On July 12, Africa reminded me of my late dear aunt, who lived as a prisoner of customary beliefs, that a woman must be managed by a man, however daft he may be.
On that day, the UN released bold report, A World of Debt; A Growing Burden to Global Prosperity, which indicated that Africa is made to pay more for loans by eight times than Europe and four times more than the United States, so the world’s poorest continent ends up spending more in debt servicing than it does on education or health.
My late aunt had been born lucky, to my grandfather who had enough sense of justice to bequeath equal inheritance to daughters and sons alike. So my aunts were highly desired for marriage and got swept off the shelf just as they attained puberty.
This aunt was married by a selfish man who worked her like a slave on her land, where she produced enormous amounts of coffee that made him so rich that he acquired other women, abused her and refused to take her children to school.
He became a big produce trader, moved to town and abandoned her. But, believing that she needed a man to lead her homestead, she accepted the advances of a local drunkard, who moved in as she started slaving for him. Newly arrived to wealth, he drank the proceeds of her land and labour, infected her with alcoholism and they withered into the next world.
Her illiterate sons sold off the land, bought boda bodas and disappeared in the slums of our unplanned city.
By sheer coincidence, as the UN debt report was being released by the Secretary-General, several conferences in Kampala were directly and indirectly discussing the debt situation.
At the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), Ugandan intellectuals were angry at the country’s threatening debt situation.
Development workers attending the EPRC dialogue were mad at the government for providing money to pay salaries for agricultural extension workers in the new budget without providing equipment for them to work.
The development workers were shocked by a senior government man at the meeting who explained that with the extension workers hired and paid, some (foreign) development partner should turn up with (loan) funds to equip them to work.
A prominent economist used the EPRC occasion to warn citizens and the government to stop borrowing for impressing onlookers. He said a government that borrows for white elephant infrastructure projects acts like its (male) citizens who borrow to throw lavish weddings. Indeed, a few years back, a development bank in Kampala was discouraging wedding fundraising meetings by promoting its new loan facility for people who wanted to stage big weddings.
On the same July 12, the country’s minister for Science, Technology and Innovation Prof Monica Musenero was imploring fellow leaders to stop delegating their thinking function to money lenders.
The professor, who is an accomplished researcher but until recently a political outsider, told the first annual general meeting of a government-owned manufacturing company that with all the minerals in the soil and favourable agricultural conditions, the country did not need to rely on the thinking by money lenders on how to capitalise its industries.
Citing a few Asian countries that thought for themselves out of poverty, she argued that whenever a country identifies and supports an “industry of industries” — one which stimulates backward and forward linkage economic activities — value chains are created to employ more people, who expand markets for its nascent industries.
But money lenders are also the UN’s new headache, as its Secretary-General radically calls for the dismantling of the current “world finance architecture” that is driving Africa deeper in debt.
Yes, the UN report observes that after being messed under the current architecture, our countries are now turning to commercial money lenders. It seems my aunt’s ghost still lives on in African governments.