Sometime last year I said in one of my web-blog entries that twenty or so years of Museveni have not been so good for Eastern Uganda in terms of development. I came to that conclusion after observing several dilapidated factories and building structures in the Eastern towns as I traveled on sales field visits. Formerly running factories in Jinja, Tororo, Mbale, and Soroti are either partially working or have ground to an eternal halt.
There used to a meatpacking factory in Soroti that has never woken up from slumber of more than two decades, possibly in the next five years something might tickle it a little bit. In Tororo there was a gunny bags factory and one soap and oil factory that also produced animal feed but are no longer functional. Sure synthetics have taken over but what has come into place in terms of employment opportunities?
There was also an artificial fertilizer and chemical industry situated at the foot of the phosphorous deposit in Osukuru hills in Tororo. That one has disappeared from the ground all together save for a concrete wall that now serves as a bill board for the nearby cement factory – the one major industry still running and in a better condition but employing fewer workers. Years ago there was talk of major mining project of the phosphorous to supply COMESA – a regional body to supply the East, Central and Southern Africa with fertilizer. Nothing so far has come up and we are not short of regional grouping that are emerging every other time.
African Textiles Mills in Mbale is all but dead, so are several industries and petroleum depots. When I was transferred to Mbale, I visited the industrial area and found that the main activity there was grain milling and several formerly busy roads in the area had been turned into drying grounds for rice and maize, including a road to the beloved Diary Corporation factory that I visited when I was a secondary school boy. I cannot forget that day when I drunk lots and lots of milk that run like a river. That factory and its courtyard is now overgrown with Lantana bushes.
Talk of modernizing agriculture when milk several milk plants in the region have turned into something like museums and milk that used to pasteurized, packed and sold in tetra packs, is now being sold from buckets, saucepans, polythene and plastic containers in dusty street corners. There are fewer and fewer people today in Eastern Uganda who can afford tractors to plough their gardens and apply fertilizers. Several Co-operative Society stores are lying dead and inhabited by rats instead of cotton and seeds for farmers for planting. Cheated by middlemen and not assured of consistent markets and incomes however low, many farmers have lost the impetus to grow cotton that used to thrive in the East. It will be an uphill task for anybody to revive the co-operative movement.
Talk of poverty alleviation and I am tempted to think that if the two words could chase away poverty, poverty would be history now because two words have been so much used by government officials and NGOs that they would be something to go around for every body in need. It is like the song that says every body talking heaven but nobody going there. In other words real commitment is lacking. Why are the corrupt who selfishly deny other people what is due to them not handed down the justice that they deserve?
Last week a foreign journalist who has lived and worked in Uganda reporting for a number of foreign publications was denied entry back to Uganda from a visit to South Africa after what he reported about the just concluded general election was published in the Guardian. The authorities claim that what he wrote or has been writing about Uganda/government of Uganda has been a falsehood. Reading part of that article in the Sunday Vision, I couldn’t but marvel that was reported about Eastern Uganda is nothing but the truth. According to my opinion, we have been a neglected lot in terms of national development the past two decades. We are not all moving apace as some people would like us to believe. I am no economist, statistician or rocket scientist but what I see on the ground tells me that we’ve been on mark time in the East.
Sometimes, I am tempted to think that African leaders sometimes behave like the biblical leaders of Jeremiah’s time who would rather have somebody lie to them than take the truth from God’s man to put things right. I remember an interview some years ago in which the former president of Mozambique admitted that his country had problems that needed to be looked into and I was delighted that Africa had such leaders who would face up to the truth and take responsibility of what is at stake. No wonder that Mozambique has moved on.
As a Christian, I know that what might appear like a message of doom might actually be an opportunity for salvation, just like in marketing where a threat can be turned into an opportunity. Take the example of Jonah’s message to Nineveh – forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed. The short form of it is that the people of Nineveh repented and God spared the city. They did not chase away Jonah like the false prophets who got the authorities to chain Jeremiah in a dungeon and later suffered the Babylonian captivity. Instead it was Jonah who was disappointed that God spared the city after he saw that the people, including the king had fasted and turned away from their wicked ways. Live the life and spare the preacher lying at the funeral.