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Modernisation, Poverty Eradication and the Process of Social Transformation in Uganda

Posted by Ndinawe Byekwaso on January 11, 2018 at 9:05 AM Comments comments (0)

“Modernisation, Poverty Eradication and the Process of Social Transformation in Uganda”


It is argued under the ‘modernisation’ model of development that for poverty to be eradicated and social transformation to take place, self-provisioning farming must be replaced with commercial agriculture. Therefore, for its undertaking of pro-market economic reforms to bring about the aimed at social transformation, Uganda was for a long time portrayed as a role model in reducing poverty to be emulated by other countries of the South (see Kuteesa et al. 2010). But the claimed poverty reduction was not experienced by the majority of the people, who increasingly faced economic hardships, while the poor were becoming poorer, as was reflected by the voices of the affected (in Kakande 2010). This apparent anomaly can only be clarified by understanding the context of poverty reduction under the ‘modernisation’ strategy of development. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to re-examine the meaning of poverty reduction within the context of social transformation, using Uganda as a case study. It critically examines the concepts of poverty eradication and social transformation, documents how social transformation has been promoted in Uganda, and details its consequences.

Ultimately the paper attempts to answer the following question: Did the pro-market reform, using the kit of macroeconomic stabilisation associated with liberalisation, privatisation and a tight monetary stance, really create a favourable environment for peasants to engage in farming as a sustainable profitable business, as was claimed by the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) (see Uganda 2000)?

Revisiting the Debate on Pro-Market Reform and the Concept of Social Transformation

Using the kit of macroeconomic stabilisation outlined above, Uganda was portrayed as a success story in reducing poverty, whereas critical international studies had revealed that the kit actually worsened the living standards of the masses while undermining the potential for increased agricultural output in the South. The studies observed that the withdrawal of the state from active participation in economic management had disadvantaged the agricultural sector by exposing it to price fluctuations as well as leaving gaps to be performed by public institutions (see for instance Green 2008; Macarov 2003; Oxfam 2002a). The findings of international studies were corroborated by those of national academicians, which also had revealed that that the pro-market economic reform undertaken before the government of National Resistance (NRM) came to power did not encourage investments in the productive sectors of the economy, like agriculture. Net income to peasants had declined as the prices of commodities they were buying from the market increased sharply more than the prices they fetched from their produce; and agricultural land was losing fertility as the peasants did not have the money to buy fertilisers to renew it (see for instance Machyo 1985). Later, local studies of the NRM’s reform program generally observed that it neither helped peasant farmers to live better lives nor to adopt modern farming methods; it generally constrained the country’s ability to build agricultural and industrial capacities (see Babigambah (n.d.); Manyire n.d.; Kiiza et al. 2006).


However, the above-mentioned studies and other critical works on the pro-market economic reforms have the weakness of ignoring what poverty eradication under a modernisation strategy of development entails. Even Oxfam (2002a), which is familiar with the goal of modernisation and social transformation in the South, published a report revealing the negative effects of the pro-market reform. It illustrated how the price fluctuations that occurred as result of liberalising agricultural markets ruined the lives of peasant farmers in the countries of the South. It further illustrated how pro-market reform was not appropriate for promoting development in agricultural economies. But the imposition of hardships in the South in the name of social transformation was observed without accusing the North of ill intentions. The report portrayed the architects of the economic reforms as unaware of any negative effects on the peasants. If peasants as a class are considered a constraint to development and therefore should be done away with, then the pro-market reform was intentionally designed and implemented to eliminate them as an unavoidable consequence of bringing about ‘modernisation,’ rather than to improve their livelihoods as we are led to think by the likes of Oxfam.

The work that has so far attempted to reveal the intention and purpose of the pro-market reform is by Asiimwe (2011). Although he is attached to the myth that there has been a failed attempt at improving the conditions of the peasants, he nonetheless brings out some pertinent issues on the motives behind modernisation. He questions the validity and appropriateness of a modernisation strategy aimed at integrating peasant farmers into the national and international market as “commodity producers, labour source, and consumers and users of industrial, agricultural and non-agricultural in-puts” (18). He correctly rejects the promotion of production for trade as a way of guaranteeing food security because price instability both at home and on the international market has direct, adverse effects on the food security of the poor and other vulnerable groups. Asiimwe points out that the modernisation strategy is aimed at dismantling the peasantry who are taken to be savages and “non-people” and predicts “the demise of the peasantry if the market-oriented, agro-non-traditional export promoting agriculture with capitalists ordering ends up concentrating agricultural production and marketing processes in the hands of a few private corporations, wealthy landowners, money mongers and money vultures posing as investors” (ibid.).

From the above background, it is necessary to examine the meaning of poverty within the context of social transformation and modernisation. As was mentioned at the beginning, under the modernisation model of development, it is posited that for poverty to be eradicated, self-provisioning farming must be replaced with the total commercialisation of agriculture. This is because “a non-monetised economy cannot be integrated into a capitalistic economy” (Ake [1981] 1986, 32) so that capital, especially foreign capital, takes over the production process through the forces of the market. This capital is aided in its takeover of local production in the South by the state, indirectly controlled by foreign forces, which manipulates the market using the kit of macroeconomic stabilisation. The end result is to make the people of the South “buy food from transnational corporations in the global market rather than grow it themselves” (Holt-Gimerez and Tanya Kerssen 2015). Actually this was clearly spelt out in Uganda’s plan for modernisation of agriculture PMA that food shortfalls should be “handled increasingly through market mechanisms” (Uganda 2000, 36), but cleverly without mentioning which market the food shortfalls are to be bought from.


Therefore, from the above, it can be safely concluded that the concept of poverty reduction in practice is associated with the extent to which the peasants as a class have been made to depend on the market, rather than the improvement of their welfare. This is in line with the philosophy of modernisation that takes development to be synonymous with Westernisation. In the West, to exploit the peasants effectively and conveniently, they were separated from their means of subsistence (Payer, 1982; Mandel, (1962 [1977]) using even barbaric means, such as starving the population and the burning of people’s houses in order to vacate land for capitalists to occupy, especially in Britain during the land enclosure movement (see Fairlie 2009). The purpose of separating the peasants from their means of subsistence was to transform them into marketable commodities by depriving them of any other means of livelihood except their labour to sell. Without any other source of livelihood, the peasants turned into workers had to sell their labour at a price dictated by market conditions. This is the social transformation advocated in Uganda for poverty eradication. In the West, the social transformation brought misery to the workers, even if it took place concurrently with the industrial revolution that is still employed as the model of modernisation. As a result of social transformation, the major industrial centres in Europe suffered great hardships in the nineteenth century because of unemployment brought about by massive youth migration to towns, as is currently happening in Uganda. As Adler (1991) [2007], 202) reveals, “London is said to have had at least 20,000 individuals who rose every morning without knowing how they were to be supported through the day or where they were to lodge on the succeeding night, and cases of death from starvation appeared in the coroner’s lists daily”.

To follow this path of social transformation of the West briefly described above, it is argued that in rural areas of ‘developing’ capitalistic countries, there are social structures that inhibit capital accumulation and therefore should be dismantled by separating peasant farmers from their means of subsistence. This is clearly spelt out by Akram-Lodhi and Kay (2009, 20) who argue that

in order for peasants to be transformed, they must be in some way divorced from the land on which they work, which in turn forces them fundamentally to reconfigure their livelihood strategy. No longer able to produce a part of their consumption needs, they must start to sell their labour and buy the food, clothing and shelter they previously provided, at least in part, themselves.

Therefore, the social transformation advocated in the South and vigorously pursued by President Museveni in Uganda, is not geared to improve the lives of peasants but to make them lose their economic independence. However, by design or omission, the logic of modernisation does not consider how capitalism from the West disintegrated the economies and societies of the South (see Mandel 1962 [1977]) and as a result has failed to bring about improvement in the lives of the majority in the South (see Byekwaso 2016). And without revealing the motive of social transformation mentioned above, peasants are misnamed subsistence farmers because they still to some extent control their means of survival (Museveni 2014). As a result, it is falsely portrayed that a big percentage of Ugandans still live in a ‘non-money’ economy. For instance, according to the 2014 National Population and Housing Census main report, it is said that 69.4 percent of the households in Uganda derive their livelihoods from subsistence farming (see UBoS 2016, 37). This was echoed by President Museveni (2014), who argues that those who derive their livelihood from subsistence farming are in a ‘non-money’ economy, which in his view explains the existence of poverty in the rural areas of Uganda. But is there any household in Uganda today that does not use money? If so, it means that very many Ugandans are still going naked. This is not the case. If 69.4 percent of households are in a non-money economy, where do they get cash to buy the clothes they wear? Households producing for own consumption as a primary objective does not mean that they are not in a money economy. According to the logic of social transformation, these households are in a non-money economy because they still produce food for their own survival and therefore have not been totally removed from their means of subsistence.


Without revealing the intention of social transformation – namely, the destruction of food production for own consumption by peasants, as clearly indicated by Akram-Lodhi and Kay (2009) – there are studies undertaken in Uganda in the name of promoting food security (see for instance Opolot and Kuteesa 2006; Sabiiti 2005). However, a deliberately vague definition of food security that puts emphasis on accessibility to food at all times in the market is used, rather than production for household and national self-sufficiency. But accessibility does not guarantee affordability and consequently the consumption of the right quality and quantity of food at all times. Determining food security in terms of accessibility to food available in the market becomes tricky when peasant incomes fluctuate throughout the year. If these studies were genuinely interested in food security for the peasants, they would determine food security in rural areas by measuring how much foodstuffs they produce and store for their own consumption first, and thereafter a surplus for sale in order to buy other items they do not produce, as used to be practised during the colonial and postcolonial era (see Sabiiti 2005).


In line with the strategy of making peasants dependent on the market for their survival, while determining the prevalence of poverty in Uganda, “household consumption expenditure is usually preferred over income in assessing poverty incidence,” claiming that “it is better accurately reported by the households/individuals” (UBoS 2013, 26). Maybe this is intended to determine the extent to which the peasants are increasingly dependent on the market for survival, which is used as a measure of poverty reduction. The concept of modernisation (a euphemism for capitalist development) also has a concealed meaning. For instance, PMA (2000) created an impression that its strategy aims at drastically changing how agriculture is conducted by the people involved in it. As a result, with some excitement, the people of Uganda expected the plan to aim at empowering peasant farmers to modernise their practices via “the use of tractors, plough discs, harrows, mechanical seed planter, weeders, chemical sprayers, combine harvesters, fertilizers, improved seeds, ground or aerial irrigation” (Aruo 2002, 6). Such a plan to modernise agriculture is attractive and if one does not understand its agenda, it would be madness to oppose it. From the way it is presented, it appeals to its victims – the peasants – because they would like to be liberated from hard labour and natural hazards like drought by such modern products of science and technology - to use tractors instead of hoes and to be saved from drought by irrigation, for example. But to the architects of PMA, modernisation meant a transformation process (Odong 2002) of dismantling the peasantry and even destroying agriculture. As Tumusiime-Mutebile, who was the Chairman of the PMA Steering Committee, put it

The reason for giving priority to the modernisation of the agricultural sector is not because we want it to remain the dominant sector of the economy. The reason of putting emphasis on the modernisation of agriculture is precisely because the modernisation of agriculture will propel the process of transformation of the economy away from agriculture to non-agricultural sectors more rapidly than if we put priority on, say, import substitution. (Uganda 2000, back cover).


Yet many in Uganda still expect the government to give priority to the development of agriculture because is deemed to be the backbone of the economy, not knowing that is being deliberately killed. Therefore, poverty reduction does not mean improving the plight of the peasants who mainly draw their living from agriculture. To illustrate further that poverty reduction in the context of modernisation is regarded as the extent to which peasants increasingly buy food from the market, after Uganda implemented the pro-market reform, it was claimed that the peasants were growing out of poverty because the “monetisation of the agricultural sector is (was) gradually on the increase” (World Bank 1993, xvi). This was in spite of the acknowledgement that the farmers were being affected by declining and fluctuating terms of trade for both cash and food crops (World Bank 1993, xiv). Even when the peasants increased food crops for the market, the food crops were classified as non-traded (ibid 45). According to a pro-market research report by Balihutu and Kanal (2001), when there was growth in the monetised sector as well as diversification into non-farm activities, like motorcycle transport and brick-making, the peasants were said to be increasingly moving out of poverty. Why? Because poverty reduction according to the logic of modernisation is the process of peasants abandoning self-provisioning farming and increasingly becoming dependent on the market for their survival.


This begs the question: Is such social transformation beneficial to the people in Uganda and countries of the South? According to the logic of modernisation, social transformation is necessary so that the countries and societies of the South can be ‘developed’ like the West. However, for the social transformation of the West to be replicated in the South despite its disadvantages and the suffering it causes, as already indicated, conditions for the emergence of a national bourgeoisie or capitalist class should exist. Agriculture should be integrated with industry so that the peasants removed from agriculture can be employed in industries established in towns. And for agriculture to grow sustainably, there should be backward and forward linkages with manufacturing industry. The integration of agriculture with manufacturing creates conditions for rural development by providing a market for agricultural produce. For instance, the agrarian revolution took place in England and elsewhere because of the market for agricultural products including food. While surpluses from agriculture (cheap raw materials from both at home and abroad) led to industrialisation, the industrial revolution in turn spurred and supported agricultural development. It can be argued that profitability in food production was achieved in most developed countries because of the emergence of a large working class employed in industries, thus providing a steady profitable market to farmers. When local production could not satisfy the market, imports of food were encouraged, leading in Britain to the repeal of the Corn Law in 1846 (Fairlie 2009). And because the economy was generally growing in all sectors that were interlinked, states oversaw the provision of infrastructure to facilitate development (Ake 1981). Later, as industrial and service sectors advanced, agricultural production lost profitability, and therefore the industrialised states found it imperative to subsidise their farmers (Oxfam 2002).


However, it is unlikely that the Western style of capitalist development and social transformation can be replicated in the countries of the South. “If capital and capital accumulation is increasingly internationalized, does agriculture continue to have a role in the emergence of capital within states, or is (in the current international economic conjuncture) agricultural transformation irrelevant to the emergence of capital within a state as the circuits of capital have become globalized?” (Akram-Lodhi and Kay 2009, 6) If capital competes for access to the market to accumulate surplus, and considering the importance of the market in the promotion of increased production, is it realistic to expect peasants to grow bigger and compete with multinational corporations? Apparently, the replication of earlier capitalist development in the South is myth, to use de Rivero’s (2001 [2003]) phrase.


Macroeconomic Stabilisation and the Process of Social Transformation in Uganda

In Uganda under the neoliberal reform, instead of integrating agriculture with manufacturing industry to promote sustainable development, a donor-sponsored macroeconomic stabilisation programme was implemented. This discouraged the building of an independent, integrated and self-sustaining economy that was the strategy of the erstwhile revolutionary NRM when it came to power (see NRM n.d.). As a result, money was mopped out and limited in circulation. This seriously affected the incomes of the peasants as well as the market for locally produced goods and consequently undermined national economic development. This section of the paper focuses on how the poor business environment engendered by a pro-market economic reform using the kit of macroeconomic stabilisation negatively affected farming, especially by peasants in Uganda. The stabilisation program not only brought about price fluctuations of agricultural produce but also compressed demand within the economy, commencing with the currency reform of 1987 together with the gradual devaluation of the local currency. The reform struck off two zeroes from the old currency along with a 60 percent devaluation, as well as imposition of a conversion tax of 30 percent (Byaruhanga et al. 2010, 53). While the conversion tax physically withdrew 30 percent of the money from circulation with immediate effect, the devaluation of the local currency further withdrew money from circulation gradually. By 1991, Uganda’s currency had depreciated by over 17-fold (World Bank, 1993). The currency reform and the devaluation that accompanied it caused decline in the terms of trade for farmers, especially those producing food crops and rearing animals, as even observed by World Bank (1993).


An analysis of price changes and the resultant terms of trade by the author in Kigarama Village in 1993 highlighted the sad predicament of the peasants. While the price of a bar of soap rose from UGX 300/= in 1990 to UGX 800/= in 1993, the price of an average bunch of matooke declined from UGX 1000/= to UGX 500/= : half of what it used to fetch in 1990. When a peasant could buy three bars of soap in 1990 from one bunch, in 1993, s/he had to sell almost two bunches of matooke to buy one bar of soap! In 1990, an average cow would be sold at UGX 100,000/= while in 1993 it would be sold at only UGX 70,000/=. In 1990, a student in a nearby Kamuronko Senior Secondary School paid UGX 20,000/= in fees per term while in 1993, the same parent of the student had to pay UGX 70,000/= per term, which meant that in 1990, a peasant required one cow for his/her child to complete one year in a senior secondary but in 1993 the money from a cow would cover the fees for only one term.


As illustrated by the above, without their income adjusting to the rate of devaluation, the peasants had to pay more money than they earned to buy goods from the market. As a result, the peasants were and continue to be impoverished. The liberalisation of the agricultural sector, which exposed peasants to the shocks and stresses of the market, made farming, especially the growing of food crops, unprofitable and unattractive. As price controls were removed, state support given to farmers was removed while marketing boards were dismantled (World Bank 1993). The situation was worsened by the policy of compressed demand within the kit of macroeconomic stabilisation intended to bring about a “downward pressure on real food prices” (Uganda 2000, 6), including that grown by peasants. With the liberalisation of agricultural produce coupled with compressed demand, farmers continuously experienced ruinous low and fluctuating prices for both cash and food crops. For instance, in 2001, the price of maize went as low as UGX 30/= per kilogramme. Later in the year, it slightly rose to UGX 50/=. Even at such low prices, there were few buyers! (see Mulumba 2001, 16). The experience of John Okello, a maize farmer in Masindi District bellow illustrates how maize farmers were frustrated.


I am a maize farmer based in Kigumba in Masindi district. I have been in this business for two years now. Recently at the beginning of February we got loans from the bank to grow maize. By the time we got loans the price of maize was Shs. 200 per kg. We got these loans under the help of “Idea Project”, a USAID funded project. Before we got the loans, Idea Project helped us how to measure “Cash flows” and the cash flows indicated that in order to get profit you would sell maize at Shs.200 per kg. But right now, maize is Shs.50 per kg. and the cost of production is Shs.100 for farmers using scientific methods of farming. Price being Shs.50 and the cost of production being Shs.100 means that farmers can’t pay their loans (Okello 2001, 10).


Again in 2010, the price of maize nosedived from about UGX 600/= to UGX 150 per kilo. But the farmer’s overhead costs had not decreased; on the contrary they were on the rise (Ssali 2010, 23). As in 2001, farmers earned less than production costs (Kato 2010, 27). This made the growing of maize a continuously loss-making business. This was blamed on the peasants for not growing high value crops for cash (rather than for own consumption) as well adding value to their produce (Muhakanizi, 2004; Uganda 2010). But under the environment created by the kit of macroeconomic stabilisation, generally compressed demand made the operation of business in Uganda very difficult, and therefore value addition would not be much of help to the farmers. Also, not only food crop farmers were affected by price fluctuation but cash crop growers as well. Nonetheless, the growing of cash crops was vigorously promoted without allowing market forces to determine what is to be produced as was claimed by the ideologues of neo-liberalism. The government campaigned for and actually intervened in the economy and is still doing so under Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), in order to promote the production of agricultural export commodities by giving peasant farmers free seedlings (see Sunday Monitor 2016). It can be argued that this is because the growing of cash crops promotes modernisation within the context of social transformation, as already discussed. When peasants produce the cash crops for export, they depend on the market for their survival. Otherwise, how can the government enthusiastically encourage the growing of commodities for export when there is evidence from the Prebisch-Singer hypothesis, confirmed by other studies, which makes it clear “that the commodity terms of trade for primary-product exports of developing countries tends to decline over time” (in Todaro and Smith 2011, 573).


At first, there was the revival of coffee growing that had almost been abandoned because of the low state fixed price its farmers were getting. Initially, the liberalisation of coffee marketing appeared to be bearing fruits. With the removal of price controls, taking advantage of the favourable international commodity price of coffee reigning then, peasants reaped big rewards by growing it. However, within a short time, the price of coffee nosedived 70 per cent between 1997 and 2002 (Oxfam 2002a). As a result, in Mpigi District, the price the farmers were getting was so low that they stopped picking ripe beans because it was simply not worth the effort. As a result, the peasant farmers could not afford school fees for their children (Oxfam 2002b, 11). Apparently, because the Government of Uganda, under the influence of the dominant global forces, is now interested in dismantling the peasantry (unlike during colonialism), when the price of coffee fell to the record low level in 2002, the government did not intervene in the market. This contrasts with its imposition of a Coffee Stabilisation Tax in 1994 following a sharp rise of price in the international market (Cawley and Zake 2010, 105).


Other traditional cash crops have been affected by price fluctuations. For instance, the international price of cotton decreased by 45 percent between 2003/4 and 2004/5, seriously affecting the incomes of farmers in northern and eastern Uganda where it is mainly grown. Again in 2010, even the organic cotton grown in northern Uganda could not gain access to market (Kasita 2010, 28). Regarding tea, which has not experienced price volatility on the international market, at least compared to coffee, its out-growers are not paid according to the international market price. While under the liberalisation of agricultural marketing price controls were removed, this did not benefit tea out-growers in the country. As established in 2012, “on average, prices paid to tea leaf producers were 27.73 percent below the reference price. The observed indicators suggest that while tea factories are able to receive the full reference price, these incentives are not shared along equally along the value chain” (Kiwanuka, and Ahmed 2012, 3). As a result, according to some informants, tea growing has brought misery to the people, especially in western Uganda. The low price that tea out-growers get in the local market has been a serious issue to the extent that it was raised during the presidential campaigns in late 2015 in Kabarole District. According to sources from Kabale District where the growing of tea has recently been introduced, peasants grow it because there are limited opportunities available in the area for earning an income to survive on. This is in line with the logic of agricultural modernisation through commercialisation to make peasants depend on the market so that they can be compelled to provide labour to the owners of capital who sell the tea grown on the international market.


The misery of tea out-growers in western Uganda is shared by sugar-cane out-growers in eastern Uganda, especially Busoga region. In the past, a big number of households in this region were maize growers but were discouraged by the fluctuating prices already discussed. They resorted to the growing of sugarcane as out-growers for sugar factories in the area, which appears to be a more paying activity than maize growing. However, the households have been exposed to food insecurity. According to a special report of the Daily Monitor in 2013, it was established that “more land is being allocated to sugarcane growing, leaving tiny holdings that cannot be used for sustainable food production (Mufumba 2013: 13). According to an article published by New Vision in April 2015, sugarcane has caused food scarcity in Busoga region. Poor peasants rent out a large portion of their land to rich sugarcane out-growers, remaining with virtually no land to cultivate food for own consumption. It was reported that the poor peasants were compelled by the necessity of cash to put the remaining land under sugar cultivation. As a result, it was discovered that there is acute food scarcity in the region; most of the households survive by buying food from the market not produced in the area but purchased from as far as Mbale (Mufumba 2015). This is in accordance with the goals of social transformation already described. Naively, the local leaders in Busoga, without understanding the purpose of modernisation and social transformation, attempted to put in place a law compelling peasants to reserve land for growing food crops as a guarantor of food security for homesteads (see Mufumba 2013). This would mean the state acting against the objectives of attaining ‘modernisation’ and therefore the law was never put in place. The misery of sugarcane growing is to be extended to northern Uganda initially under the Amuru Sugar Project, a joint venture between the Madhvani Group and the Government of Uganda but being resisted by the people in the area (see Martiniello 2013, 11). (Actually the misery of growing sugarcane has already been extended to the north with the government supporting and bailing out other investors interested in establishing sugar factories in the area, like Atiak Sugar Factory (see New Vision 2017, 5).


Another agricultural commodity encouraged by the government and praised for generating revenue is tobacco growing, which has not only kept the peasants growing it in poverty but also has had devastating effects on the environment. Peasants cut down trees to provide fuel for curing tobacco leaves as well as for the construction of curing barns (Nabusayi 2007). However, companies buying tobacco from peasants do not pay them well and sometimes do not pay until they are sued (see New Vision 2015, 8).


To diversify the growing of cash crops, a number of high value non-traditional cash crops have been promoted but like other cash crops these have exposed peasants to food insecurity. One of the high value crops that attracted the interest of farmers was vanilla. Between 2002 and 2003, the price of vanilla was very attractive, selling at UGX 150,000/= a kilo and as a result farmers rushed into its cultivation. However, within a short period its price nosedived, forcing farmers to abandon it. By 2009, the price of vanilla had dropped to UGX 3000/= a kilo. Farmers abandoned the growing of vanilla even in Mukono District where it had long been cultivated (Muzaale 2009 27).


With the manipulation of the market using the kit of macroeconomic stabilisation as a means of waging war on what is termed as subsistence farming, the growing of non-food crops, including non-traditional cash crops, to earn money is slowly taking root in Uganda. According to a key informant from Kabarole, peasants now mostly grow onions, ginger, and garlic for sale in the market, instead of traditional crops like millet and potatoes. As physically observed, this also applies to Kabale and Mpigi districts. It seems this is the trend in the whole of Uganda. According to testimony gathered from individuals the author has interviewed from the various parts of the country, many peasants now depend on the market for their food requirements, especially maize flour. This is corroborated by other proxy indicators. In the past, when the people from urban areas would go to the rural areas for ceremonies such as weddings, burials, and end of year festivities, they would return to towns loaded with foodstuffs. Today, it is the reverse. Town dwellers these days carry the foodstuffs such as rice and posho (maize floor) to rural areas when going to such ceremonies.


Whereas the business environment for farmers has been made harsh by the kit of macroeconomic stabilisation, the situation in Uganda has been worsened by the hazard of drought that could have been prevented from causing disasters by the use of irrigation utilising water that covers 20 percent of its land area (see NEMA 2014, 121). Nonetheless, drought-caused disaster has been occurring in Uganda from time to time, seriously affecting communities. In 1998 and 1999, drought affected 700,000 people as well as killing 115. In 2002, it affected 655,000 people, killing 79, while in 2005 and 2008 it affected 600,000 and 750,000 people respectively (Uganda 2010, x). This has been happening at the same time as Uganda has been increasingly exposed to external debt as a result of acquiring loans for making investments in infrastructural development, “particularly in sectors as Mineral Development, Works and Transport, Education and Health” (Uganda 2016, 50), but not in irrigation as a priority for preventing famine-causing drought. This means the government, with technical advice from donors, especially the World Bank and IMF, is interested in seeing the fall of the peasantry (see Asiimwe 2011). According to Tumusiime-Mutebile (2013, 10), Uganda has suffered many food price shocks as a result of drought since 2006 because farmers depend on weather and do not have good storage systems. However, the prolongation of this state of affairs attests to both lack of investment and the poor business environment created by the kit of macroeconomic stabilisation described above. State-directed infrastructure investment conspicuously ignores irrigation, while farmers fail to make enough profits to invest in irrigation equipment due to unfavourable market conditions.


In contrast, while neoliberal reform made farming a continuously loss-making business, worsened by the intermittent occurrence of drought in Uganda, farmers in developed countries were not only getting subsidies to make their farming business profitable but were also compensated for losses emanating from natural hazards (Oxfam, 2002). In Uganda, for example, over 2,000 households in Bukwo lost crops to drought amounting to UGX 14billion (New Vision 2009, 34) without the government bothering to cater for their losses.

To make matters worse, the government has been making the business of farming even harder by increasing interest rates. For instance, when inflation rose in late 2013 as a result of food shortages, instead reducing the cost of borrowing, especially for investment in the agricultural sector so that output of food items could increase in the long-run, the governor of the Bank of Uganda raised interest rates (see Tumusiime-Mutebile 2013). Since food scarcity routinely occurs as a result of drought, a prudent economic policy would not only reduce the cost of borrowing for investment in the agricultural sector but would also subsidise irrigation equipment as well as constructing public storage facilities so that farmers need not depend on vagaries of weather any more.


As a result of the harsh business environment facing farmers, the rich peasantry that evolved during colonialism and continued to exist up to the time of the pro-market reform, facilitated by the strong cooperative movement then in place, has been dismantled. The evidence suggests that an indigenous capitalistic class in agriculture, especially involved in the growing of food for the national and international markets, has been hindered from emerging in Uganda. This is obscured, at least in part, by the use of news media to propagate “success stories” that suggest otherwise, if somewhat clumsily.


While newspapers in Uganda publish profiles of people who have “made it” in agriculture, the profiles are either exaggerated or are selectively picked. For example, the New Vision of 14 February 2012 gave two profiles of two prominent politicians, who use irrigation to carry out farming (New Vision 2012, 16& 33). It seems these individuals use their farms for political purposes but may not be concerned with the cost-effectiveness of their farming business. This is evidenced by the case of the former Vice-President of Uganda who sold his farm after he was dropped from the cabinet (see New Vision 2012, 38). This is again corroborated by the story of Ogenga-Latigo (2012), a politician who borrowed money to pay part of the loan acquired earlier on because he was not getting enough cash flows for remitting monthly instalments. The story was published without reference to whether he was making profits or not from his farming business. Yet he was profiled as one of the most successful farmers in the country even while he could not save his maize garden from being choked by weed, as he reveals. Other farming “success stories” are of people involved in multiple activities that subsidise farming activity, like Ponsiano Ssenyonyi, who had four rented houses; owned a maize mill; and was a trader in coffee and produce in 2009 (see Ssali 2009, 25).


It appears a local capitalist class has been discouraged in Uganda in preference to a plantation economy dominated by foreign investors. Although the British originally wanted to make Uganda a settler plantation economy, there developed in preference a peasant economy for the production of cheap raw materials for export without being ruined by price fluctuations because the peasants growing them produced food for their consumption (see Mamdani, 1976). Although a market economy was created, the production of goods did not take place entirely for exchange so that the production process could be taken over by capital. Now under the pro-market reform program, the model of a plantation economy dominated by foreign investors has been revisited. While during colonialism the peasants retained land to grow cheap cash crops for export and food crops for own consumption as a strategy to promote or prop up the established export-import economy, now the land is being seized from them as will be illustrated shortly. Even if the out-growers of cash crops, like sugarcane and tea, retain land, they are de facto employees of the companies that buy the crops. Trapped in the supply chains of oligopsonistic purchasers, the peasants have been made dependent on companies as has been illustrated by the case of sugarcane out-growers in Busoga region. This is colonialism with a new face. The process of destroying peasant agriculture for own consumption is being undertaken in order for land grabbing to take place. While Uganda appears to be independent, as Asiimwe (2011, 26) points out “The personal appeal by the president for support of investors indicates more clearly that the state’s choice of action directly supports the rise of the colonial ‘Empire’, which will gradually see to it the fall of the peasantry”.


In order to facilitate the fall of the peasantry, famine and acute food shortages that could have been avoided with good economic management, have been allowed to regularly occur in Uganda. In 1997, most parts of Uganda, especially the north and northeast of the country, were affected seriously by food insecurity (Bazara 2001). In 2002, there was a decline in the production of cereals, especially maize and beans (Byekwaso 2002) while a study conducted in 2006 revealed that half of Uganda’s population did not have access to sufficient food (Opolot and Kuteesa 2006, 23). In 2008, there were serious food shortages leading to rising food prices that were of concern to the urban areas (see Byekwaso 2008). In 2009, 60 percent of Ugandans were unable to feed their families and 51 out of approximately 80 districts then experienced serious food shortages (New Vision 2009). As observed by the Sunday Monitor (2009: 3), “after the so-called ‘anti-poverty programmes, past and present, aimed at moving the country from its largely peasant subsistence economy to an industrialised one, most families are going without adequate food, water, medicines, cooking fuel and cash – in a word, we have become a nation of deprivation”.


The situation continues to worsen. In 2016, it was reported that about 70 percent of the Ugandan population goes without food for at least one day (New Vision 2016). In 2017, it was reported that 10 million Ugandans are starving (New Vision 2017, 3), some to death in various parts of the country. This was after a prolonged drought that hit the country in 2016. When a wet season set in 2017, the country was invaded by armyworms and deadly weed that have ravaged and continue to destroy the farmers’ crops, especial maize gardens (see Saturday Vision 2017, 12-13). According to the information received from some students of Ndejje University studying only on weekends, the armyworms attack the maize planted using the seeds provided by the government under Operation Wealth Creation (OPC) programme, sparing the one planted by the farmers using their own seeds. This implies that the government is being used, knowingly or unknowingly, to starve its people.


Even before old people started starving to death, the number of children dying of malnutrition was alarmingly on the rise (Saturday Vision 2011) while child abandonment was also increasing. In 2013, the police dealt with approximately five cases of dumped children every month, picked from “latrines, garbage pits along the roads, and Mbarara Hospital” (Mukombozi and Kashaki 2013: 13) in Mbarara municipality alone. In the same year, the Daily Monitor newspaper noted that in the whole of Uganda, the problem of child abandonment had become unbearable to the extent that foreign NGOs had to intervene. It is a bitter irony that Uganda is following in the footsteps of the West at least in this respect under the strategy of modernisation, because child abandonment was commonplace in Britain during the period of land enclosure (see Fairlie 2009).


As the process of modernisation has made it difficult for peasants to grow food for own consumption, there has been mass migration from rural areas to urban areas, especially to Kampala City. “Many young people are quitting agriculture for petty jobs in urban centres like riding boda boda (motor cycle taxis)” (Nuwagaba in Lirri 2009, 28). The process of rural-to-urban migration has been accelerated by peasants being evicted from their land (bibanja) by foreign and local investors. Peasants, after having been weakened by the harsh business environment already discussed, have become an easy prey to land grabbers – the investors. Land grabbing at first was common in Buganda region, where there are tenants on mailo-lands due to the land tenure system inherited from colonialism, but has spread to the rest. While the government pretended to protect the rights of tenants on land by enacting the Land Act of 1998 as amended in 2008, in reality it exposed them to large scale-land buyers who are usually foreign investors. Under the Land Act, the tenants were to be issued with certificates of occupancy as a legal recognition. This would make it easy for the investor to buy off the tenants after buying a big chunk of land from the title owner. When the law was amended, the tenant could not sell his or her piece of land to anybody else unless the title owner did not show interest in acquiring it or could not afford it. Therefore, this made it easy for the rich foreign investors to remove encumbrances from the land they buy without embarrassing complaints – a civilised way of land grabbing.


For example, a one Jonathan Wright bought 1,423 acres of land at Buzranjovu in Mukono District, not far away from Kampala, from Mugwanya Kabusu in 2005 and the investor reserved UGX 300,000,000/= to compensate (buy off) the occupants. By December 2012, with the exception of fifty five, two hundred and seventeen families had been bought off. The remaining ones were said to be harmoniously living with the investor (ULII 2013). Although the occupants were compensated, some of them disputed how they were bought off. Anyway, the bought off tenants could not resist the money given to them because they were impoverished by the kit of macroeconomic stabilisation already discussed. Like out-growers in Busoga region, who have been forced by circumstances to use their land for sugarcane growing instead of food crops as already illustrated, occupants on the bought land in Mukono had to sell their land rights to get money to survive on in the short run while sacrificing their future. This is an example of how peasants have been compelled by circumstances to sell their plots of land to foreign investors.


Consequently, after the land-displacing macroeconomic stabilisation was undertaken in the countries of the South generally and Uganda in particular, the phenomenon of land grabbing has emerged – suggesting that it could have been planned in advance. “Powerful transnational and national economic actors from corporations to national governments and private equity funds have searched for “empty” land... This is occurring globally, but there is a clear North-South dynamic that echoes the land grabs that underwrote both colonialism and imperialism” (Borras et al. 2011: 209). It is further stated for the case of Uganda that:

The multitude forms of land grabbing in Uganda include foreign states and (Trans) National Corporations acquisitions for food and bio-fuel productions, land enclosures driven by REED carbon capture schemes and forest creation, demarcations and securing of conservation areas and game reserves for tourist purposes, domestic elite and state-driven acquisitions often to the benefit of high rank government and military officials or to the advantage of locally (nationally) influent capitalists mostly in the form of commercial agriculture and cattle ranching schemes. This trend is driven by and consolidated by an ideology that portrays Africa as a continent endowed with abundant and unutilised land (Martiniello 2013, 3).


According to Kizza Besigye (2016, 30), a presidential candidate in Uganda since 2001, land grabbing “refers to large-scale land acquisitions, mainly by foreign agribusiness investors, or extraction industry - that are often preceded by grabbing of the land by government (including local government), the military, government/ military officials and even clan elite.... Land grabbing and the attendant displacement of large numbers of people, often using very brutal means, is developing into a serious security problem”. The use of brutal means to displace large numbers of people to create an empty and unutilised land for foreign investors to occupy in Uganda has been going on illegally and without compensation for some time now. For example,


In August 2001, the government of Uganda deployed its army, the UPDF, to evict over 2000 people in order to create a 9.6 square mile space for a German investor Newmann Kaffe Group locally registered by Kaweri Coffee ltd. These people were not compensated by the government and many of their children could not go back to school because their parents had lost the means of livelihood to sustain them. The people sought redress with UHRC but were not helped because it does not resolve matters pertaining to land. (Action Aid International 2003, 20 quoted in Kizito 2013, 19-20).


The government is actively displacing peasants from land by creating agricultural and industrial parks for investors - it has earmarked 22 such parks across the country in the name of job creation and equitable economic transformation of all regions (see Daily Monitor 2017, 42). However, the intended equitable economic transformation of all regions is not a blessing. In 2016, the government established an agricultural park in Luwero District of 2,500 acres and gave it to a Chinese firm in an area said to have been a forest before without occupants despite the complaints of those having been “displaced from the land to make way for the investors” (Oluka 2016, 4). Even if the land had been unoccupied, the peasants in the surrounding areas lost the opportunity of expanding their agricultural activities in future, as well as being denied the room for practising fallow farming to allow their existing portions to regain soil fertility.


In some cases when the government acquires land for parks through purchase, the occupants are underpaid. For instance, in Mbale District where the government is scheduled to set up an industrial park on the 800 acres of land that had been occupied by over 800 families, 200 residents had not been compensated by May 2017 because they disputed the small amount of money they were given. Six acres of land with a number of properties was valued at a paltry UGX 445,500 – approximately 123.75 US Dollars (see Kitunzi 2017, 10).


To legalise the land grabbing or the underpayment of the occupants displaced, the government has come up with a bill to amend the constitution. This is intended to empower the government to compulsorily acquire land at a price that it has itself determined. When the proposed amendment goes through, the government in the name of development will seize land from the people, especially the still existing peasants, even if the compensation given out is not enough to buy land elsewhere, as in the case of Mbale mentioned above. According to the proposed law, the affected individual owners can appeal to court for a fair compensation when the government has already taken over the land and evicted the occupants if necessary (see Sunday Monitor 2016, 16). However, as is well known in Uganda, courts of law take years and years without pronouncing a judgement on cases, especially in land disputes. Moreover, the poor peasants are not in a position to successfully challenge the powerful government in court, especially when rich investors are backing it.


Indicative of the government’s apparently contradictory stance is its expressed desire to resolve the intensifying problem of land grabbing, simultaneously as it promotes the social transformation that took place in the West. President Museveni on December 8, 2016 appointed Justice Catherine Bamugemereire to chair a seven-member commission of inquiry into land issues. The commission of inquiry is popular and was welcomed by many in Uganda, including church leaders (see New Vision 2017). Since its inception, it has unearthed many cases of land seizures reported both in the electronic and print media, implicating even high-ranking government officials. This is hardly surprising. Yet, even if the probe will come up with recommendations to punish the culprits, land grabbing will not stop when the government is following the modernisation model of development via land enclosures, as in Britain centuries before. However, for Uganda to modernise, the peasant class must be replaced by foreign investors so that finance capital can completely take over the production process in Uganda.


It should be noted that President Museveni, after his disputed election victory in 2016, using a mixture of Luganda and Kiswahili languages, asserted that this term of office will be a kisanja hakuna mcezo, meaning it will be a “no joke” term of office. It is posited that this was an assurance to his foreign backers, who have nicknamed him the Bismarck of Africa (Biryabarema 2015), that he will do everything possible to complete ‘an incomplete penetration of traditional society by a weak colonial state’ (Mamdani, 1996, 285). Apparently, modernisation does not only mean to complete the incomplete penetration of the traditional society but also to displace the peasants from land, like it happened in the West.

To achieve this, land must be seized from peasants. Then the fundamental change that he promised Ugandans in 1986 when he captured power from the bush will have been realised.



This paper has examined the concepts of poverty eradication, modernisation, and social transformation, as these have been applied in the economic development policies of Uganda specifically and the South generally. It has been argued that such poverty reduction and modernisation are not concerned with the welfare improvement of the peasants but rather with separating them from their means of subsistence so that they can depend on capital, especially that owned by foreign investors. To achieve this objective, the Government of Uganda, under the influence of global forces that designed the kit of macroeconomic stabilisation, has created a business environment that has made it too difficult for peasants to gainfully practise farming, consequently forcing them to abandon self-provisioning agriculture and rendering them to a great extent dependent on the market for their survival. In addition, avoidable famines and acute food shortages are allowed to occur regularly. As a result, many people are starving. This is what happened during the land enclosure movement in Britain, and is now bringing misery to Uganda, but to make matters worse without either the formation of an indigenous capitalist class or the industrialisation that accompanied this process in Europe and North America. Peasants have sensed that indeed they are in danger, as reflected in the hymns they sing in church. They mention that they are at war and that Jesus is their commander but they add in another hymn that there will be happiness after the suffering they are going through. This is the consolation offered by the church and other religious faiths to the suffering (see Galeano 1973, 98). When people are faced with acute crisis and uncertainty, the appeal of religious movements grows (see Kulumba 2005). This is the case today in Uganda, and possibly other countries of the South. Although Uganda may have unique characteristics, it is not exceptional under the modernisation model of development intended to separate the peasants from their means of subsistence. And when capital eventually takes complete control of the production process, especially that of foreign investors, following much suffering, then poverty will have been eradicated and there will be happiness celebrated by Christians in Uganda.


As revealed by a leaked report on how to preserve capitalism in the twenty-first century, (see Machyo 2005), the pro-market reform program was designed to reduce the world population, especially in the South, using the tool of starvation among others, for capital to take over the ownership of land, in the footsteps of what happened in the North as another source illustrates.

The naked and aggressive process of land-grabbing in the North, sometimes, as in many clearances in the Scottish Highlands, accomplished by force of arms and the callous use of starvation, was emulated in the colonies. In some places the notion of private and exclusive, personal ownership of land was introduced for the first time. Peasants in many societies, even though they apportioned some land as family plots or farms, saw it primarily not as something any one person owned, but as the means by which the social group lived, as a ‘common property resource’. Nowadays such societies are an endangered species (Middleton et al. 1993, 109-110).


Indeed, using the strategy of monetising the economy under the so-called plan for modernising agriculture as this paper has shown, the peasants are an endangered species in Uganda. It should also be noted that genocide has always been committed by the West in the name of modernisation and civilisation (see Mamdani 2004, 6). Is it a conspiracy theory to say that history could be repeating itself in the name of poverty eradication and modernisation, or a reality? Maybe what is being done is to accomplish what was envisaged by the British prime minister, Lord Salisbury, who was quoted saying in his famous Albert Hall speech on May 4, 1898, that “one can roughly divide the nations of the world into the living and dying” (in Mamdani 2004, 6). If the peasant class that was once the majority population in the countries of the South is being dismantled without the compensatory formation of an indigenous capitalist class, as in Uganda, are the societies of the South not really dying? The promoters of contemporary capitalism know that they are doing something morally wrong. That is why they hide behind popular concepts, like poverty eradication, whilst bringing misery to peasants, as described above. If the societies of the South were allowed to chart out their own form of development, the preindustrial farming societies could be improved through cooperative organisations as well as via implementation of policies of economic nationalism to promote appropriate industrialisation using appropriate technology, without such brutal destruction of the peasantry.


• Bio. Ndinawe Byekwaso is a Lecturer of Public Administration at Ndejje University, Kampala, as well as teaching at Nkumba University on part-time basis. Before joining academics in 20007, he worked for the defunct Movement Secretariat political organisation in Uganda as a Research Officer. He has published a number of articles in international refereed journals as well as numerous newspaper articles.



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