Ugandan Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP)

A social analysis of the current Ugandan poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP), known as the poverty eradication action plan (PEAP, 2004/5-2007/8)

Uganda, with the help of a number of international organisations, has created a poverty reduction plan known as the PEAP. This project began in 1995, but came intro fruition around 1997. The goal of the PEAP is to reduce poverty from 44% in 1997 to 10% in 2017 (World Bank Group, 2008). This policy was created in order for Uganda to be eligible for financial aid from the World Bank and IMF under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative (Gariyo, 2001, p. 2). The aim of this essay is to critically examine the recent progress of the PEAP from the relevant documents. This includes examining the PEAP itself from 2004/5-2007/8 as well as look at the poverty assessment projects that have been taking place. The three main issues in this subject are how the plan deals with the concept of poverty, how the poverty assessments are reflected in the PEAP, and the way in which the PEAP has addressed gender issues amongst the poor in Uganda. The objective is to provide a critical analysis of the current situation within Uganda with regards to PEAP, and how effective this plan has been at reducing poverty.

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Concept of Poverty in the PEAP

The concept of poverty within the PEAP has changed since its initial introduction. The original drafts of the plan were focused upon state-led rural development. The plan was then revised and it was decided to concentrate more on social issues. The PEAP plan looks at poverty as primarily being about the issues of economic development, business competitiveness and market growth (Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development., 2005, p. 16). The main measures of poverty within the PEAP are household expenditure and income, and when this falls below a certain level a person or family is considered poor. This poverty line is quite simplistic, but also absolute, as it represents the level needed to secure basic food and other needs. The gap between incomes is also measured to look at inequality within society (Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development., 2005, p. 38).

The poor in Uganda are also identified as those who have problems of regional inequality, with those in the North and rural areas being worse off than those in the Central and urban areas. The study also identified that female-head households of widowed or absent husband families are poorer.

The issue is whether or not this definition of poverty is accurate or correct for the region, as this will obviously affect the success of the policies. Targeting the wrong groups of people or introducing measures that do not really address the issues of poverty in Uganda will not reduce real poverty.

There are those that argue just taking into account consumption and income is not enough to determine poverty and that basic needs and rights need to be taken into account (Kingdon and Knight, 2004, pp. 1-3). However, the situation in Uganda means that the issue of consumption equates to the provision of basic needs. There is a definite cut off between consumption and being able to afford basic food and other amenities. In this case, the measure of income and consumption is adequate. However, the factor that is not taken into account as much within the PEAP seems to security. This is often more of a subjective view than something that can be identified with quantitative data. The security of people within society and their feelings about their situations are crucial to their ability to move out of poverty and improve their lives. The problem with the PEAP view of poverty is that it is perhaps too narrow with regards to the full view of poverty. Whilst it includes issues of consumption and income and indeed social functionality, it leaves out some of the elements of security.

It could be argued that the appeal to empowerment for women and other people is to do with feelings and security, but perhaps it is not enough (Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development., 2005, p. 55). The results of the study seem to suggest as such. Whilst economic growth has improved and poverty head count has been reduced since 1997, the factors of inequality have risen since 2003. In the North the affects of the PEAP policy have been limited because of a lack of security regarding land and the ability for people to move into new industries easily. Therefore, it can be said that whilst the income and consumption indicators of poverty have improved, it is not certain whether this has actually alleviated poverty because the issues of security and the opinions of the poor seemingly have not been taken into account fully. However, more about this will be discussed in the next section – looking at how the poverty analysis is involved within the PEAP. The analysis PPA will be crucial as to whether or not the lack of emphasis on well-being has altered the effectiveness of the PEAP.

There is some evidence however to support this less complex and subjective analysis of the status of poverty in Uganda. McGee (2004, pp. 517-521) showed that contradictions and arguments with regards to what is exactly happening to poverty in Uganda is unhelpful. Instead, a less oppositional approach is better, with a focus on the income and consumption of those in Uganda. This may not be the most accurate measure of poverty, but it is an effective and productive way to produce policies that will have a positive impact on the economy and therefore alleviate poverty.

However, poverty assessments carried out as part of the World Bank strategy have shown that many of these assessments, including those of Uganda, put too much emphasis on increasing income and investment. These policies are weak in addressing the real causes of poverty such as social inequality, and ignore issues of politics and history. Therefore, it must be said that whilst Uganda is one of the more thorough nations with regards to its assessments, it still lacks a subjective view and focuses too much on income issues rather than looking at the root causes of poverty (Hammer, Pyatt and White, 1999, pp. 819-821).

Despite this and the concerns that too much emphasis on investment and improved income will not result in a reduction in poverty, the results initially seem good. A study by Nkusu (2004) shows that an emphasis on investment, aid and income factors has led to a much healthier economy and structural reforms that have reduced poverty overall.

However, it is still unclear as to weather these policies are taking into account the results shown in the participatory poverty analysis. The next section will examine how the PEAP uses these analyses within its policies, and how effective this usage is.

Participatory poverty analysis in the PEAP

It seems that whilst the original PEAP was endorsed and approved by the IMS for its effectiveness at sticking to the principles of participation, in recent years the plan has somewhat moved away from the original focus (Canagarajah and van Diesen, 2006, pp. 663-666). The World Bank and IMF understand the need to listen to the poor and their needs in order to solve problems of poverty. Without this, the root causes of poverty will not be found and despite economic growth the average poor person will not be better off as the rich will gain.

The problem is not so much with the Ugandan policies but the limits put upon them by the World Bank and IMF. In order for these poor countries to receive the financial aid they need to progress, they must meet certain criteria for economic reforms set out by the IMF and World Bank. However, this essentially means the countries like Uganda have little say in the policies that need to be created in order for them to improve their economy. Therefore, the suggestion by the IMF and World Bank to listen to the poor is misleading. They have suggested this method in order to deflect attention from their conditions imposed on financial aid.

This means that the participation of people in Uganda in the forming of policies is reduced, because the government must limit the information they are exposed to in order to make sure the policies are put in place to get aid and promote growth. This makes it harder for Uganda to listen to its people regarding policies that they would like to see to improve their living conditions (Rowden and Irama, 2004). The problem with these policies as outlined in the household surveys is that economic growth is not being shared amongst the people who need it, and instead poverty is increasing. The poverty rate is increasing because the economic growth in Uganda at this point favours the richer people and international community, thanks to the biased policies needed to get funding from the IMF and World Bank (Economic Policy Research Centre – Makerere University, 2003).

There are some indications that the people within Uganda are being listened to when possible. Findings looking at groups of poor children in Uganda found that measures looking at just income and consumption were not enough, and so other methods were taken into consideration by asking those who were poor (UNESCO., 2005).

The poverty assessment reports however show that despite the focus of the PEAP on economic growth, this is not the reason for increase poverty in Uganda. The poverty status report in 2003 shows that despite economic growth, people still remain below the poverty line. The main reasons for this are unequal economic growth, and a lack of security in areas such as Northern Uganda (Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development 2003a, pp. 147-149). Whilst these issues are identified in the PEAP, the main focus of policy is still on economic growth, because this is the only way the economy can be improved through financial aid.

However, there are areas within the poverty assessment reports that are being utilised by the PEAP. One of these areas is healthcare, which in the assessment reports is identified as a key area that leads to poverty, and that the more people that are poor the more that will need to be spent to maintain people’s health (Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development 2002, pp. 101-105). The original poverty assessment report identified similar problems including issues of district divide, and the obstacles for people trying to improving their own lives (Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development 2000).

The PEAP looks at some of these issues and puts policies in place to address, particularly with regards to health. The PEAP has made an effort to focus on preventive measures of health care so that the poorest members of society have greater access to services so that they can be more productive (Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, 2005, pp. 163-165).

Despite this, the conclusions of the PEAP stick mainly to issues of economic growth rather than social problems. It is true that during the 1990s high economic growth resulted in a reduction in the amount of people under the poverty line. However, as the country has improved its services, the further economic growth has been hampered by the limits of policies demanded by the IMF and World Bank in order to meet aid conditions. This means the economic growth has been a means towards an end of gaining aid to increase growth rather than simply looking at the social factors affecting the poor (Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, 2005, pp. 211.213).

Gender Analysis in the PEAP

Another issue that needs to be addressed is whether or not the PEAP is addressing issues of gender effectively. Gender is clearly a big issue in a country where female-run families are worse off than male-led families due to lack of opportunities and rights for women to improve their economic status.

Initial findings suggest that although the poverty participation process involves looking at those who are marginalised within society due to gender or other issues, the analyses do not effectively discuss gender issues (Wordofa, 2004, pp. 68-71). A study by Zuckerman and Garrett (2003) found that many of these poverty assessment reports in various developing countries only addressed gender issues in a superficial manner. Uganda in fact would not use gendered participation within its original report research but would then try to aggregate gender back into the policies later on. This tactic results in policies that do not accurately address the true concerns and issues associated with gender in Uganda in terms of poverty (Zuckerman, and Garrett, 2003, pp. 6, 12). Common examples of this are looking at different households in terms of age, but not reflecting differences in consumption levels according to gender.

This is particularly damaging for a country like Uganda where some of the poorest members of society are women. This means despite good economic growth, the needs of many of the poorest are not being dealt with.

As Whitehead and Lockwood (1999, p. 14) show, the way in which the Uganda PEAP deals with women’s issues is very superficial. There is a section regarding women, but it is not linked into the rest of the policies in general making it an isolated and superfluous section of the document. However, this study was conducted in 1999 and since then the reports have been looked at more closely, with more emphasis on gender issues. Despite this, there still remains a level of isolation between these findings and the policies as a whole.

Zuckerman (2002) shows that there is some progress being made with regards to this, and those early failings have been dealt with in some ways. The reports now have women actively participating in order to form policies that will help get them out of poverty. However, it is still shown that despite this participation, the gendered participation has not filtered through to the policies in the PEAP as a whole. The problem is that these views from different genders are then generalised when added to policy, and therefore have little effect on gender differences. If this participation is to work then there needs to be a greater effort to make distinct policies to address gender differences rather than re-aggregating into a generalised whole.


The Ugandan PEAP has certainly been one of the most successful of these types of poverty reduction scheme in terms of reducing the poverty indicators of poor income and high levels of consumption to income. This has meant that overall the economy is doing better in Uganda, and people have higher incomes than before. This however is too simple a definition of poverty, and other factors such as the feelings and well-being of the poor, security issues and social structures need to be taken into account.

The PEAP has improved since its inception in the 1990’s in terms of recognising these issues, but the core policies have changed very little. The main focus of the PEAP is still to improve economic growth, for two main reasons. Firstly because this was a successful policy throughout the 1990’s in helping to reduce overall poverty, and secondly because such economic policies are required by the IMF and World Bank in order to Uganda to receive the aid it needs to progress.

The improvements in participation have meant that PEAP documents now address issues of gender and empowerment. However, these issues are addressed in a superficial way and the voices of marginalised are not affecting policy change. This means that despite continued economic growth, the wealth divide has increased and the percentage of people in poverty has increased in recent years. The policies are helping those who are better off to increase their wealth rather than improving the opportunities for the poorest members of society.

As pointed out in reports, the country is reaching its targets with regards to alleviating poverty in economic growth terms and structural reforms (Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, 2003b). However, these targets are not reducing overall poverty because they are allowing the participation in policy making of marginalised groups. The chronically poor who need the most help most likely to stay poor, supporting the claim that these policies of economic growth are not helping reduce poverty in Uganda (Okidi, and Mugambe, 2002, pp. 2-4).


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