With an average GDP per capita of US$332 in 1998, Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world. The vast majority of Ugandans are farmers on small plots of land which are used for subsistence agriculture or for the cultivation of cash crops such as coffee and tea. However, most of this land is owned by landlords such as chiefs or government functionaries who seldom reinvest in the productive capacity of the village as they can simply rely on rents. This disparity of the ownership of the means of production is reflected by vast inequalities in the distribution of income. The poorest 20 percent of the country controls only 6.6 percent of the wealth, whereas the richest 20 percent benefit from 46.1 percent. In fact, 69 percent of the population lives on less than US$1 a day and the majority of this limited income (63 percent) is spent on food. As a result, in a country whose government spends only 1.9 percent of its GDP on health, the majority of Ugandan citizens struggle to acquire even the most basic health care. There are only 4 doctors and 28 nurses per 100,000 people. Nonetheless, the government has helped to reduce the infant mortality rate from 110 deaths per 1,000 births in 1970 to 84 by 1998.
Most Ugandans have to work 2 or 3 jobs simply to survive, often even to secure a standard of living below the poverty threshold. Moreover, one or more of these jobs are often within the informal sector which draws taxation
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|Dem. Rep. of Congo||392||313||293||247||127|
|SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.|
|Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Uganda|
|Survey year: 1992-93|
|Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.|
|SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].|
revenue away from the government. With the increased unemployment levels associated with the privatization and reduction of employment opportunities in the public service, the army, and former parastatals, workers have become an increasingly flexible and less expensive factor of production. Consequently, trends after 1991 have been in the direction of increased inequality, both between rural and urban areas but also in intra-urban terms, as wages did not increase anywhere near as fast as the rise of profits.
The labor surplus and the desperate need for employment has meant that employers can offer almost whatever they want for wages as they know that they will fill their vacancies. As Susan Dicklitch observes in her book, The Elusive Promise of NGOs in Africa, even the middle class, the traditional bastion of democracy and agitator for change, like the working class are "often too busy trying to eke out a living" to fulfil their historic political role. However, if Uganda's GDP continues its 7 percent annual growth of recent years, if President Museveni's anti-poverty strategy promoted in March 2000 is effective, and if the country continues to benefit from the proposed US$2.3 to US$2.5 billion in external aid, then there is hope that the standard of living for the majority may improve.