JINJA – In 2016, Presidential hopeful Dr KizzaBesigye in his words said; “For 30 years now, Busoga has been clapping for the NRM and saying let it stay and continue ruling but that has not translated into meaningful development. The region is instead lagging behind and is now the headquarters of poverty.”
Dr Besigye was on a campaign trail in Jinja and used his rallies to throw daggers at government, which he accused of fueling poverty in the district and Busoga sub-region in general.
The district once boasted as Uganda’s food basket producing a wide range of Uganda’s food needs and also hosted most of Uganda’s industries. However, since the early 1980s, the district has been on a downward spiral save for a few pockets of growth. With the collapse of industries and cooperatives so did commercial agriculture.
Titus Kisambira, the Jinja district chairperson, attributes the stinging poverty to reluctance and ignorance on how to use the available resources, including land and water to generate wealth.
“Jinja is the heartland of the country. The endowments it has cannot be found anywhere in the country. From the source of the Nile to Itanda Falls. It is just amazing,” Kisambira said.
He, however, said it is the Jinja residents who have failed to harness the available resources to better their livelihoods.
“Right from our great grandfathers, we have had the problem of failure to utilize resources. Remember when our ancestors allowed colonial masters to cut down Mvule trees for free under the pretext that ‘gyameragyene’ literally meaning that they grew on their own,” he said.
Kisambira said the elevation of Jinja to city status will enhance development and help create more jobs for the residents.
“The budget will have to be revised to operationalise the new city. We have been receiving about Shs35 billion but this will be revised,” he said.
But the Jinja mayor Majid Batambuze was quick to blame the high levels of poverty in Jinja on polygamy.
“Poverty cannot end when we have people who sell land or borrow money from banks to marry second or third wives,” he said.
Recent statistics from the Uganda Bureau of Standards (UBOS) indicate that an average Musoga man can marry up to four wives with eight children or more, making the poverty-stricken sub-region one of the populous tribes in the country.
Busoga sub-region, according to figures from UBOS, has a population of 4.2 million people and contributes more than 40% of the entire population of Eastern Uganda.
Batambuze said majority of Basoga have failed to manage their destiny.
“Individuals are masters of their own fate. But many of our people do not know this. They just sit on the fence and hope that the government will lift them out of poverty. With such a mentality, we may fail to reap the benefits of city status,” Batambuze said.
He also blamed the poverty on youths who sell ancestral lands and buy motorcycles.
“People, especially youth sell land to acquire motorcycles. They then move to what is now a city and some unfortunately lose the cycles to robbers and retreat into poverty,” Batambuze said.
But Maureen Aol, a resident of Jinja and librarian at Young Men Christian Association (YMCA), said the city status will not stem the poverty in the district but instead enrich a few people, especially the politicians.
“The city has not brought money for us. We still need to work hard and even the Bible is clear on this,” Ms Aol said.
But Dr Frank Nabwiso, a former legislator for Kagoma county an aspirant for the mayoral race, attributes Jinja’s present woes to the privatisation scheme that reportedly ‘killed industries’ and negligence by the government to keep industrial giant afloat.
“Jinja in the 1970s and early 1980s was a hub of economic activity and even people without sound education used the economic gains to take their children to schools like Busoga College Mwiri,” DrNabwiso said.
He blamed President Yoweri Museveni for short-changing the district and the entire Busoga sub-region despite its significant contribution to the assumption and maintenance of power by the NRM government.
But Robert Kanusi, a former Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) publicist and aspiring mayor for the nascent city in an interview with this reporter, attributed the poverty levels in Jinja district to witchcraft and sorcery.
“Busoga beats any region in Uganda as far as practicing witchcraft is concerned and my little economics tells me that witchcraft is a sign of poverty and underdevelopment,” Kanusu said.
Studies show that areas that engage in witchcraft tend to stay poor, the reason why it is rare to find witchcraft in Ankole, Uganda’s second richest region after Buganda.
To depict how far witchcraft has eaten up the moral fibre of the once Uganda’s food basket, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga in early 2016 caused controversy when she visited a shrine to offer thanks to the gods for her election win.
However, renown scholar and former vice-chancellor of Busoga University, Prof. Christopher Bakwesegha, attributed the poverty in Jinja to intrigue and sabotage in the district and said as long these persist, poverty will continue to plague the district despite its new status.
“There are four types of PhDs; there is the doctorate of philosophy (the one I hold), there is the second PhD which stands for Permanent Head Damage, there is the third and most dangerous one which stands for Praise Him Deceptively and then the last one which means Pull Him Down. The latter is what has caused the region serious problems,” Prof Bakwesegha said.
He accused the current leaders of jostling for positions and influence instead of helping lift the new city from the poverty abyss it finds itself in.
Jinja city is one of the five that became operational on July 1 following approval by Cabinet. The other cities include Arua, Gulu, Fort Portal and Mbarara.