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OWEYEGHA-AFUNADUULA: How Uganda Can Liberate Herself From Aid Dependency

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By Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula

I did not know that a treatise “Real Aid: Ending Aid Dependency” by ACTION AID existed until a Facebook friend, Bithum Eric Opondo, asked me to compose an essay on how best Uganda can improve its economy without heavy reliance on foreign aid, imports and direct investment.

Having been a good student of Development Studies at the University of Dar-es-Salaam in the early 1970s when the term dependency was a greatly hated one by scholars who wanted newly independent countries in Africa to be liberated from overdependence on their former colonizers for their development, I responded to his request positively. I even quickly told him that the topic of my essay would be “How can Uganda reduce its dependency on foreign aid”? However, when I started researching for my essay, I came across the treatise by ACTION AID and read it enthusiastically, I decided to rephrase my topic as “How can Uganda liberate herself from aid dependency”?

Therefore, my thesis statement came to be “Uganda can liberate herself from Aid dependency”.
Aid dependency is linked to, or a result of foreign aid. The Corporate Finance Institute (CFI) defines foreign aid as “the international movement of money, services, or goods from governments or international institutions for the benefit of the receiving country or its citizens.

Foreign aid can be fiscal, military, or humanitarian and is considered one of the significant sources of foreign exchange”. The assumption here is that “foreign aid” is always beneficial to the country or entity that receives it.  Foreign aid may be offered as a contribution or a loan, which can either be a hard or soft loan. If the loan is in a foreign currency, it is termed as a hard loan.

According to CFI (i) foreign aid offering countries use foreign aid in order to improve their own security;

(ii) to discourage countries friendly to them from coming under the control of unfriendly governments or paying for the right to set up or use military bases on foreign soil;

(iii) to accomplish the political aims of a government, allowing it to obtain diplomatic recognition, to gain respect for its role in international institutions, or to improve the accessibility of its diplomats to foreign countries;

(iv) to promote the exports of a country and spread its literature, culture, or religion;

(v) to relieve the distress caused by man-made or natural disasters like drought, illness, and conflict; and

(vi) to promote sustainable prosperity, create or reinforce political institutions, and address a range of worldwide concerns, including cancer, terrorism, and other violations, and environmental degradation, among others..

Unfortunately, foreign aid is not charity, although when leaders talk to convince the people that foreign aid is good, they submit it as if it is charity. Foreign aid is not charity, and as the CFI has shown, it has many strings attached. It is ethnocentric. And as I have frequently stated no foreigner gives you aid to help you more than he or she helps himself. Since a lot of ethnocentrism or selfishness is involved, it cannot be real aid in the sense helping another out of adversity. In fact, there is a lot of examples to show that foreign has cased the aid receivers to sink more in adversity than prosperity.

At worst it has depressed internal productive capacities of the aid receiving countries when leaders have emphasized borrowing more that developing and relying on internal production to drive development and change. Consequently, it has led to a cancer known as Aid Dependency.

If a country is suffering from the Aid Dependency Syndrome (ADS), it will be a perennial recipient several types of aid: Tied Aid, Bilateral Aid, Multilateral Aid, Military Aid and Project Aid. I will not define these different types of aid. I will ask you to find out what they are and what the essence of each of them is.

In countries that are interwoven in the debt web as a result of borrowing from international money markets, it is military aid and projects aid that is contributing heavily to the debt burden and aid dependency. Uganda is one country which has accelerated its debt burden through incessant borrowing for the military and projects of one kind or another. If one wanted to study a country suffering the consequences of Aid Dependency Syndrome, one would not skip Uganda. There few strategies in place to liberate the country from the Aid Dependency Syndrome.

I have recently written about dependency. However, reading has become a problem in Uganda. For the purposes of this article, I will define dependency as “a situation in which one needs something or someone and one is unable to continue normally without them”. A good example is when a country like Uganda is cast as a one that cannot do without aid and is suffering from aid dependency.

When aid is given in such a way that it supports a poor countryy like Uganda to lead its own development, be more accountable to its own people, and mobilise more of its own resources, then aid itself contributes to reducing aid dependency, as ACTION AID stated recently. Unfortunately, aid has tended to free the powers that be to free itself from the citizens, and to become oppressive, repressive, and suppressive instead of serving the collective interest of the citizens: survival in an increasingly globalized and hostile world. Ultimately more aid dependency has led to spiraling dependency.

I define aid dependency as the reliance of a country, region on foreign aid as a primary or significant source of funding for development in its entirety, or in its different dimensions: health, education, energy, roads, environmental, economic, political, et cetera.

Action Aid defines aid dependency as “an economic problem described as the reliance of less developed countries (LDCs) on more developed countries (MDCs) for financial aid and other resources. More specifically, aid dependency refers to the proportion of government spending that is given by foreign donors”

This definition assumes that the more developed countries do not get aid from elsewhere. They do. For example, foreign aid to the People’s Republic of China since 1949 has taken the form of both bilateral and multilateral official development assistance and official aid to individual recipients. The country has big strides, since Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s The Great March Forward if 1968 towards being one of the most industrialized countries of the world. It has steadily liberated itself from the Aid Dependency Syndrome.

The question is: How can Uganda liberate herself from the Aid Dependency Syndrome?
As intimated elsewhere in this article a first line of defense against aid dependence is for the country to seek only aid that supports it to lead its own development, be more accountable to its own people, and mobilise more of its own resources. This way the aid itself will contribute  to reducing aid dependency.

The country should take Brookings advise that to reduce aid dependency in Africa, Africans must identify priorities, define, and implement them – not be reactionary to the politics of the West,

As S. Knack (2000) advised, if aid is highly variable over time within a country, dependence might be lessened in the sense that aid cannot be relied on as a stable source of funds.

Improving the quality of governance will necessarily lead to less spending on the military (or police) to combat discontent. Consequently, money wasted in militarization of society will be released for development, transformation and progress. With improved services, people will not be delinquent, idle, prone to violence or to becoming mentally sick. There will be peace in a tranquil environment.

There is need de-link institutions from an aid-dependent economic model that has made governors of African countries think of aid as a source of finance for development, transformation and progress to take place. For many years strategies such as Bona Bagaggawale, Myooga, Operation Wealth Creation and Parish Development Model, seeking to sink communities into the Money economy have ended up breeding greater aid dependency and corruption in government.

According to a BBC News article of 1 May 2013 “How can Africa move away from aid dependence” by Alexis Akwagyiram, it helps to avoid huge infrastructure development projects, which burden the economy instead being sources of meaningful development, improving trade and investment is a good choice. However, it will be useful for Uganda to proliferate less energy and capital-intensive development projects and programmes
Science and technology is, and should be, the basis for the transformation of the country.  We have to build expertise in these areas for the economy to take off.

However, the science should be sustainability or integrative sciences, instead of disciplinary sciences, whereby alternative expertise will be developed that is less expensive since they promote truly integrated teams. Those sciences are interdisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity and non-disciplinarity or extra-disciplinarity. The new expertise will be more critical in thinking and analysis of problems and make more appropriate and less expensive choices. Political decisions will be better informed and there will be no room for dictatorship and Presidentialism.

One thing is true. Aid, is not sustainable as a long-term development plan. Research has consistently suggested that Africans living outside the continent send more money home to their families than is sent by traditional Western aid donors. Uganda needs to disengage herself completely from aid from the so-called developed countries and meaningfully and effectively use the money from the Ugandans in the diaspora to finance its development and transformation. Such money has no strings attached.

As Alexis Akwagyiram has reasoned, “The potential that can be found in the African diaspora is huge. People in the diaspora have a sense of empathy and want to invest back home. If you take the power of remittance and apply it to investment, the diaspora could be a force to be reckoned with. It has been argued that diaspora investors could contribute to the construction of buildings and roads across Africa.

Besides, as one writer intimated, “We have the capabilities, intelligence and the competence as well as the desire to achieve change in Africa”. If this capabilities lity can be combined with fighting corruption effectively the sky is the limit. The sustainability sciences I have mentioned have the potential to improve our critical thinking, critical analysis, and produce a new crop of scholars and future-ready professionals who do not resist interaction and teamwork in development.

We must critically rethink foreign aid. But one thing is true, foreign aid is not charity. It has strings attached.
I think this is a good point to end the article and let the readers begin thinking anew about aid and aid dependency and the opportunities that exist to escape from it.
For God and My Country.

The Writer Is a Ugandan Scientist and Environmentalist

DISCALIMER:  The views expressed in this article are solely for and belong to the author/ writer. They don’t reflect, portray or represent Accord Communications Ltd, it’s affiliates, owners or employees. If you have an article in your community or an opinion article, let’s publish it. Send us an email via or WhatsApp +255769138299

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