The phony International development narrative – Series 1 of 2

Just like many of you have a soft spot for your immediate family and birthplace, I do have one for Uganda and specifically, my village Nakabugu in Luuka district. So much so that when I am in Uganda, I find myself not only reminiscing about the enduring poverty the majority of my fellow countrymen and women face, but also the lack of progress in stemming the rot. I visited Uganda last week on work related matters and on my way back to Nairobi, I chanced an opportunity to read the New Vision newspaper (25/03/16) courtesy of Serena Hotel Uganda. On its front page – was a splash of President Yoweri Museveni releasing the 2014 Uganda Population Census results.

Has the INGO facade been exposed in Uganda?

Has the INGO facade been exposed in Uganda?

And yes, many things have changed for the better in Uganda – for example, according to the 2014 census, I won’t die in two years time (at 48 years of age) but instead, 17 years from now (at 63 years of age). While still below the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) global life expectancy of 71 years, Ugandans like myself are thankful for the extra lease of life. Indeed, we have to thank those that have worked so hard to give us this additional lease of life – 17 years of ‘bonus time on mother earth’ is no mean feat. The experts on these matters will attribute this increase in life expectancy in Uganda to:

  • Improved health service delivery
  • Improved feeding (nutrition) practices
  • Improved hygiene that reduces the incidence of disease
  • Reduction in age-specific fertility rates – from 7.1 children per woman in 1991 to 5.8 in 2014

Sadly, as I continued to read the 2014 census results newspaper article, I was dumbfounded by the reoccurrence of a certain narrative. A narrative I know very well as a development worker that has worked for International NonGovernmental Organisations (INGO) for most of my development career.  We have called this flawed narrative phony-development. Friends, something, is: wrong, broken, ineffective…!!

Just like businesses in the for profit sector of any economy, INGO’s have specific areas of specialisation in their work. INGO’s may choose to focus on: health delivery, economic development activities, public policy analysis & advocacy, Education, Research & Development, etc. Within these high-level foci, INGO’s may choose to focus on second or even third tier ‘specialisations’ – for example, an INGO with a focus on Education may opt for exclusivity on education policy analysis and development, while another opts for school improvement programming; an INGO with a focus on economic development may choose to focus on value chain programming, while another opts for financial inclusion programming

In Uganda, since the mid-1990’s many INGO’s decided to focus on economic development programming – INGO’s embraced the micro-finance movement with its roots in Asia; small business development initiatives with millions of dollars invested in pro-poor micro-enterprise programming are commonplace in Uganda; from 2000 agri-biz. Initiatives focusing on the commercialization of subsistence agriculture almost became a fad amongst INGO’s in Uganda as well as ROSCA’s and VSLA’s (read informal savings groups).

Donors like DfID, USAID, the EU, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have invested millions of western world tax payer money and personal fortunes in so-called economic-development initiatives in Uganda. We can’t put any figure on the investments, but having worked for INGO’s in Uganda, I do know that we are talking hundreds of millions of dollars.

While the government of Uganda is responsible for looking after its people, development stakeholders specifically the INGO have a case to answer in regards to the current situation the Ugandan peasants find themselves in – they are trapped in a peasant-state, despite all the interventions by both their government and INGO’s. INGO’s, it ought to be noted, have practically taken over the development agenda of certain villages and districts in Uganda – for all the INGO effort, how can peasants not register a step change in their economic fortunes over the last fourteen (14) years?

Th above is not an all out attack on the Ugandan INGO, but a call for self-reflection within the confines of an entity (INGO), that has spent so much money In Uganda addressing economic development matters of the poor. The same INGO has ‘talked-up’ its results precisely the positive impact it has had on the fortunes of the poor in Uganda. What is this change all about, if it cannot at the very least release a few of my fellow Ugandans from the pains of a peasant-state?

Below are the highlights of Uganda’s 2014 Census results (New Vision 25th March 2016):

  1. 69% of households are engaged in subsistence agriculture and are yet to join the money economy in Uganda
  2. Only 31% of Ugandans are engaged in any form of income generating activity (stagnant since 2002)
  3. Only 22% of households have functional bank accounts – 18% of which are in commercial banks; 43% of the urban households have functional bank accounts; only 18% of female-headed households have bank accounts
  4. Between 2002 and 2014, Uganda has registered a population increase from 24.2 million to 34.6 million; with a 3% fertility rate, the population will be over 40 million by 2025
  5. Uganda’s population density is 173 persons per square kilometre, a two-fold increase from the 85 persons in 1991
  6. Over 70% of the population in Uganda are youth
  7. The age dependency ratio is 103 – so, every economically active Ugandan has 103 dependants

We have highlighted the first and second set of metrics from Uganda’s 2014 census, and are concerned about the stagnation of these two metrics – friends, can you believe that fourteen (14) years of massive investment by INGO’s in micro-economic development programming, apparently built on a foundation of strong pro-poor financial inclusion programmes has only brought to Uganda fourteen years (14) of stagnation in a peasant-state?

We at the Effectiveness-lab believe that when ‘effective’ investments are made in both the Education and Economic sectors of an economy like Uganda’s, you will start to see a tangible change in the fortunes of the poor.  We also understand very well that development is a process that takes time. However, we find it hard to accept that over fourteen (14) years of development work by INGO’s in Uganda, they have been unable to contribute even half a percentage point (0.5%) of change, to the economic fortunes of the peasant Ugandan.

READ ALSO: The INGO Crisis of Identity

How do we explain the fact that In Uganda, only 31% of the population are engaged in any type of income generating activity and that this figure has been stagnant since 2002? Is there not something phony about economic development programming efforts by INGO’s in Uganda?

Categories: Strategy

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4 replies

  1. An extremely powerful article Apollo! I couldn’t agree more- Thank you for ‘pinching’ us so painfully.



  1. The phony International development narrative – Series 2 of 2 – Gabazira's blog

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