Last week we noted that it had come to pass that we were attracting tourists on the basis of our potholes and nakedness. According to the story, what the ‘poverty tourists’, did not see was the kids suffering from malnutrition and malaria. But these and many other things continue to plague our society and we ought to do something. Here is two my two cents.
Even my own people of the interlacustrine region know this – “amamesse amaangi, tegeesimira bunya”. An approximate translation is “too many rats, do not have the capacity to dig their ratholes”. So why can’t our policy makers see it? What is our population control policy. I have talked myself blue black on the issue of population control. Political pundits argue that a big population is a big market! But this must be qualified. A big population without gainful employment and therefore effective demand is a drag on the public purse. Luxembourg has a population of six hundred thousand people and a GDP of US $ 64 billion. Compare with our 45 million people and GDP of US$ 28 billion!
Another area following on from an unsustainable population is the perennial problem of productivity. Not only are we too many, the majority of us are relatively unproductive. Whether in the formal or informal sector. The trajectory of growth in coffee production is always apt here. As recently as the 1990’s we produced more coffee than Vietnam. The Vietnamese visited us and asked ‘mukikola mutya’ (how do you do it)?. Today they produce 25 million bags of coffee per year, and we are stuck at about 4.6 million bags! I will come back to this shortly
A third area of concern is debt. Some experts (especially those who arrive on iron birds) keep on telling us that our debt is sustainable. They argue that for as long as the debt to GDP ratio is below 50%, we are fine. But then again that is the problem with most economists. They will use abstract statistics and models to explain real life situations. Even when the reality is right there in their faces. Any self-respecting accountant will tell you that your debt to assets (efficiency ratio) means zilch. What matters is your liquidity ratios or ‘times interest ratio’ – the ability to service your debts when they fall due. Obviously we are struggling to service our debt. One in five shillings now goes into debt service. That means that there is an opportunity cost to servicing this debt. That means that we may have to forgo an x-ray machine here or there, fail to pay our subscriptions to the Desert Locust Control Organization and such other small things that don’t directly affect the powerful. Is debt bad? No, it is not but must be sustainable.
I have picked on three areas that I think have a direct correlation with poverty. But there are other complex issues that we may need to examine. Tomes and tomes have been written on the subject and one cannot do justice to the concept of a how society is organized and the relationship with success or failure. The most in vogue way of explaining what is going through the use of what is called social entropy theory – a measure of social, economic, and political disorder. Entropy in social systems appears manifests itself as tensions. Tensions, (which create useful or useless heat) are generated by interactions between humans, between humans and communities, between communities, and between societies and states. This tension creates a disequilibrium, which manifests as inequality and disorganization.
Social entropy is not necessarily a bad thing but societies need to attain an optimal state in order to manage the trinitarian problem of population, productivity and debt. In lay man’s language, how do we resolve the plague of self-interest that bedevils our existence? You cannot produce 20 million bags of coffee but you can produce seven kids per woman, if you have a proclivity to disorder.
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at MAT ABACUS Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka