March 9, 2017
The fundamentals of a political revolution which we analyzed in several previous installments, whose practical outcomes we pointed out as expressed under the Movement, gives birth to an Economic revolution. This is step two in building a successful revolution and eventually a stronger nation.
Let’s establish the fundamentals:
All politics first and foremost, is economics. Whether it was the 1225 Magna Carta signed between King John of England and the land barons who were taxing farmers on his behalf or the French Revolution underpinned by a huge budget deficit on account of war with England; the American Revolution which was as much about restrictions on land ownership for the colonists, creating a protected market for the British East Indian company in America, as it was on political rights, all economics is expressed as politics. A study of revolutions shows people are more concerned about their living standards than they care about politics yet the two aspects reinforce each other. A good grasp by the leaders of a political revolution of the combination of market economics and political stability creates a culture of growth that sustains the revolution. In fact we know today by studying the story of the new and resurgent China that the western emphasis on political rights tells half the story of how nations overcome poverty. China continues to grow, lifting huge numbers out of poverty by insisting on certain values (read Confucianism whose basic tenet is the respect of other people’s beliefs and their wellbeing) that combine their own version of democracy with western capitalism.
Every nation must therefore translate its political gains into economic growth and development in order to keep the needs of her people met. This helps to sustain the standard needed by the next generation or else there will be a relapse into instability. The South American sub-continent teaches us some lessons in this field. While by early 1810, many of the nations that now make up that hemisphere, were fighting for independence and largely achieved it by 1826, this did not translate into broad economic progress. There were two Latin American heroes who led the first phase (of the political revolution). Simon Bolivar, a revolutionary Creole (Spaniards or other Europeans born in the colonies especially in the Caribbean) liberated the northern part of Latin America including Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador and Jose Marti took the southern parts including Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia (the two met in Ecuador).
This early effort wasn’t translated into economic growth by the former colonies largely because an alliance of large landowners and the bureaucrats kept a status quo in a new form. The peasants, a majority of whom supported the political revolution, didn’t take ownership of the land to improve their welfare. This, over the years, kept Latin American countries in coups and counter coup de etats, wasting generations, much like Africa, of growth and stability. Overlapping economic interests, for example in Brazil, where the upper class owned plantations plowed by African slave labour, meant that the gains of the political revolution would be owned by a small political elite with less translation of the outcome for a majority of the people.
In England, however, by the year 1509, Henry VII had consolidated the gains made by his predecessors by imposing duties on export of raw wool; he promoted local industries, removed taxes on all imported raw materials and created a significant platform for the country to start the industrial revolution by the end of the 17th century. As the reader might know, an industrial culture enhances agricultural productivity in villages, increase the rate of urbanization and skills development, improves household incomes and leads the process of social economic transformation of communities. For a political revolution to be successfully converted into an economic revolution, every nation must be allowed freedom to chart its course, decide the pace and nature of this conversion based on the policies and circumstances obtaining in that nation.
Much of Africa however, after Independence, had ‘forced conversion’ giving the process a still birth. Political independence didn’t mean economic freedom. Africa had such little industrial and skill base to manage the transition from the demand for political freedom to economic prosperity. A huge attempt was made in several countries to set up import substitution industries between 1960-1980, to save the declining foreign exchange revenue from export of cotton, coffee, tea and minerals. As an example, Tanzania specialized in textiles to clothe her people (see the famous Kanga whose impact has lasted in the region) while other nations, especially where there was no ensuing civil wars, invested in production of basic consumer goods. But no African nation reached an increasing and irreversible scale to be able to decisively roll back poverty and create a firm middle class and a modern state.
By 1986 when the Movement took power after a successful protracted peoples war, Africa and Uganda in particular was faced with two hard choices. One was to continue the import substitution investments that weren’t backed by any new capital and skill, since the West didn’t want competition in areas where they sourced raw materials or accept the new IMF/World bank dictum of ‘liberalize the economy, sell off government assets, cut down government expenditure by laying off workers and depreciate your currency to make your exports cheaper’. The leadership of the Movement, borne by a common person, unbending on keeping people Programmes as a priority had a decision to make.
Next week, we will see how the Movement reacted to this global changed environment and how the outcome of the decisions made at Uganda’s economic peril, have shaped a new Uganda.