By Andrew Katongole
Arnold Ainebyona was killed recently, when an altercation in a supermarket parking in Naalya, a Kampala suburb, led to his being shot dead.
The full facts of the incident remain contested and will probably play out in court in the coming weeks.
His death ignited a public debate so polarised and framed along fractious ethnic lines, with the victim and the accused summarily designated representatives of the have-and-have-not sections of our society respectively and Ainebyona’s murder framed as an inevitable consequence of the haves’ perceived aloofness and indifference to the plight of the have-nots.
We need to acknowledge that our society has a challenge of inequality, which we must discuss ways to addressing it. Fortunately for us, even the managers of our public affairs appreciate the challenge at hand. In his budget speech last month, finance minister Matia Kasaija highlighted inequality, alongside unemployment and lifestyle diseases as some of the key challenges undermining Uganda’s socio-economic progress.
The inequality was starkly told in the challenges afflicting the rich and the poor. Most of the poor live in the rural areas of course, where about 68% of households remain trapped in subsistence production and outside the money economy.
It is here, Kasaija noted, that the majority of the 53% of children under five years, who are malnourished and 32% of childbearing age women, who are anaemic, stay.
On the other hand, he noted that the more affluent, mostly urban-dwelling Ugandans were grappling with lifestyle diseases like obesity, cancer and other heart diseases, most of which have something to do with too much sitting and too little exercise. As a result, he noted, Uganda has been spending on average $500m abroad annually, on the treatment of these diseases!
The inequality is not just limited to rural versus urban. The dearth of economic opportunity in the rural areas has provoked a trek to towns by mainly young people in search of better fortunes, thereby exerting a lot of pressure on the existing social amenities.
The result is that street kids are increasing as fast as the malls are sprouting up and slums are expanding and thriving side-by-side with residential villas and gated mansions.
And while those in well-paying formal employment with social security benefits lock themselves away in the villas, it is in the indecent half of our neighbourhoods that those who hawk unskilled and semi-skilled labour with meagre returns — like Arnold’s suspected killer, reside. Yet they too have bills to pay, kids to educate and families to take care of. As a result, they often rise with significant frustration at the difficulty of life and may interpret any challenge to their work as a slight, incapable of reaching for restraint when it is of utmost importance.
There is thus an urgent need to reform our economy to make it work for all. The Government’s heightened industrial drive is a step in the right direction.
World over, industries have been the biggest creators of employment, because they are uniquely capable of creating thousands of opportunities along entire production value chains, enabling a trickle-down of economic returns. Most industrial jobs are labour-intensive, meaning thousands of people stand to benefit either directly or indirectly.
It is an equally good thing that these industrial parks –the incubation centres of our industrial promise are not just being concentrated in Kampala alone. By spreading them to as far as Tororo, Nakaseke, Kasese, Fort Portal, among others, will motivate increased productivity of these areas and provide a more reliable incentive for local households to heed the President’s wealth creation appeal for them to transition into commercial production.
Coming at a time when every region has an economic hub that’s been recently granted city status, a decentralised industrial offensive should be able to reduce pressure on Kampala by spreading economic opportunities and social services across the country, to be able to reach and benefit more people.
The new cities should also be able to provide increased demand for our young people’s innovative energies, and with reforms in our business environment ensuring that one can now register a business in less than a day, it too should be opportunity time for them. We need to keep on the momentum.
The writer is a social commentator