Two events tickled me to no end this week. First was a tweet that was patently misleading and intended to send us Africans (and Ugandan’s especially) back to sleep. You see we have decided to be blissfully ignorant to the fluid realities of the world outside our dusty town. Second was the commemoration of world population day. Suddenly everybody was wagging their fingers, admonishing us for being tigers and tigresses in matters nocturnal! Confused? Let me elaborate.
First the tweet. It was to the effect that Uganda, alongside India was going to become one of the fastest growing economies by 2025! Bollocks, you would say but this was backed by an ‘authority’ none other than Harvard University (sic). Reading up on the matter I found that the tweet was based on very questionable premises. There was even a caveat that despite good economic prospects for growth in Sub Saharan Africa and Uganda in particular, population growth was out of control (3.2% per annum) and economic targets would not be met. How we happened to be equated to India is probably what one Dunce calls ‘fake news’.
Because the information originated from a venerable foreign institution, no one questioned its authenticity. So enthusiast after another kept on retweeting. Not bad to hope for the best but one would expect ‘twitterati’ are not easily fooled. They would read up on the small print. No chance.
Fast forward to World Population day celebrated on July 11, 2017. Five years ago, I was invited to give an introductory talk at the Presidential lecture when we celebrated fifty years of independence. Among other things, I argued that Uganda’s population growth was spiraling out of control given the fact that other critical areas of the economy were not keeping apace with the fertility rates. My argument was brushed aside on the grounds that East Africa needed a large market. At just 120 million people East Africa was under populated, and since we were moving towards a common market, more was definitely better.
Which directly brings me to the tribulations of being a sangoma or prophet in your village. Your opinions and advice count for nothing. The utterances of many local experts and academics are passed over by decision makers. While we assume that they are acting in our interests, it is woefully obvious they are not. Their arguments are convoluted and confusing if you have don’t know their context. Their sophistry is mainly driven by personal interests and real facts are replaced by ‘alternative facts’.
So why should one institution hoodwink us into believing we will be the fastest growing economy while another (The United Nations Population Fund) warn us of the dangers of a population growth out of control? Perhaps because of our love for things foreign and mystic, we would rather believe a charlatan from Harvard or the United Nations than act on sober advice from our own technocrats.
There are so many catastrophes in Africa to show how our love for foreign sangomas (advisors if you wish) has caused misery and kept us in poverty. Take the example of the Nalubaale dam. A fly on the wall told me that one local technocrat spent months convincing the damn (pun intended) consultants that building the dams in parallel was a mistake because it would lead to a reduction in the water flow in each channel. Nobody was going to listen to this native. The dams were built in parallel and the rest is history.
Now that I know better, I would advise you that if you want to be a sangoma, don’t do it in your home village. The old women who saw your buttocks sticking out as you played on the village paths may still be alive! In that kind of scenario, who would believe you anyway?
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader, Abacus Business School. @samuelsejjaaka