When I say the poverty here in my region of Busoga is akin to a ‘total furnace’, it may be easy for some people to assume I am exaggerating, or that I am looking for sympathy. That isn’t the case.
Here are 8 things you need to know:
1). Busoga is a 10,318 square kilometer region, nearly the size of the west African country The Gambia.
2). In Uganda, Busoga is the talk everywhere, when it comes to poverty.
If you spoke to any person elsewhere in Uganda, i.e., those who do not live in Busoga, and asked them what they know about Busoga, the very first thing that they will tell you is the severe poverty.
That’s, even those people in other parts of Uganda who themselves live in abject poverty, and who themselves do not have anything — as long as they belong to a place other than Busoga — one thing that they will tell you about Busoga is the ultra poverty. Yet they don’t even live here.
The Uganda National Bureau of Statistics, too, agrees.
The poverty here is the subject of every news headline. Every headline. Every headline. Every headline. Every headline. Every headline. Every headline. Every headline. Every headline. Every headline.
Some estimates put the poverty rate in Busoga at ~14%, but the most believable report is the one that says our poverty rate is actually 74.8%, against a national average of 63%. And if you step out into Busoga’s countryside, it is safe to say that the poverty rate in some individual remote rural communities is well beyond 90%, or even beyond 95%.
Because the fact is: the poverty here is unspeakable.
3). Life across Busoga still has a near-ancient taste.
In 2010, Busoga was the talk allover Uganda, for a full-blown jigger infestation. Nine of our 11 districts were invaded by jiggers and, putting poor hygiene apart, these jiggers were squarely blamed on the biting poverty here, and the poor housing conditions most people live in. It isn’t even over yet. Those jiggers were here with us long before they became national news, and every now and then, they still haunt us.
And again, it is all because of nothing but ultra poverty.
4). On Oct 29, 2022, Uganda’s president Museveni visited Busoga. He was appalled by the poverty he saw here, asking “how do you people live through this?
So much so that he even promised never to come back here, unless there was some visible change on the scale of poverty in this place.
The Monitor, one of Uganda’s major newspapers, also quotes Museveni as being “deeply devastated” by the poverty he saw here on his visit.
And I can assure you, what Museveni saw is the smallest part of the poverty we are weathering here. There are entire households here that can’t even afford soap or salt. There are those that only earn as little as Ugx 50,000 – Ugx 100,000 (or $13 – $27) in an entire planting season of four months. And there are those that only have rags for beddings.
To see this for yourself, take the 77km road from Kamuli town to Bukungu, on the shores of Lake Kyoga in Buyende, or the 52km road from Kamuli to Iyingo, then move from household to household, and you will see what I am talking about. That is where my own village of Namisita is located, and is where I permanently live.
5). For the most part, there is nothing whatsoever that is happening to end poverty. If you visited my childhood district of Buyende, one of Busoga’s most miserable places that is home to over 400,000 people, you would be hard pressed to find a single antipoverty agency that has ever been here, not just lately, but from as far back as the early 90s.
It is also the same thing in many other communities across Busoga, a region nearly the size of the west African country The Gambia. Even in those few poor communities that have been lucky enough to get some random antipoverty intervention, the impact has always been very short-lived, and unseen.
A 2021 report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics which painted the bleakiest picture for Busoga, which report you can listen to here, put it plainly that… “Poverty programs and interventions have not had any dent in reducing poverty”.
That is why I really believe: the only way global poverty can end, is by putting the world’s ultra poor, i.e., those of us at the very bottom of the pyramid, directly at the helm.
Because, again, for the most part, there is nothing whatsoever that is happening to end poverty in a place like ours. Even those few interventions that have occasionally come up, and which interventions “haven’t had any dent on reducing poverty” as the government’s report says, these interventions have almost always been top-bottom.
The extreme poor, meanwhile, permanently live here, and are therefore best placed to end poverty, with continuity, if only they were at the helm, or if they were accorded the means to take charge of events.
6). Sadly, global antipoverty funding isn’t for WE the poor.
Today, only 1% of all the money that is intended to end global poverty (Official Development Aid and Humanitarian Assistance combined), is what goes directly to the extreme poor in the global south as a WHOLE.
Specifically, only 1% of all Official Development Assistance (funding from agencies like USAID, UKAID etc), and an even smaller portion (0.4% in 2018 alone) of all international humanitarian assistance (all charitable global antipoverty funding included), is what goes directly to local and national grassroots organizations in the global south, today.
Moreover, for the latter (i.e., humanitarian assistance), the 0.4% in 2018 was an increase, according to the 2019 Global Humanitarian Assistance Report. In earlier years, that figure was even smaller.
And when it comes to Africa in particular — the ground zero of the global fight against poverty…
In 2018 alone, only 5.2% of the $9 billion in US foundation funding that was specifically earmarked for Sub Saharan Africa, went to local organizations in Africa — the African Visionary Fund, a partnership between the Segal Family Foundation and other US grantmakers, says on their website, quoting a report from the US Council on Foundations.
And since the total amount of development aid and international humanitarian assistance that goes directly to the global south as a whole is just ~1.4%, it is safe to say that, overall, the total share of this, which goes directly to grassroots organizations in Africa alone, is well in the 0.1%’s, all philanthropic global antipoverty funding included.
7). The development sector, too, is very inaccessible to people like us.
The other 99% of global antipoverty funding, today, remains in the hands of western global antipoverty agencies, not even in the hands of the dreaded corrupt government officials in poor countries like ours*.
Implying, the only way for people like us to escape poverty, is to get some global antipoverty agency to lend you a voice.
Sadly, the global development sector has historically operated at arm’s length from the poor, and is very, very inaccessible to people like us.
What most people do not realize is:
For those of us who are directly battling ultra poverty, it is relatively easy to get some random person — say an anarchist club somewhere in London, or someone in New York who describes themselves as an “abolitionist” — to lend you a voice on extreme poverty, than to get anyone from the global development sector, to work together with you on poverty, even in the slightest way.
Why? These people are convinced that the world’s poor must only wait for their own solutions to come. Problem? Their own solutions, which could have brought them together with people like us, only reach a few poor communities, and are very, very rare to find in a place like ours. And as I said earlier, even in those few poor communities that are lucky to be reached, the impact has always been very short-lived, and unseen.