When I received a letter from the provost and the president of my university last week about the final decision regarding my tenure and promotion to associate professor of economics, I told one of my colleagues that my office was too hot and I didn’t want to open that envelope in there. He escorted me outside of the building.
I opened the envelope and it partly read: “Dear Dr Ojede, based on your excellent achievements and recommendations from your colleagues, the college review board, the dean, the provost and the president, you have been granted tenure and promotion.”
I knew it was coming but you wait until you get that final decision.
The first thing that I reflected on after reading my letter was the journey that I took as a young man growing up in a Northern Uganda poverty-stricken environment.
I pondered to myself whether a kid in my village currently facing similar odds that were stacked against me would dream the same way to keep hope alive.
I am so happy and I am thankful to my lovely wife and two kids for their patience in putting up with my craziness. For all who supported me, including my lovely father (RIP), lovely mom, siblings, relatives, friends, former classmates, teachers, and the great people of Amolatar District, I just want to say, thank you.
Today marks the beginning of a journey that I plan to take on with great energy, intelligence, passion and courage. I would only hope that kids trapped in poverty would follow similar or a different path as long as it can help salvage their future.
This was a dream I had when I was a poor child growing up in a poor village in Northern Uganda. I have learned over the years that regardless of your skin color, the language you speak, the dirty water you drink, the power of hard work, discipline, perseverance & humility will always open a door for you somewhere.
This is what I want a poor child from any village in Uganda to know:
First, never in your childhood life should you be so worried about poverty, the dusty roads you walk through every day, the poor schools you go to, and any squalid conditions you may be subjugated to.
I do remember all the struggles I went through myself. But life has a lesson. I looked like some tiny insect at some point in my life and miserable as hell.
I started from similar dusty roads in Northern Uganda just like you and my first shoes came when I was 12. They were plastic shoes that tremendously tortured my feet.
And you know what; I bought those plastic shoes by myself for a Christmas holiday using proceeds from my childhood cotton farm that I managed at age 11. While kids in America were enjoying their summer vacations at Disney, we were busy hunting birds, eating wild fruits in the jungles of Northern Uganda but at the same time looking after livestock as part of our after school programmes.
In a dual economy such as Uganda, some privileged kids from wealthy households did not know that the chicken they were enjoying in their dinners and lunches came from a farm. My buddies and I in our poor villages were rearing & slaughtering those birds by ourselves.
We learned about plants, wild animals, etc., not by reading them in a textbook but by physically scouting the jungles ourselves and we chilled side-by-side with those dangerous poisonous snakes.
Second, while we all love worshiping, do not spend all your time in church thinking that you can somehow only pray (without any hard work) for all the solutions to your problems and God will reward you with everything on a silver platter.
There is no verse in a bible that says that. I would advise that you better spend less time in church but read, take more derivatives and practice your algebra.
Look within your inner-self, have a conversation and start dreaming big. Listen to your teachers and parents regardless of how helpless they may be. You may pick a word or two of wisdom.
Third, do not spend time worrying too much about some corrupt government officials or political leaders who might have stolen money meant for your school or funds for stockpiling malarial drugs in your healthcare centers.
Learn to be proactive not reactive. Remember, that generation of corrupt leaders that has failed will soon come to an end. What will you do if it is your turn to lead? Do you plan to continue with the same mindset of dishonesty, lack of transparency and accountability which is rampant in every corner of our country?
As a child, think and worry more about what you can do for yourself NOT what your government can do for you. I am grown enough to realize that too much dependency on government handouts increases your probability of remaining stuck in a state of despair, where poverty and vulnerability become cyclic and mutually self-reinforcing.
If the present generation of leaders has become corrupt, egocentric and less benevolent, you should think of yourself as a future alternative that cares more about overlapping generational transfers. Be ready to fight nepotism within your own generation. Instead, you must champion nationalism, transparency, accountability and hard work.
Fourth, one of the key factors why we are poor and underdeveloped is low productivity. We economists measure productivity as the amount of output that a worker can produce per unit of time.
When a society loses the urgency to become productive and the government fails to provide basic public goods that promote an enabling environment for productivity growth to occur, it is a roadmap to retrogression.
The question is: are you being disciplined enough in school to account for what you have learned every day? If you cannot account and remember what you are doing in school on a daily or weekly basis, you will be less productive and unlikely to account for your actions when you grow up.
You will grow up with a mindset of entitlement to public goods, where you demand payments for no work or waiting to be bribed to take care of your own self.
Fifth, I would caution you to stay away from solving problems with violence, intimidation and abusive languages. They will make you equally culpable for our own nightmares. Grow up with happiness not anger.
From my childhood up to today, I have always smiled even when things are not going well my way. Do not solve problems by screaming at your adversaries. One of the reasons why our country is so divided is due to the politics of retribution.
We have played that movie since gaining independence. When you are growing up, ask yourself the following questions: (i) can we as a society continue promoting dialogue and engagements even under tense moments like it is today so that critical sectors of our economy do not fall victims of our political stalemates?; and (ii) how can we bring people together, including politicians from different parties, who currently do not look themselves eye-to-eye as well as civil society organisations, religious leaders, community based organisations to be able to advance issues of national interest.
It is common knowledge that the debate between the Government of Uganda and the main opposition parties on critical policy issues is tenuous at the very least but for the most part convoluted, infantile and counterproductive.
A Ugandan Parliament where members of the opposition and those on the side of government cannot see eye-to-eye cannot produce well-thought out policy ideas.
In addition, these practices in our Parliament end up soaring divisions and usurping people’s will.
You want to grow up with the idea that disagreements are a healthy part of the democratic process but we should guard against those that promote hatred and endanger civility.
Sixth, remember that most of us Africans falsely believed that gaining independence from colonial regimes would give us an automatic license to prosperity.
The fact is that freeing ourselves from the crudeness and dark clouds of colonialism should have been coupled with concrete foresight, transparency and accountability of how our own would lead us to prosperity.
A serious limitation among us Africans is that, we have ceased to farther the debate that our own untamed angry black African child could be crueler to us than the colonial child that we have pushed to the other side of the fence during the struggle for independence of the 1950s, and 60s.
In my opinion, corrupt government leaders and officials who steal resources from their own people and stash funds in foreign bank accounts have similar deplorable moral equivalency or even worst when compared to the colonialists who promoted “Mercantilism” during periods of economic imperialism.
Securing the future
We as a society should view these types of leaders as enemies of the state and a cancer worth fighting against if we are thinking of securing our future.
Finally, who would have thought a poor miserable child from some poor village in Northern Uganda would work his way up to become a university professor regardless of all the odds stacked against him?
If you told me when I was 10, 11, 12, I would say you are crazy. My message to you is that, if you want to be like Messi, do not only admire him by spending all your valuable time watching him on television screens and talking about him all the time and yet doing nothing.
If you try to play some soccer yourself with passion in the game, you may be Messi. Remember, time is a limited resource and a constraint on your side and you better figure what you want to use it for.
The more time you spend watching Messi verses Ronaldo and later chatting about them on social media, the greater are the opportunity costs on unsolved algebraic problems.
The compounding effects of these costs will add to your future misery.
Some of his research work
2017, The Impact of Changes in Monetary Aggregates on Exchange Rate Volatility in a Developing Country: Do Structural Breaks Matter? (With Eddery Lam) Economics Letters, 2017, 155: 111-115.
2017. External Macroeconomic Imbalances and FDI Inflows to Developing Countries
(With Ruby Kishan)- Forthcoming in Contemporary Economic Policy, 2017.
2016. Contributions of Productivity and Relative Price Changes to Farm-Level Profitability Change (With Amin Mugera & Michael Langemeier). American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 2016, 98(4): 1210-1229.
2015. Is Inflation in Developing Countries Driven by Low Productivity or Monetary Growth? Economics Letters, 2015, 133(C): 96-99.
2015. Exchange Rate Shocks and US Services and Agricultural Exports: Which Export Sector is More Affected? The International Trade Journal, 2015, 29(3): 228-250.
2014. Technical Efficiency in African Agriculture: Is it Catching Up or Lagging Behind? (with Amin Mugera) Journal of International Development, 2014, 26(6): 779-795.
2013. Macroeconomic Policy Reforms and Productivity Growth in African Agriculture (with Amin Mugera & Daigyo Seo). Contemporary Economic Policy, 2013, 31(4): 814-830.
2012. Tax Policy and State Economic Growth: The Long-Run and Short-Run of It (with Steven Yamarik) Economics Letters, 2012, 116(2): 161-165.
2011. Software Entrepreneurs in India’s Information Technology Sector: Innovators, Adaptors and Imitators (with Wayne Nafziger) Indian Economic Journal, 2011, 59(1), Pg. 123-144.
About the author
Dr Andrew Ojede is Professor of Economics in the Department of Finance & Economics at Texas State University. He received his undergraduate degree in economics in 2002 from Makerere University.
He was awarded full scholarship for graduating top in his undergraduate economics class to study Master Science in Economics at the University of North Texas which he completed in 2004.
He went ahead to complete his doctoral degree in economics from Kansas State University in 2009.
His PhD dissertation was under joint supervision of Dr Steve Cassou and Dr Wayne Nafziger.
Between 2009 and 2013, Dr Ojede was a tenure track assistant professor of economics at California State University at Long Beach, where he taught macroeconomics and international economic courses at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
He also served as Chair of graduate-level macroeconomic qualifying exams.
Dr Ojede joined Texas State University in the fall of 2013, where he currently teaches courses ranging from money & banking, macroeconomics, and international economics at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
Dr Ojede’s research interests are diverse and fall within macroeconomics, international economics, international development, growth and productivity analysis.
His recent research has appeared in professional economic journals, such as the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Contemporary Economic Policy, Economics Letters, Growth & Change, Journal of International Development, and others.
In addition, he has several working papers under review and in revise and resubmit stages.
During his free time, Dr Ojede enjoys running and playing soccer as well as watching his kids (Danielle and Ethan) play soccer, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, and other sports.
He is also a big fan of the English Premier League Soccer and US Basketball.