers from the Aga Khan Foundation to share experiences at the conference. Makubuya said the conference would seek to create a full understanding of the extent of poverty in Buganda and Uganda and offer a dialogue among all the people of Uganda on how it can be addressed.
Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba, one of the key speakers at the conference, was expected to argue his case against official poverty statistics and government’s anti-poverty strategy.
Nuwagaba, who researches into poverty alleviation in the developing world, told The Independent that UBOS figures, which show that the percentage of absolute poor Ugandans currently stands 23 percent as against 56 percent in 1992, cannot be accurate in light of the “food crisis, oil price hikes, increasing cost of tertiary education and poor state of community roads.”
He observed that this financial year, a mere shs 23.6 billion out of the sector’s allocated shs 919.5 billion will be committed to fixing rural and urban community roads. He says limited investment in community roads means farmers cannot cheaply transport their commodities to the market, hindering anti-poverty efforts.
“With the budgetary allocations to agriculture accounting for 1.6 per cent, 3.5 per cent, 3.8 per cent and 4.8 per cent over the last four financial years,” he adds, “where would such massive poverty reduction have originated from?”
The choice of theme for the conference, “Poverty and Development in Buganda and Uganda”, is interesting if read together with the timing. President Yoweri Museveni’s main challengers in the Feb. 18 general election have built their campaigns around poverty, forcing the President to make interesting promises. While campaigning in Mbale, Museveni said that under his leadership, the last poor Ugandan will escape this predicament in 2030.
UBOS acknowledges, though, that the benefits of growth haven’t been well distributed, with inequality in income increasing. The gini-coefficient – a measure of dispersion used to measure income inequality– rose from o.41 in 2006 to 0.42 this year, rising both in rural and urban areas. The gini-coefficient ranges from zero to one. At zero all people have the same income and when it is one, it means all income is concentrated in the hands of one person.
Makubuya attributes rises in inequality to poor governance and corruption, issues he hoped the conference would discuss. He argued that cultural institutions should be empowered to play a role in the poverty eradication drive; which he said can best be attained under a federal system of governance.
The conference, an annual event which is part of the celebrations to commemorate Kabaka Ronald Mutebi’s coronation anniversary, is billed as a political event. At the inaugural conference on July 18, 2008, renowned political science scholar, Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, challenged the kingdom to leverage its central location and numbers to build alliances with other groups within Uganda to lead the country to prosperity. The conference, which was held at the peak of disagreements between Mengo, the Buganda Kingdom power capital, and government over proposed amendments to the land law, saw three kingdom officials arrested on its eve for opposing the amendments.
The third conference was also expected to be heavy on political intonation, especially in view of the recent disagreements between the kingdom and government. It is thought that some influential people at Mengo back Museveni’s main challenger, Kizza Besigye, through former Katikkiro Mulwanyammuli Ssemwogerere’s pressure group Ssuubi 2011which signed a memorandum of understanding with the Inter Party Cooperation to back Besigye’s presidential bid
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