Crisis, Adjustment and Growth in Uganda: A Study of Adaptation in an African Economy (review)
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Africa Today 47.3/4 (2000) 202-204



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Bigsten, Arne, And Steve Kayizzi-mugerwa. 1999. Crisis, Adjustment and Growth in Uganda: a Study of Adaptation in An African Economy. New York: St. Martin's Press. 147 Pp.

Bigsten and Kayizzi-Mugerwa analyze the economy and describe the politics of postindependence Uganda. Ultimately, they conclude that Uganda's government, economy, and population all seem to have taken a turn for the best, and they are fairly optimistic, albeit with reservations, about Uganda's future. The authors hold that Uganda has unusually, if not uniquely, adapted to contemporary pressures in constructive ways that have changed the country's socioeconomic direction from catastrophic decline to governmental, economic, and household-level recovery. They argue that the country has begun moving forward from a difficult past, according to conditionalities imposed by contemporary donors, and that these adaptations are laying a relatively stable foundation for continuing improvements in the future.

The authors present their results in a narrative rich in detail, covering policy shifts and macroeconomic outcomes from just before independence to the near future. They make a strong case that Uganda faced truly tremendous socioeconomic obstacles as the 1980s unfolded, despite the optimism that had reigned in the early 1960s. The policy story is compelling, and empirical data is provided at many junctures to keep the reader reminded of both key issues and broader context.

Considering the broad sweep of their descriptive analysis, it is somewhat surprising to find a third of the book taken up by appendices presenting two 1990 household surveys, one conducted in Kampala and the other in the nearby region of Masaka. While the empirical detail in these sections is well-presented, well-explained, and welcome, this "snapshot" should not have disproportionate influence on an analytical perspective purporting to range from the 1960s to the present day. These data do seem to be critical inputs for some of the authors' important conclusions about the nature, depth, and projected sustainability of Uganda's improved direction.

An interesting tension that could perhaps have been resolved in a fuller analysis concerns the curious absence of the political dynamics thread one might expect to run through this political economy story. Although this study examines policies in some depth, with the mechanisms underlying economic behavior often theorized and elaborated, the politics that [End Page 202] are clearly also affecting actors' choices rarely seem to enter the discussion at all. Given the fundamental importance of political conflicts and instability to the creation of Uganda's prereform economic troubles, such a gap is not trivial.

It is not, perhaps, entirely fair to ask authors to explain all of the dynamics at work throughout four decades of any country's history in 147 pages. Yet the puzzles underlying the optimistic picture presented in this book are implicitly raised by the authors themselves. Problems occurred in many African countries in the 1960s, but they ascribe the drastic nature of some of Uganda's problems to "tendencies to violence." Many African countries began to score some successes in the 1990s, but the surprising degree of Uganda's bounce back is ascribed to "willingness to implement" reforms. They wish to present Uganda as unusually troubled in the past, and thus unusually successful now, but also suggest it may be a good model for recovery in other African countries. Some minimal evidence and comparative discussion would assist greatly in supporting these propositions.

It is troubling to consider how ephemeral recovery could be, based on a population's transitory tendencies or a government's (or Museveni's) political will. Without a more careful consideration of a fuller range of the factors that translate posited "tendencies" or "willingness" into action--or inhibit their expression--it is difficult to muster much faith in the sustainability of Uganda's success story. Any change in individual leadership, group mobilization, political coalitions, or regional and international interests, for instance, could mean that the next volume of the sequel to the Uganda story might be that "willingness" failed, and/or "tendencies" reasserted themselves.

Many...


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