You could literally run of out of fingers if you are to enumerate Uganda’s several state-led poverty alleviation efforts that have failed flat. Over the years, the government has rolled out several projects, but there is embarrassingly little progress to show at the end of the day.  Newer keep flopping just like precursor projects.

Over two decades ago, in 1988, the government with support of World bank rolled out Program for Alleviation of Poverty and Social Costs of Adjustment (PAPSCA). Subsequently, the Poverty Alleviation Project (PAP) of 1993, the Entadikwa scheme of 1996, Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) of 1997, the Poverty Action Fund (PAF) of 1998, the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) and the Vision 2025.

After 10 years of implementing National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS), a component  of the  ambitious PMA, the president declared that NAADs had failed to achieve its mandate. Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) was created to correct the mistakes of NAADs. Ironically, sooner than later, OWC itself was on spotlight for allegedly delivering rotten seeds to beneficiaries.

The single common feature of all these flopped programs is that they have all been some sort of top bottom interventions. They are plans about alleviating poor people, but without the participatory input of the poor people themselves; the supposed beneficiaries. It has been a case of government doing the same things, but expecting different results. All these programmes entailed government giving out free inputs or cash as entry point for economic empowerment.

The brutal truth is that wealth creation starts from the mind. The government can give out as much money as it can, but without preparing the minds of the recipients, nothing much can be achieved. That is precisely the reason lottery winners often go back to their previous financial status after squandering the windfall. Great billionaires of this world didn’t get where they are from handouts. Some of them now have more money than the GDP of Uganda but they began from the scratch.

Evidence abound of a high number beneficiaries of Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF) who simply sold off the animals they received. That is expected; people tend not to value what they haven’t worked hard to get. A farmer who received a free fresian cow wouldn’t be bothered by the death of his cow. On the other hand a farmer who bought his own cow using his hard earned cash would feel the pain. Thus, some one who has used his own will work hard for the success of the proceed compared to a freebie recipient.   

Worst of all, free things tend to breed dependency syndrome. Some farmers are now stupid enough to shun agriculture capacity building training where there are no “transport refund”. Instead of happily receiving free training on modern agriculture techniques, a farmer now wants to be paid an allowance for being trained. You might ask: how did we get here? Its these free handouts that have exacerbated dependency syndrome and propped this mediocrity.  

Community members who couldn’t be considered as part of a small pilot project by an NGO now have the audacity to organise themselves to complain about missing out on a free handout by a foreign NGO. Ugandan MPs are probably  have a good grasp of the present scale of dependency syndrome.

Sometimes people stay poor because they are oblivious of the fact that they can better their lives. And all that starts in the mind. That explains why even in the era of free education offered by UPE (never mind the quality) some rural parents do not bother  taking their children to school and they are comfortable with it. Some parents force their daughters into early marriages so as to get dowry. There are villages that have too much mangoes in some seasons, and they oblivious they can process it into pulp.  This goes on to show that mindset re-engineering is so vital in povery eradication efforts. Skills, awareness and exposure are much more of a necessity to the rural folks than the handouts.   

The government can give handouts to thousands of villagers, but there is that one entrepreneur who will start from zero and create much wealth than all of these recipients of handouts combined. Since this one entrepreneur can create jobs for thousands of people, the government should focus on creating conducive atmosphere for entrepreneurs.  

It’s far better to offer these inputs at subsidized rates than giving them out for free. The subsidy would be an incentive for the recipient to work harder on their projects since their own money is on the line in case of failure. That would certainly reduce the failure rate by a significant margin. Those who are too poor to afford the already subsidised inputs can still benefit indirectly as employees in these supported ventures.   

President Yoweri Museveni With a farmer


Another viable option is encouraging beneficiaries to form cooperatives, to which government offers matched funding. Being tasked to raise some money on their own, however little, as pre-qualification criteria for accessing government funding will create a spirit of self actualization. The only sorts of ventures where freebies cannot lead to dependency syndrome are social enterprises. That’s because social enterprises can make their money to sustain their existence while creating great impacts or providing crucial services at lower cost.

Dependency syndrome is so bad that even in some communities where people are blessed with immense resources such as land, they can’t acknowledge the value of these assets. Isn’t it shocking for a family collectively owning 100 acres of land to be suffering from starvation? With these assets, even if one had no capital, they could make use o these assets to their benefits. They could enter into short term joint venture with investors, where one party provides the land, and another party provides capital. Sensitizing locals to become aware of these opportunities  is a far much sustainable approach for empowering our farmers rather than handouts.

Looking at the way poor folks cheer corrupt politicians who are responsible for these massive failures, you momentarily realize that the mindset ought to be the starting point of any effective poverty alleviation programme. Above all else, besides the much needed government intervention, we should create an atmosphere where every individual feels duty bound to fight poverty in his/her own homestead.