By Benon Fred Twinamasiko
Most developed and rich countries always announce calls for proposals under themes of their (funders') interest, call them 'thematic areas'. Examples of such thematic areas are; climate change; food security; malaria and AIDs prevention.
Just as the old adage goes; "A beggar has no choice"; the competitors in such calls for proposals always look for information (data) that relates to such thematic areas that they get whether classified or not and have to present it to the funders in order to increase their chances of winning the proposal, an act that either the US, China, Europe or Russia would categorise as espionage but to an African, this is an act of showing that you have the capability of sourcing for such data.
Now let me concentrate on the issue of the projects in Higher Education that I am well versed with.
An individual convinces friends and they write up a proposal starting with a concept paper; an example of which would have such a title; "Reducing infant mortality rate by improving the quality of sim sim, a case of Teso region."
To develop the full proposal, you have to carry out a few activities; among which there is one for having several meeting to brainstorm during the process of expounding on your ideas, which most likely has to be held in an average (four star) hotel even if you could have sat in someone's office and brainstorm with the same level of productivity.
The other is the "Stakeholders' Workshop"; where you have to provide workshop materials (notebooks, pens, and printed programmes), then teas (break and evening tea) and lunch plus water inside the conference room for the morning and after lunch sessions and at the end of the day, every participant is given transport refund.
Let us see how much one spends on such one day workshop; assuming you invite 20 people, and each eats an average tea break of sh5,000 and lunch plus morning and afternoon water to be sh10,000, the simple calculation gives; 20x20,000 giving rise to sh400,000. When you add on the transport refund, which every participant will go with at the end of the workshop, this results into 20x100,000, which totals to sh2,000,000.
This single day's activity ends up consuming close to sh5,000,000; my monthly (gross) salary does not come even close to half this amount of money! Interestingly, after such a consultative meeting/workshop, you are not assured of winning the funding!
Take a scenario where you do not win funding, you have to account for the funds used, and this is done by presenting the lists of attendance, and receipts of the goods and services offered irrespective of whether the consultations were fruitful or not, in other words, such an activity is essentially for accountability purposes.
The same is true for the other type of workshop called dissemination workshop; which takes place if the proposal was successful, research was done and the findings are being shared with the public.
You invite people, present results, report on how many Masters and PhDs resulted from such research project, how many papers were published in peer reviewed journals and that will close the day.
What will such two activities impact on an old man/woman in Kanyankwanzi village, Bushuro Parish, Kitumba Sub County, Ndorwa County, Kabale District?
Keeping on the example I started with; "Reducing infant mortality rate by improving the quality of sim sim, a case of Teso region", outputs of such project you find them to be; a number of Masters Students, PhD students and a paper published in a peer reviewed journal.
Mostly, such Masters students would be Social Scientists who go out to the field with questionnaires asking the common people about the rate at which the infants die and maybe the families which have access to sim sim!
Whatever the period of such a project (two or four years); as long as the said outputs are achieved, the impact to the Teso infant community may not matter at all, and the Iteso may take long, if they ever, read such research papers about how they can improve sim sim to reduce infant mortality rate.
The other unfortunate bit is that such funding always goes through agencies from developed/rich countries with a condition that you have to collaborate with an institution in such countries, in other words, you share the funding, but the total of the funding is counted as aid to your country, even if some money bought an equipment that might have ended up in a lab of an institution of such a developed country including the allowances given to the team from such institutions.
Always, when such a project ends, and the team has accounted for the funds, everything ends there, come two years or so and you can't realise that there was such a project.
So where is my problem? Most money given to Africa projects ends up only benefiting the developed countries leaving the African countries grappling with aid. This is true for the projects in the government as well; be it in health, infrastructural development, military, governance to mention but a few.
Such aid money is always accompanied by experts who stay in places like Kololo or in five star hotels and drive 4X4 strong vehicles in addition to eating lunch and dinner in places like Sheraton and Serena. When shall the poverty reduction scheme ever impact on the common man/woman in my village?
Africans and Ugandans in particular have to learn to work extra hard and reduce on their extravagance in luxurious things like 4X4 cars, private personalised number plates and focus on the basic necessities for every Ugandan to live a decent life.
It is stupid of Ugandans to find a whole minister presiding over the launching of a charity that collected second hand clothes from Europe or the US when actually the people in Kololo and Muyenga could have managed to collect such an amount, if they were to exhibit a similar spirit by giving out the belongings they no longer use.
I yearn to see a Uganda where we shy away from aid and focus on working hard, producing sufficient food and growing our economy with honesty, fairness and trustworthiness!
Even the efforts that have been taken at the local scene like, the Millennium Science Initiative (MSI) project, have ended up being handled in the same way that after the completion of the project, you hardly find any evidence of such a project, I hope I will not be taken as a prophet of doom, but the sure thing is that the project team benefits in terms of allowances and this benefits them individually, and to their families not the greater common wananchi.
Unfortunately, in certain government institutions, a particular team with same composition may regularly win funding from one funder to another, meaning that the impact on the society may never be realised.
I wish all aid could be cut so that every African (read Ugandan) could learn how to utilise their abundant resources; land and minerals not forgetting the abundant cheap human resource that has high potential with minimum training.
The country may suffer a set back at the beginning but everyone will start learning how to live in their means.
The banks and telecom companies have registered a lot of returns without using donor money, why can't universities and other institutions be able to sustain themselves using their innovations and other internally generated incomes instead of always begging from developed nations!
Hopefully, time will prove me wrong but am sure in my lifetime; I will leave this world no matter how old I will be when Africa is still being helped by small nations like Norway and Sweden when the Gold in DRC and Oil in Nigeria can sustain the continent for eternity.
The writer is the patron of the Makerere University Physics Society and managing director and chief executive officer of Hope Consults (U) Ltd