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Museveni’s work in Luwero

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THE LAST WORD: By Andrew M. Mwenda

Why efforts to make peasant farmers go commercial are unlikely to yield success

President Yoweri Museveni spent a week in Luwero District on Operation Wealth Creation. The president was teaching farmers to adopt modern farming techniques in order to increase their output and become commercial farmers. The actions of the president may have excited the affection of local people there but it was heavily derided on social media, today the most powerful medium of communication that has overtaken traditional media such as newspapers, radio and television. It seems everything Museveni does these days only attracts criticism from our elite.

I have always been intrigued at Museveni’s seeming disinterest in his own brand, which he has left almost entirely to his critics to shape. Just imagine if Hillary Clinton left the narrative around her candidature to Donald Trump and his supporters. Yet all most of the criticism of the president’s pictures pushing a bicycle with water did not address the policy implications of his actions, leave alone the politics, which I think was the driving motive.

I suspect Museveni’s aim was primarily political, seeking to identify himself with ordinary people by projecting himself as the champion of their interests by appearing and acting to be like them. This may be politically functional but I hope he does not see it as a strategy for rural transformation. Yet having watched him in many districts, I suspect Museveni believes that he can transform rural livelihoods by teaching farmers modern farming techniques.

It is true that the president’s efforts can increase the incomes of a few peasants who are exceptional. Indeed many peasants have become prosperous as anyone who has travelled through rural Western Uganda and seen their homes and cars can attest. But these efforts, even if they were to be institutionalised, cannot transform the lives of the majority or the structures of Uganda’s economy.

The problem with contemporary efforts at fighting poverty has been doing things directly for poor people – paying their children’s fees, picking their medical bills, giving them farm implements, fertilisers and improved seeds for free. The most effective tools are those that are indirect and tend to instigate, stimulate, activate, or precipitate change. For instance, by supporting the growth of downstream industries like fruit or food processing, one can precipitate the growth of a robust commercial agricultural sector where extension services are done by the private sector.

In northern Uganda Mukwano Industries helps farmers produce sun seed used to make vegetable oil; in Kalangala BIDCO helps farmers make money from oil palm; BAT previously played a key role among tobacco farmers. In all these cases, these private companies negotiate contracts to purchase farmers produce and then give them loans to buy farm implements, fertiliser and improved seed. In 2005, Mukwano was paying only about Shs 5 billion to farmers for their sun seeds. By 2010, it had grown to Shs 36 billion.

9 comments

  1. From the politics of things, i dare say Andrew has found the right balance and tone. The ability to speak to power and to contenders of power, is representative of the demographic that remains sandwiched between both centres of power struggle; an enemy of either yet perhaps true to the nation.

    Hopefully, the regime appreciates criticism without cynicism and the contenders of power can pick lessons; absent fanatic divides of either with us or with them. President Museveni, as you point out, is playing the astute politics of re-election, perhaps with the actual intention of transforming rural Uganda. On the other hand, the contenders of power are lost in a labyrinth of policies detached from the rural majority, and just the right tone of rhetoric that keeps the urban hopeful, albeit without the right formula to break even the numbers on either development or power displacement.

    Since it is all politics, the future belongs to the politics of reason. A marriage between ideals and reality. If the President is down there speaking to the local man, the question should be the quality of message he is speaking to them. Conversely, the contenders of power ought to move from rallies and press conferences that offer sound-bytes, to one on one ears-to-the-ground politics that will enable them better tailor their policies to the rural folk.

    Politics and leadership ought to be hard work of grass root presence, not a populist exercise in speaking what the people want to hear or optics that show one to be with the people. I appreciate the fact that Donald Trump just got elected by saying everything the people want to hear, and that this populist movement could now define our very politics by replacing fact and aspirational leadership with innuendo, falsehoods, conspiracies and sheer bombast – and yes it works – but there is in our context an opportunity to localise politics and politicians away from re-election activities on both sides, to transformational leadership on the ground. Parables of seeds falling on different kinds of grounds will be helpful in as far as it not being an entirely hopeless venture.

    The President being the astute and sly politician that he is, is content to leave the media waves to his opponents. Instead of getting complacent with popular support, they too should take the good message to the locals – absent media fanfare – by actually pitching camp in districts, not to merely be cynical and attack the regime, but explain the day to day tips for transformation of lives. It is politics too. Besides, its five years away from the next election and we well may get bored after the first year; politicians lose their appeal and people just shut it all out. Lets all keep it interesting by pretending to actually care. Let the politicians pretend to care, and let us pretend to listen – by us i mean our relatives in rural Uganda for we shall pass on the message. Perhaps, by the time the next elections come around, we shall be used to pretending to listen to both sides, so that they wont find policy discussion irrelevant to us.

    That way, we can eliminate the theatrics and sound-bytes. That way we can decrease the apathy that our people have towards our politics, and that way, we can end the signal for comedians to join politics since we have reduced it to comedy at the national and local level – If only wishes were horses, i would ride this horse of developmental politics and sound criticism, but who am i kidding; right???

    • Francis Brother,
      Why are you only ‘wishing’? Do what you say and take the lead. The country is in dire need of ‘doers’ – less so of ‘sayers’ or ‘advisors’ and ‘commentators’. I understand you may be busy ‘doing’ other work in the cities – but if you passionately believe ‘Agriculture’ is the way to eliminate rural – and hence, national poverty, you ought to take the plunge. Not to do so is an intellectual ‘crime’ by ommission!

      And for Andrew, he raises a good point on creating a ‘market pull’ for peasants’ products but then falls to realise that in commercialisation of products, the pull normally comes after – and strengthens an initial weak ‘Production push’. Putting politics aside (by the way I do not buy the idea that M7’s primary intentions are simply populist), I think the president is attempting to create that ‘weak’ push so that the more powerful market forces can take over. This is absolutely correct!! But I hope I’ll have time to explain further – in a series I am currently preparing about his actions.

      Cheers brother – and thanks for taking time to do some thinking.

      Eng Kant Ateenyi Kanyarusoke, Cape Town.

      • Comrade Eng Ateenyi;

        Much obliged. I will eagerly await your full series.

        President M7’s actions are not in contention, nor are their political end-state. What is ambiguous is the intention: be it populist or an attempt to create a ‘weak production push’, he is throwing the grains in the field. The receptive ground of the beneficiaries of his actions will determine who pick the lean lessons on fertile ground, who ensemble to get a ‘fish envelope’ in thorny grounds, or who smirk on rocky grounds. Its is for the latter i worry because they may be rocky and unreceptive to his message, but the political weight of it will land with such a thud on their rocky grounds that they may be pulp by the next elections – he loves to keep hammering!

        What would be disingenuous would be to insinuate that there is no political angle to his actions; actions aimed at consolidating bases. These actions are the trail that began with pruning urban gardens in Kampala…

        To his critics i have one thought; beware! When an opulent man pitches tent in the compound and leaves you to enjoy the comfort of the living room, it may only be because he is pumping stale air through the Air Con, and the roasting meat will be served in the compound… best you follow him to the compound!

  2. 1.This article is so sweet.
    2.Why does govt still believe in subsistence farming in this era?
    3.How much can a farmer earn in a 1/4 decimal piece of land?
    4.There should be major land reforms with the aim of forcing the poor to lease their land to the rich.

    • Ms. Winnie;

      isn’t observation N0. 4 a little extreme?

      If land is the asset of the poor and reforms are introduced to force them to lease their assets, shouldn’t financial reforms then also be introduced with the aim of forcing the rich to share their bank balances / capital with the poor?

      Each appears to have what the other lacks and each needs what the other has. Equality before the law and the state role of protection of lives and properties of all puts at bay such extreme measures. It is also far fetched to imagine that all the rich have interest in land or investment that requires land. Some are rich because they amass wealth through corruption and embezzlement not investment, while others are heavily invested in the financial services sector that requires no land investment.

      Conversely, not all the poor have need for capital or economic growth. In a situation of a fleecing banking sector in terms of interest, and a weak economic environment for growth, majority have lost trust in security based loans since its hard to recover the security from economic activity generated by borrowed capital. Others still have no clue that they are not poor because the value of their land in bankable terms would lift them out of that poverty bracket…

      What we would need as middle ground, is for better utilization of government land for productive purposes.

      • 1.Thanks for mixing up issues just go back to your basic commerce and read the basic use of land( its the biggest factor of production) don’t be like Rajab who only makes contributions on this page when there is an article about Rwanda.
        2. Between the poor & rich who needs the other more?what business do the poor have with land? don’t you think they need help with their land?
        3.There is normally no middle ground while discussing matters concerning land acquisition & development in Africa just try setting up projects on their land you will see how they will gather their little weight for war and toss you up & down… actually the middle ground mentality is the one that makes the poor believe that they can also be in control.
        4. The 1900 Buganda Agreement was a perfect agreement where the Buganda royal family and chiefs shared land with the British protectorate.it was coz of this arrangement that some generous & kind members of the Buganda Royal family & members of the British protectorate gave out land freely to build institutions like Kyambogo,the Airport,Parliament if we maintained this arrangement Ug would be economically advanced. (perhaps that’s why Buganda is more developed than other regions)
        5.In life the 3 basic needs for man are; food,shelter and clothing so why do the poor need big chunks of land?

        • Well intentioned as your perspective may be, sarcasm aside, you seem to forget basic tenets of asset ownership and the repercussions of disenfranchising the poor of their land. You have not heard of war in Africa caused over land? You have not heard of political manipulation of land dissent to create instability? Or have you not heard of inter-tribal fatal clashes over land…in this case aggravated by a perception of a tribal class of the rich, by which you would be interpreted as advocating for a certain tribe to be given land ownership rights? This is too explosive an issue for you to be speaking in such cavalier terms.

          Since you desire me to resort to basic commerce, then permit me remind you that there are three basic factors of production known as Land, Labour and Capital. The investor / rich, needs to account for all three before setting up an enterprise. Whichever of the three they don’t have, they must procure – not be given.

          The last development models to implement your line of thought were called Slavery and Colonialism. The proponents of slavery / the rich of that period, asked such questions as: What need do the poor have for remuneration of their labour? Why not take their labour free of charge so as to bring them development and civilization? Slavery was a development model that sought to short-change the laws of commerce by only recognising land and capital as factors of production – labour merely as a tool.

          Colonialism sought to put a human face on this mediaeval development model buy buying into your line of thought that those that had land had no use of it and it could be taken by those that thought themselves better placed to use the land. Colonialism was never a project of governance but rather of land exploitation for raw materials – be they extractive of ploughed. Am sure basic history has not rid you of the famous Cash Crops and whose purpose they served. Land use was decided in the interest of the rich…

          Development in Buganda has been due to titled land which the ‘poor’ have been free to sell (not confiscated) to whomever they choose. It is with proceeds from their land that they have moved into the working class or trading class either by educating their children who then get jobs or by setting up businesses in Kikuubo, markets, arcades, etc. Perhaps you should be advocating for titling of land countrywide so the rich can buy land from the poor…this mentality you adopt of the rich being given is what leads to explosive change by which the rich are either hacked to death or they run into exile. That is why besides the Madhvanis and Mehtas, the ‘rich’ have not been able to outlive a regime.

          Leadership, especially in a young attempting democracy like ours, should ever be an exercise in simplicity by which you pursue the cheapest alternatives even when they have the most expensive repercussions…

  3. It is all well and good but why would the president identify himself with local people when he is far removed from reality and doesn’t represent what the people local people are going through.

  4. Does it have to be President Museveni, personally or as President, to champion any cause for transformation? What then would be the role of government institutions like Ministry of Agriculture, National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), and their fictitiously prized policies and programs such as Prosperity for All, Operation Wealth Creation, Youth Livelihood Program, among others? Doesn’t the analysis, powerful as it may seem, suffer from reductionist dizziness, where every effort for Uganda’s prosperity is attributable to Museveni? What is the viability of such policies and programs beyond the usual maladies of corruption and inefficiency? How is the the private sector, especially if not well regulated, which is profit-motivated, a major actor in transformation? Does the increase of demand for food due rural urban migration necessarily a driver for transformation when the urban poor have no ability to purchase the food? What explains the rotting food in Kampala markets when a sizeable city dwellers go to bed hungry? Isn’t it scandalous that political theatrics are likened to transformation, either politically or from policy perspective? In short, don’t we need to do things right than getting derailed by selfish and comic actions of political actors!? In short, it is my humble view that political deception has long played its stale game, time is now for analysts and activists alike to engage in meaningful transformation rather than being derailed by political actions that are not only comic but indeed sadly tragic.

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