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The monster of capitalism and the idea of free markets in Uganda

At the start of the early 1990s, Uganda seriously started to adhere to economic reforms including reducing government spending, opening to free trade, privatisation, liberalisation and so on. Just call them Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs).

In doing so we took a significant shift towards embracing capitalism and free markets as the driving forces of Uganda’s economy. The world was moving this way and these became conditions to interact with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and other powerful institutions and countries.

By the way, who owns the world’s debt? How do they use the money we owe them? It’s debit and credit. While these ideologies promise economic growth and prosperity, they have also unleashed a monster and a cruelty that threatens to undermine the social fabric and intensified many inequalities and evils we did not have as the African peoples.

Indeed, capitalism and free markets in Uganda have actually attracted foreign direct investment, stimulated economic growth, and reduced poverty for some. Their implementation has not been without challenges. Or these economic ideals were not suitable for African communities that were born out of ‘ubuntu?’.

Capitalism wasn’t part of the African traditions. Hasn’t it left Uganda (Africa) plundered both by her own children and the foreign protagonists of this ideal? Our elders will tell us, this stain of corruption has been aggravated by capitalism. Greed is good. Our super structures that our communities thrived on, which were based on models such as “okusiira”-sharing, could never breed corruption as capitalism has.

Our chasing of wealth, material possessions has led to a culture of consumerism and individualism, undermining the sense of community and solidarity that was once a mark of our African society. WehavelostourAfrican values and identity to overseas cultures and a haemorrhage of our resources.

Can you imagine if we worked five days a week and the weekend was for our communities, families, community work and so on? The monster of capitalism can not allow us. We feel we’re losing out on money. We need to keep pace with the rest of the world as we work in these agents of capitalism.

Capitalism thus steps upon our personal, communal and social freedom, and cannot deliver on this inestimable gift-freedom. The gift to the natural man granted by God. An economic ideal where only power and profit matter, leaves us only wounded with a key issue of the rising evil of income inequality.

When you happen to visit our villages or slums, it hurts. Inequalities are a hot space for tension between the rich and the poor that can lead to a lot of social strife and it’s not ethical or moral at all. Capitalism promises to create wealth and opportunity for all, but in reality, it often leads to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. Individuals become profit centres.

The individual is reduced to merchandise and a tool of output. Liberalization of key sectors such as banking, telecommunications, and energy has globally created the emergence of powerful monopolies-the so-called multinational entities. These dominate the market and stifle competition.

You will not write about the cruelty of capitalism without noting the impact capitalism has on the environment. We are chasing profit at the expense of the environment, as companies prioritize short-term gains over long-term sustainability. When you watch the news and actually see this reality of how drastic climate change is impacting lives; long droughts, flash floods, water stress, immigration, refugees, heat
waves and so on, you can’t fail to throw an arrow against capitalism.

Hasn’t capitalism led to deforestation, pollution, plastics everywhere, new forms of incurable diseases and all other forms of environmental degradation. Capitalism cannot thus deliver on its promises. Not only does it harm the environment but it also threatens the livelihoods of millions of Ugandans who depend on natural resources for their survival.

You will say this man has over attacked an economic model in which he was born, educated and so forth. Despite these ills, advocates of capitalism will favour some significant benefits to Uganda. The country has experienced sustained economic growth, with GDP increasing at an average rate of 6 to 7% per year.

We can agree, this has led to improvements in living standards, with poverty rates falling and access to basic services such as education and healthcare improving. These benefits are coming at an invaluable cost.

On an individual basis you can confront capitalism through; buying local products, purchasing long lasting goods, be frugal, share items like cars, housing; participate in community activities such cleaning the environment around you, reduce the use of social media, and advocate for ubuntu in contrast to the deceptions of capitalism.

The monster of capitalism and free markets in Uganda is a double-edged sword. The proponents will quickly say it has brought economic growth and prosperity; it’s in our faces devouring us, threatening to undermine our social fabric, aggravate inequalities and the other ills above.

We need to strike a balance between economic growth and social justice and rediscover the genuine and ethical foundations of our societies.

We may not push it back, the powers behind it are monstrous but as policy makers and implementers, let us ensure the economic model is put to use of man. Capitalism should serve man not man becoming a slave of this monster.


The author is a social critic

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