For anybody who has an idea of what economics is about, they know that growth is not the same as development. Put simply, growth is about an increase (or decrease) in numbers or amounts or magnitudes (of economic goods and services). Thus you can have growth in population, incomes, dependency ratios, and the like. On the other hand, development refers to the level of sophistication achieved by a society. Development is much more nuanced, and is about the quality of life and the choices the population makes in its consumption patterns.
It is therefore safe to say that Uganda has been growing (both positively and negatively) over time depending on the level of national stability and associated violence. Indeed there have been significant increases in the population, production of goods and services and incomes. But as for development, that is really a matter that is up for debate. Here the emphasis is on the development of a ‘middle class’ as cauldron of positive ideas. The middle class generally refers to individuals and households who fall between the working class and the upper class within a socio-economic hierarchy. Middle class people tend to have a higher level of education than those in the working class, more income available for consumption, and may own property. They are often employed as professionals, managers, and civil servants (see https://www.investopedia.com/terms/m/middle-class.asp).
Having given this background, let me cut to the chase. This week, Kampala was rocked by terrorist attacks in which three people are reported to have died and many were injured. I wish to commiserate with all those who lost loved ones and those who were injured. However, as we were living through these nasty incidents, so called ‘media influencers’ and their horde of followers started posting gory details of the injured and the dead. Cries of ‘please do not post these kinds of things’ fell on deaf ears. Even footage from Police/Security cameras was posted! This is where one is forced to take a closer look at our society, and its constituents. One would think that these rascal social influencers and journalists, on account of their education or incomes (as defined simply by the ability to own smart phones) would be more nuanced in what they consume and share with other members of the same class.
Not so. This gory news problem has been with us for quite a while. Some have profited from it, while others seem to enjoy the associated schadenfreude. While some of these ‘social influencers’ can be forgiven for their shallowness, it is difficult to excuse the tabloid media which includes a publication that is owned by a listed company. A few of these tabloids are in English, but the majority are in local languages and for them anything goes. Accident scenes, mutilated bodies and all manner of violence is reported without a care for the consumers. The more trashy and ghastly the news, the better.
What does that say about our development as a society? First of all it speaks to the fact that the so called middle class (I assume they consume most of this news) is crude and unsophisticated in its tastes because it continues to enjoy the consumption of this crap. Second, we know that there is a Media Council (whose members also come from this middle class probably) which is mandated with the regulation of media activities. Our complaints seem to have fallen on deaf ears, because these tabloids have continued to ceaselessly expose our people to violence and trauma. I do not know if this is a hangover from the years of violence we endured as a country, or the rapid emergence of a post-peasant and hollowed out middle class. What I know for certain is that there are many things we have missed out on with respect to developing a more discerning society. It is pity, these are the signs of our times.
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at Mat Abacus Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka