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Uganda leader and physician-farmer says Africa needs fewer bureaucrats, more research to make lives better

Speciosa Wandira, vice president of Uganda from 1994 to 2003, gave an unusually blunt appraisal about the state of her country and her region while speaking on campus Nov. 14. Noting that her country alone has 62 ministers in the government, she accused the administrative class throughout sub-Saharan Africa of often being interested in self-enrichment at the expense of the people. "The cake is so small. We need partnerships to create wealth, a common nutrition policy. We need to increase the size of the cake," she said.

She was delivering a far-reaching University Lecture, "Achieving Freedom From Hunger, Poverty and Poor Health in Sub-Saharan Africa," in Call Auditorium, Kennedy Hall.

Wandira, a physician, farmer, policy-maker, anti-corruption activist and human rights campaigner (who as vice president served simultaneously as minister of agriculture), had been in Uganda only two days earlier. She brought a ground-level view of many of the problems -- and numerous obstacles -- African nations face as they struggle to balance agriculture production, health care, and disease prevention and treatment while moving to new economic models.

The day before her lecture, she attended the United Nations University/Cornell symposium at the United Nations that was repeated at Cornell, Nov. 15.

Trying to solve extremely complex problems involves negotiating "priorities within priorities," Wandira said. One way to move Africa out of its "static" state is by applying more of the ideas arising from academic research to public policy. "The onus is on the academic community to work with policy to make lives better," Wandira said. She warned against narrow specialization, noting that a nutritionist who reads history is better equipped to deliver services than one who doesn't.

Input from several disciplines in which Cornell excels will be necessary to help Africa to achieve "freedom from hunger, poverty and ill health." African nations are in various stages of addressing problems, which include infertile soil, agriculture in areas of scarce rain, ineffective or nonexistent infrastructures and disease. Agriculture, she said, is "the engine of development," but how to sustain it raises complex questions.

The type and quality of academic research brought to bear on such issues as the African food system and food safety, Wandira noted, is often ideologically determined by those who conduct it and suffers from inherent limitations. The capitalist insistence on profit-making for the benefit of a few, for example, runs counter to the African cultural emphasis on sharing to produce collective benefits, she said.

Repeatedly, Wandira emphasized the centrality of the family, saying, "The real producers are in the house." Yet, she said, by partnering with academics and development organizations, progress can happen. "Cornell University is dreaming with us."

In addition to the Cornell University Lectures Committee, the event was sponsored by the Africana Studies and Research Center; H.E. Babcock Chair; Institute for African Development; the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development; United Nations University; Einaudi Center for International Studies; and the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs.

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