We are in the office of a civil society organisation in Apac town. A national newspaper is carrying the story that the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala has cost Uganda’s economy 276 billion Shillings in financial years 2006/2007 and 2007/2008. This sum amounts to Euro 109,7 million or US$ 160 million. The president is quoted saying that the funds were “used to repair roads” in the town of Entebbe and in the Kampala areas of Nakasero and Kololo and “support private hotels through co-investment.” Funds were also utilised for “upgrading the security infrastructure”.
Three people are debating whether this fantastic expense was justified, right, necessary, and wise. Juliet is a recent graduate of development studies; she comes from the east of the country but lives in Apac as she is married to a Langi. Marino is an accountant in the late twenties and works for the organisation at which the discussion unfolds. Rose is also an employee of the organisation; she is the office assistant and probably in her thirties.
What do you think of spending 276 billion on Chogm?
Juliet: “Of course that is a lot of money, considering that it is tax-payers’ money. How do you see that thing: modernising just because the Queen is coming? While other areas you leave just like they are. Now the Queen is going away with that view: ‘Nice hotels! Nice views!’ If I was the Queen, by the way, I would have suggested visiting some other district, like Hoima. Or talk of an IDP camp! Then the Queen would have known what Uganda is really like. On the other hand, [in our culture] you have to prepare for a visitor.”
Rose: “I don’t have much to say. Only that the CHOGM money they have used are a lot. The money that should have been used for the community, they have just used it for the CHOGM. That’s the little I can say.”
Juliet: “By the way, that is not even development. The people in Kampala can not even afford the hotels.”
Rose: “And now, if I may ask: what is the impact? The impact of the Queen’s coming to Uganda: What has it achieved?”
Marino decides to enter the discussion. He says: “I thought about the question yesterday; there were a lot of questions in my mind. Why are certain things not happening and then, all of a sudden, we seem to have a lot of money when the CHOGM comes to Uganda. Things have moved so fast, money have been readily available. But other development projects are stuck. I am not thinking bad about hosting the CHOGM. I am just wondering. However, we needed the CHOGM. Look at the big picture of what CHOGM will bring; that is how you see what CHOGM will bring.”
Juliet: “Even those long-term achievements, what are those?”
Marino: “It will bring foreign direct investment, remove trade barriers.”
Juliet: “These are just talked about. What about the human rights abuses?”
Marino: “Investment is like advocacy: the more we talk about it, the more the positive side will come forward. It is like marketing.”
Juliet: “Like corruption: the more we talk about it the bigger it will get? The more we talk about it, the more we are teaching others about it.”
Marino does not answer; instead he says: “The head of state for Trinidad and Tobago, the next place for CHOGM, said he will take Uganda as a standard.”
Juliet: “He will take Kampala as a standard.”
Marino: “The nationalist does not speak like that. It is the whole of Uganda that will benefit. All this period, Kampala was very dirty, very bushy; so I was wondering why many development activities were stuck.”
Juliet: “But is it just like when a visitor comes, you organise the sitting room but the bedroom is dirty. Kampala is the sitting room, but sometimes the bedroom is so dirty it can even smell into the sitting room.
Did the ceremony make you proud of being Ugandan?
Juliet: “Those hotels are owned by foreigners. The people who transported the guests were locals, but were later disqualified. I mean this one of Tour and Something Transport.”
Marino: “But when we look at business, let us not accept only Ugandan firms. Foreign direct investment will bring employment.”
Marino: “Development cannot be achieved in isolation. We need to think also about Kenya, Nigeria, Europe. And what about Asia? The US? I am not saying we should not support locals. But we need to think about investment.”
Juliet: “So development is just about international relations?”
Marino: “Foreign markets will bring standards. Look at this Star Coffee [a Ugandan product packed in a nice container]; how many locals know about this coffee and its quality? It is trade that pushes up this high standard.”
Julie: “You will always think, ‘my mother’s food is the best’ until you visit the neighbour and taste their food. When the white man came, he said ‘Everything black is evil. Everything white is civilisation’. That was the missionaries, the first ones to come. Even if colonisation had not taken place, Africa would still be primitive. You see, you can only call yourself poor if you value other things. If you cherish a mansion, then you can call yourself poor. Industrialisation was not of value to Africans.”
The conversation ends here, exhausted by its conceptual journey from the Queen and the state of the roads, over investment strategies and corruption, to colonialism. But with CHOGM as a point of departure, the conversation touched on deeper issues concerning the nature of development and the means of bringing it about: is development for all or is unevenness allowed, is it remedied by protected industrialisation or liberalisation of the economy, and is the real obstacle a post-colonial inferiority complex or a lack of standards?