Uganda: The long arms of international institutions


Over the last few days I have been watching a conversation on Twitter between some of the Ugandans I follow.

The conversation appeared to be a protest about something the electric supplier @UmemeLtd  in Uganda had or had not done to annoy a prominent Ugandan lawyer @dfkm1970 .

UMEME LTD has monopoly over the supply of electricity in Uganda and has sought to impose a system that would see folk all users transferred onto pre-paid meters whether they like it or not. To achieve its ends UMEME Ltd resorted to intimidation and threats to disconnect customers who did not sign up for the switch.

It is this that got David F.K Mpanga angry. As a lawyer he investigated his rights and those of  the electricity supplier and this culminated into the exposure of UMEME’s unethical practices in this post.

The use of prepaid meters is not new nor unique to Uganda/UMEME indeed here in the UK it is seen as away of helping those on a low income manage their finances.

However, this is contested  as some experts argue that consumers that  pay for their domestic  fuel using this method pay a lot more than those who pay monthly. Moreover that this sort of consumer is the one that can least afford to pay  for fuel using a prepaid meter.

But the  issues raised in David’s post got me thinking about  the actions  and or decisions of  International Institutions such as the World Bank, World Trade Organisation etc

These institutions have over the years  advocated limited government intervention as well as market liberalization through opening up trade barriers to international markets and the privatisation of publicly owned institutions  in the global South  in exchange for various forms of aid, grants and loans.

However the selling off of government businesses has not necessarily reduce poverty levels nor bring about effective service delivery for citizens that had been envisaged  as demonstrated by David and his experience at the hands of UMEME.

UMEME came out of what was known as the Uganda Electrical Board (UEB) and was privatised along with other previously controlled government utility companies. During the privatisation frenzy, Uganda also became an “aid darling” with donors throwing money at Museveni’s new government.

The extent to which that aid has benefitted the man on the ground is debatable as the disparity between the rich and the poor in Uganda is huge.

What we learn from David’s post is that instead of helping the poor  the International Finance Corporation a subsidiary of the World Bank and the  Commonwealth Development Corporation have partnered with a global company with unethical practices that disadvantage the poor.

It is evident that these international institutions do not serve the interests of the common man a situation that is compounded by the fact the  government is the gate keeper between the domestic economy and the international system.

With the government in control of economic growth and playing gatekeeper,  the man on the street has to have his wits about him to keep ahead of the long arms of the international institutions and his government!





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