On 9th October 2011, Uganda passed the milestone of her 49th year of nationhood and embarked on the journey into her 50th year which will be concluded on Independence Day 2012. The journey through this Jubilee year provides an opportune time to commemorate the achievements and failures of the past, celebrate our present station and contemplate the journey yet ahead. With an average national life expectancy of 53 years, very few of us can expect to be around during the centennial jubilee. 2012 is therefore an opportune year for individuals, families and organizations to reflect on their journey over the last 50 years looking at both the positive and negative events and trends. It is time for stock taking and celebrating achievements while drawing lessons from the failures and planning the future. It is also time to make personal, corporate and even national resolutions for the sake of posterity. Celebrating the nation’s golden Jubilee is a once in a lifetime experience for present citizens of Uganda that we must savor.
According to Wikipedia, the English term Jubilee derives from the Hebrew term yobhel, meaning ram; the Jubilee year in ancient Israel was announced by a blast on an instrument made from a ram’s horn called a shofar. It signaled the beginning of a year of showing mercy and promoting justice by forgiveness amnesty, reconciliation and debt cancellation. The ancient hebraic time of Jubilee dealt largely with land, property, and property rights. It signaled a time of resetting the economic clock in a nation whose livelihood was almost entirely agricultural. Land was held on a customary basis and after every 49 years it reverted back to the original owner in the year of jubilee and debts were forgiven and cancelled. It was also a vacation year and therefore an opportune time for planning and refocusing for the future; each family considered its options as the means of their production changed. It provided a chance to correct errors of the past and ushered in possibilities and opportunities of a lifetime. It is from the Jubilee that the concepts of sabbatical leave, the 49- and 99- year land lease laws were derived. This month we reflect and take stock of our finances and economy.
According to the United Nations, a country is classified as a Least Developed Country if it meets three criteria. First it must have low income (three-year average Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of less than US $905 – it must exceed $1,086 to leave the list). According to 2010 World Bank Statistics Uganda’s GNI is USD 500 . Secondly it must have human resource weakness based on indicators of nutrition, health, education and adult literacy and thirdly it must have economic vulnerability (based on instability of agricultural production, instability of exports of goods and services, economic importance of non-traditional activities, merchandise export concentration, handicap of economic smallness, and the percentage of population displaced by natural disasters).
Uganda has taken strides in many of these areas and there is ground for celebration; however we are still classified as a Least Developed Country. One positive statistic we can celebrate is the drop in the number of people living below the poverty line: from from 56.4% in 1992 to 24.5% of the population in 2010 according to statistics from the Uganda National Bureau of Standards. While we may rightly congratulate ourselves on improvements like this, on many accounts in comparison to the rest of the world, we have a long journey ahead of us.
It is my sincere hope and prayer that our nation within the next 50 years will move from its current status of a low income country to that of an upper middle and even high income country. After all countries like Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea, which were performing worse than us at independence, have been able to make this transition within one generation.
The current sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone and the debt crisis faced by the United States of America (USA is the most indebted nation on earth at about 15 trillion dollars followed by the European Union at about 14 trillion) have highlighted the dangers of living beyond one’s means whether as individuals or nations. This year of Jubilee provides us a time to recommit ourselves to hard work and frugal living. This generation of Ugandans must choose to live leaner in order to enjoy a better future for us and posterity, instead of living recklessly and condemning our children to a future of struggle and servitude. I hope that the leaders in Uganda today will give up the consumer mentality and live sacrificially, faithfully stewarding the nation and its resources for the benefit of its citizens and its very young population (with a median age of 15 – the second youngest population in the world).
Suggestions of practical things that individuals and organizations can do this month to mark the jubilee under the theme of financial and economic wellbeing include exercising generosity especially to those that will not be able to return the favor, writing off some debts and conducting financial and business literacy seminars. Wouldn’t it be great if banks and financial institutions put together Jubilee packages for their clients as a way of giving back to the community in this landmark year? Enjoy the month of February 2012, which this year also gives us an extra day in the year being a leap year. Special birthday greetings to those born on 29th February who only mark their birthdays once in four years!
Dr. James Magara is the chairman of the steering committee of Uganda Jubilee Network