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POLITICAL ELITE OF UGANDA: THINK OR YOU WILL SINK!

[Sabiiti Mutengesa, July 2008]

Land, and the use to which it shall be put to move Uganda from the middle ages - where we are currently stuck - to the modern era; land, ettaka, dongo, eitaka, ngom…. is the most critical issue facing Uganda today, however much we may struggle to prioritize tribalist hysteria. The land question, and particularly how it relates to agricultural productivity and our quest to become an industrial nation is an all important issue for us, a country that has the same proportion of peasants as England in 1381 at the end of 100 yrs war, a country with a GDP per capita of $900, depending on donor crumbs to the tune of 53% of the recurrent budget; a country with industrial production as a proportion of total production at 24%, like England in 1649; a country with a dependency ratio of 111: 100, the highest in the world; a country with a median age of 14.9 yrs, the lowest in the world; a country where only 2% of the population are above the age of 65 years, the lowest in the world, and so on.

What we should all be debating now, is the means of compelling our fractious and petty elite to forge some consensus on how the land question should be disposed of, urging them to do so in the direction of causing Uganda to effect the compulsory transition from medievalism to modernity.

I want to point out to you that, the NRM’s current approach as we see it in form of the Land Bill and the action of launching ‘bibanja associations’ clearly sets the organisation onto the path of being extremely reactionary; and a potential obstacle to the country’s future progress, and indeed, to the future of the country. The

‘To inaugurate the Plan for Modernization of Agriculture (PMA), and also promulgate legislation that entrenches peasants, squatters and microholders on productive land is as ludicrous as buying a baby cot and then going for vasectomy’

reactionary proclivities of the NRM’s hecklers at Mengo are as excusable as they are expected; but it would also serve them better if for once they realised their own potential power and more importantly, what they stand to gain by not resigning themselves to being a whale that wishes to reside in a pond. It is ironical though that, on the progressiveness-reaction continuum, Mengo perceptions on land-related matters may be more progressive (or rather, less reactionary) than those of the NRM and this is in itself a matter of serious concern. What ever the case, both groups ought to place in their sights the challenge of moving the country from relying on low intensity, subsistence agriculture (a mere ‘gamble in the rains’, as Barrington Moore would put it in his ‘The social Origins of Democracy and Dictatorship’), to modern farming, based on consolidated ownership of land. One keeps hoping that the country’s political elite, particularly the NRM will start considering the fact that, we can never meet that challenge by entrenching small holders, squatters, 1

and little peasants on productive land, however much we relish their vote and however much we sympathize with their plight. I talk of ‘considering’, because I recognise that the NRM leadership, and particularly Mr Museveni, very well knows that preservation of a peasant class is not the way to build and sustain a nation, let alone a modern one.

The point here is, as a country, we simply have to find the final solution to the peasant question. Time is not on our side. Entrenching peasants on productive land only makes it more daunting for us to effect the historically critical and compulsory transition from subsistence agriculture to modern farming, conceived with economies of scale in mind. We cannot inaugurate the ‘Plan for Modernization of Agriculture’ (PMA) and then promulgate a law that entrenches peasants and squatters. That is like buying a baby cot and then going for vasectomy.

The Illusion of peasant omnipotence We tried peasant produce for barter trade in the 1980s and we all know what happened. One peasant would bring a ddebe of a mixture of yellow, pink, black and purple beans still with the ashes used to ward off weevils, yet another one would bring a basket of weevil-infested ‘kawula’ liberally mixed with goat pellets, while another one would bring half a sac of 50% dry ‘kanyebwa’ mixed with castor beans, and so on. We could not standardise that kind of produce and therefore, it could not meet the rigorous requirements of the outside market into which, we so much aspire to make inroads. What we chose to
‘Historically, peasants have only been known to metamorphose into wage labourers and never into capitalists as we are trying to imagine we can do in Uganda; just as if crow eggs could hatch into parrots’.

ignore was the fact that, peasants produce for subsistence and never for the market.

The renowned processed-food company, Heinz will place a demand for 10,000 tonnes of haricot beans, all of a certain size,

all with the same moisture content, delivered on a certain date by a single supplier. Such standards of quantity, quality and timeliness can only be met by large-scale mechanised farming, supported by onsite, high standard post-harvest management facilities. We should never hope to achieve such

standards with peasant production, even if we set up our own local equivalents of Heinz. And yes, hordes of peasants armed with a mixture of instruments of violence: G3s, AK 47s, SARs, SLRs, bows and arrows and bare hands when organised well, can produce sufficient momentum to dispose of a tin pot dictator. However, when such variety is extrapolated to modern production, it will not give us sufficient momentum to banish our bitter and biting backwardness.

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Historically, peasants have only been known to metamorphose into wage labourers and never into capitalists as we are trying to imagine we can do in Uganda. Compatriots, whether we like it or not, we also must proleterianize our peasants, however much we love them. They have to get off the land and create room for commercial agriculture, managed by large-scale farmers using scientific methods of production. Opportunistic conservation of the peasant class is reactionary, just as it is traitorous. Those peasants shall have to become workers on commercial farms, consolidated from the mini-plots they occupied in a previous era. Some will become employees of agro-industrial establishments that will inevitably emerge as an offshoot of the enlargement of the scale of agriculture. The offspring of the former peasants will have to lubricate the sectors that shall be the spin-off of that initial radical move over which we are now pussyfooting. The labourers will have to live in labour lines constructed for them around the large commercial farms and industrial establishments where they will work. They will be paid a wage, which can then be taxed; they will attend schools and health facilities built around their labour camps; when they pass on, they will be buried not in ‘ebiggya’ strewn all around the countryside, but in communal cemeteries.
Democracy is not just good manners, as some would wish to make us believe. It is the tight corner in which revenue-thirsty political elites get trapped when they are attracted or compelled to rely on the wealth created by their own populations to finance their (the elite) projects.

They will be effectively policed

because their addresses will become knowable. The countryside will cease to be bandit country, because you cannot hide in an avocado plantation, or a 10 sq km bogoya or sunflower or maize farm or an extensive bean or peanut farm, or a 100 square kilometre cotton estate; just like you cannot find shelter in a five square kilometre pineapple plantation: rural banditry a la Kony is a function of a peasant socio-economic set up.

You will have to irrigate those large-scale farms, so your defence and foreign policy will now be focusing on the implications of Anwar El Sadat’s declaration at Camp David that Egypt’s next war will be over water. The former peasants, now wage labourers will have piped water and electricity

because, then, the populist or rather ‘popularist’ elite will have quit the indiscretion of hallucinating that you can provide such services to peasant populations scattered all over the rural countryside, miles apart from each other, living in foliage-thatched shacks, in inaccessible villages; because not even the richest country would undertake such a service-provision venture. The peasants of yesteryear, now labourers, will demand for those services, and rightfully so given that you will be taxing their wages.

And then, there is the fantasy of ‘bbona bagagawale’: let everybody be a tycoon. Instead of atomising financial resources into micro credit or ‘ntandikwa’, we should be thinking of consolidating such

resources into macro credit and giving it to promising commercial farmers who should be required to 3

use it to pay off the squatters and peasants, whether crop farmers or pastoralists. Our future as a country that is yearning for a macro-transformation does not lie in micro-projects, and microfinance, and microcredit, microenterprise, micro this and micro that. That will only yield a micro ideology, micro statecraft, a micro vision, micro results and a micro future. In the context of Uganda’s colossal

development challenge, succumbing to micro approaches to our problems only amounts to an attempt to slim an elephant.
‘Lecturing the political elite of an aid-dependent country like Uganda on the merits of democratic accountability is as misguided as hectoring an intravenously fed patient about the virtues of mastication’.

The fact is that, we are not an industrial nation that is attempting to create safety nets for those who due to some misfortunes are falling through the gaps. We are a preindustrial country trying to cross over to being industrial. Our historical task is to construct a

safety net for a whole polity and not merely for a handful of unfortunate individuals. If we are to register any success in that endeavour, we have to strip ourselves of any trace of ‘microism’. Instead of giving microcredit to a peasant who will buy a bicycle, marry another lady to oppress and use the rest to buy tekwe brew or is it kwete, and then fail to pay back, we should lump everything up and give macrocredit to a General Oketta or a Brigadier Otema or any other aspiring land baron currently gracing the headlines, to handsomely pay off the squatters that are pestering him. Once the land has been consolidated, give the owners the confidence that it is their private property, with all accompanying legal backup. Just as swiftly, enact a law that sets the minimum acreage of land that can be registered under a landowner in zones of agricultural production, and for that matter, everywhere else. Soon afterwards, by force of law, cause the land baron to pay property tax on that land: so many millions of shillings per so many hectares of land per annum. That will discourage him from using the land as an object of speculation and force him to put it to productive use. If he employs a threshold of 500 labourers on his 40 square miles farm, and provides them with affordable accommodation and other amenities, waive the property tax in his favour. One could go on and on for days, about the plausible and indeed, positive dominoes of swallowing the bitter pill of eradicating the squatter and peasant class. Springing from that, there are countless implied tasks for the policy maker in every domain of national management, be it in health, social security and employment, education, infrastructure, housing policy, law and order or whatever else.

I made brief reference to taxation above. We know that while the subsistence producer - the peasant cannot be taxed, the wage labourer can. Beyond meeting his subsistence needs, the peasant’s level of production leaves little or nothing to be appropriated as tax, unless one is intent on wringing blood out of a boulder. This is why it is neither an accident, nor an act of magnanimity that graduated tax 4

has been called off in Uganda. But even as we are forced to adopt such a ‘policy’, we need to bear in mind that, widespread taxation marks the birth of a fiscal contract between the political class and their constituents.

Since the taxpayer will always want to know how the deductions from his or her hard-earned wages are put to use, taxation and with it, the fiscal contract is the most infallible foundation for negotiation, bargain or parley (hence, ‘parliament’) between the political class and the populations. It is that parley that furnishes the content of organic, as opposed to mechanically imposed and hollow democracy. Democracy is not just good manners, or a sign of culture or sophistication or refinement as some would want to make us believe. Democracy is nothing but the tight corner in which revenue-thirsty political elites find themselves when they are compelled, or even attracted to rely on their own populations to finance their (the elite) projects. Democracy is the fishing hook that catches the political class and the bait on that hook is tax. If you do not have that bait, you will not catch the fish. But most importantly however, tax is the citizenry’s subscription fee for membership to civil society. The point here is that, finding the final solution to the peasant question also has a bearing on whether or not Uganda will ever become a democratic country.
IN BRITAIN, … • 70% of the land is owned by 1% of the population. • 60 million people live in 24 million "dwellings", and these 24 million dwellings sit on approx 4.4 million acres (7.7% of the land). • 77% of the population of 60 million live on only 5.8% of the land, about 3.5 million acres (total 60 million).
( http://www.progress.org/revwob.htm)

The causal link between finding a solution to the peasant question and the inevitability of true democracy is clear. The flipside of a subsistence economic base is an abysmal revenue base. An abysmal revenue base forces the political elite to scrounge around for unearned income, such as socalled aid. It is naïve to expect a political class that is

dependent on such unearned income as ‘donor’ aid to be

accountable to its population. In such instances, the populace simply do not owe that kind of political class a living: you cannot call the tune when you do not pay the piper. Equally so, you cannot hope for accountability from a political class you do not bank roll. To expect aid-dependent political elites to be accountable to domestic constituencies is as clueless as feeding someone through a stomach tube and also giving him lectures on mastication.

Learning from the experience of our (tor)mentors We are not Britain, but like Britain in the middle ages, we are a society whose population is made up of hand-to-mouth or subsistence producers. We are a country in the middle ages, however much we may wish to pretend otherwise. In order for Britain to exit from the penury of the mediaeval era, her 5

leadership did not opt for paternalism, or populism or even democracy. Land was enclosed and peasants relocated to the IDP camps called cities. Then, and only then, was the stage set for the ‘Program for Modernization of Agriculture’ (PMA), and subsequently, industrialisation.

‘Just like Stuart agrarian policy precipitated the English civil war in the mid 1600s, NRM agrarian policy will surely precipitate one in Uganda, especially if the landowners that are being hobbled by squatters disabuse themselves of tribalism and organise as a united political front’.

Speaking of ‘IDPisation’, from 1871 to 1901 the population of the IDP called Middlesbrough grew from 154 to 91,032 souls; a 60,000 per cent jump in three decades. Much of that

growth came from the ‘displacement’ called ‘parliamentary enclosures’. In primary school, we were taught that

Manchester became ‘Cottonpolis’. In our case, why should Uganda’s cotton belt centres, Kasese, Lira or Soroti not become cottonpolises? In the Second Term of Primary Six, we used to be taught that, in Wales, ‘sheep ate men’ enabling Britain to become the world’s wool producer. How did those sheep become carnivorous? The answer is simple: final

solution to the peasant question. In fact the process started much earlier than the modern era to which most reference is made: thousands of small estates were combined into less than two hundred major lordships as far back as 1070, in the early Norman days. The challenge for Uganda now is, unlike Britain then, we lack some ‘new world’ - Australia, New Zealand or North America - where to offload our ‘surplus’ population: we shall have to rearrange our socioeconomic base and still accommodate all-and-sundry that will be redeployed in the process. Time is not on our side:

demographic redeployment has to be crafted into every aspect of the cycle of key national policy. As a national population, we are given to doubling every two decades. Come 2050, we shall be close to 150 million. If redeployment is going to wait to be managed as a crisis, then we shall have a massive mess that will consume us.

That Britain I am referring to in the foregoing passage also had her days of indecisiveness over how, and even whether to implement the final solution to the peasant question. One of the factors that brought ‘President’ Cromwell of the ‘Republic of England’ to prominence was the vacillation of the Stuarts - the royals that ruled England from 1603-1714 – over whether land was going to remain in the hands of peasants, or whether it was going to be consolidated in fewer hands. For those who imagine that military dictatorship is a preserve of the global South, England had her 15 months of a ‘Military commission’ during those heady days: ‘The rule of the Major Generals’ from 1655-1657. At that time, Stuart agrarian policy precipitated the English Civil War, just like NRM agrarian policy will surely precipitate one in Uganda, especially if the beleaguered landowners make up their minds to emancipate themselves from petty tribalism and present their case as a single phalanx. Of course, 6

Uganda’s parliament today is dissimilar to Stuart England’s legislature that was nothing but a ‘committee of the landlords’. Landlords, why can’t you contest for parliamentary seats and dominate the legislative process? But even then, the way things are now, Uganda’s controversial Land Bill is no different from King Charles 1’s ‘Star Chamber’ and the ‘Court of Requests’ that served, partly to protect peasants against evictions spawned by the enclosure process. In the fullness of time, those two populist devices were quashed. For his inability to know that it was daft to go against the grain of history, King Charles 1, the chief proponent of pro-peasant policies was subjected to the ultimate emotional experience.

Those days there was no Amnesty International to ooze about human rights, and of course peasants were not voters so that the political elite did not have to handle them delicately. It was not an accident that they did not vote. If they had been given the vote before the enclosure process had been fully accomplished, Britain would never have become a power and would quite certainly have been haunted by the same ugly APE that plagued modernisation’s late comers, Germany and Italy. Britain inoculated herself against that APE: Agrarian Patriotic Extremism, or fascism, by pulling the rug from below its feet. The solution had long been implemented through the eradication of the peasant class, the usual junior partners in the fascism project.

Britain’s electoral reform bill of 1832 could only take place because the peasants did not have any thing important left to vote on: they were off their land. Why should Uganda be hobbled by broadening participation before she sorts out the more fundamental question of distribution? Of course, even after Britain’s electoral reforms, the number of voters increased from 2% to only 4% of those eligible, not 100%. The percentage of adults eligible to vote in England reached 97% only in 1928, 1042 years after Alfred the Great
‘Britain’s electoral reform bill of 1832 could only take place because the peasants did not have any thing important left to vote on: they were off their land. In fact there were none left. Why should Uganda allow herself to be hobbled by the need to broaden participation before she sorts out the more fundamental question of distribution?’

defeated the Danes and set off to turn England into a political unit.

Uganda, at age zero, was

expected to effectively run an electoral system where 100+% of eligible adults cast their vote! On every occasion, this grievous self-deception always comes around to stare us in our faces.

The fact is, if you want to love a butterfly, you care for caterpillars. However, you do not care for caterpillars by being captivated by the flamboyance of butterflies; because then you will be tempted to clip the wings of some senile, 1,042 years-old butterfly and glue them on the caterpillars and hope that the unwieldy larvae will fly. They will not fly: they do not have the musculature for flight. They will 7

continue to waggle and wriggle, wobble and wiggle: that way, they perform their locomotion. They are the nutritive and growth stage, period. Their business is to eat, twice their own weight of food per day, and grow. If Uganda is to grow, what should we be prioritizing? Why do we get our hands tied when we have very critical transitions to effect; transitions which those that love to hector us made unencumbered, centuries ago? The problem seems to be that, our political vision and our economic aspirations are operating at cross-purposes. It is for this very reason that some footling Mengo

retainers end up being wrapped around the axles of those that should leave themselves no option other than operating above the fray.

Some comments on our pseudo-Prussia The Buganda landed elite should be advancing their cause in modern terms; the terms of enhancing their status from being beneficiaries of the spoils, to being a productive middle class: Mulwana multiplied by a million. They should be campaigning for big loans that would enable them to buy off squatters. They should be gunning for laws that can enable them to own tracts of land anywhere in the country - Acholi, Lango, Karamoja, Ngom Orom, Bunyoro, Toro..., with full protection against tribalist harassment; and with the pledge to put such consolidated land to productive use, and to pay property tax on it, and provide employment to those seeking to be wage labourers etc. Instead, they are now clamouring for 9,000 square miles (the dubious ‘kenda’) when the rest of the country has land to the tune of 80,000 square miles which they should be eying. Are they not hankering for a squirrel when there is an elephant up for grabs? Have the Mengo elite never heard about the Junkers, the landed elite of Prussia who pioneered the consolidation of Germany into a solid power, or the English lords, who pushed for laws to own land in Wales, Scotland and
‘If you love butterflies, you care for caterpillars. You do not care for

Ireland whatever cost this process imposed on the inhabitants of those lands? Have they heard about the four great Japanese Zaibatsu: Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Yasuda? Did the

caterpillars by being a hostage to the flamboyance of butterflies’

Zaibatsu galvanise their entrepreneurial might by being nostalgic about the glory of the Tokugawa era? Did they consolidate their power by arm-twisting the deliverers of the Meiji epoch? The fact is that, the Zaibatsu were very clear about the borderline between yesterday and tomorrow.

What some of the tragically injudicious Buganda elite never seem to grasp is that, they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths: when German territories were unified around the Prussian core, the new country was not called Prussia, nor was Britain called England when, Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland were consolidated around the English domains. In our case, our country was branded the 8

Swahili name ‘Uganda’ which means ‘the land of the Ganda’ even when it encompasses the Banyoro, Acholi and Langi, Itesot, etc etc. As we all know, the Swahili speakers refer to America as Umarekani, the land of Americans; or England as Uingeleza, the land of the English, what in Bantu dialects including Luganda is called ‘Bungereza’. The fact is that, Swahili lacks the ‘B’ noun class causing that letter to be dropped from names of places. So, why should everyone in the country accept to be called a Ganda even when they all have their own communal names; and then you go ahead to constantly claim that they have not accepted you, hence the ‘badugudugu’, ‘banamawanga’, ‘balalo’, ‘biddeyo ewabwe’, ‘twabikowa’: you rabble, go back to your own tribal lands. What blindness!

What if one argued (and they would be perfectly in order) that the label ‘Uganda’ is a disgusting symbol of the flippancy of the colonialists and it is the embodiment of the passiveness of the people of Bunyoro, Toro, Acholi, Alurland, Nkore, and others who have curiously come to accept themselves as Ganda, even when they have their own ethnic labels? What would have been

If the colonialists had made their incursion into this area through Bushenyi or Bukonzo or Kigezi or Bugisu, would everyone have been content with ‘Ushenyi’ or ‘Ukonzo’ or ‘Ukiga ‘ or ‘Ugisu’ as the name for our country? If not, why must ‘Uganda’ be acceptable?

the view of the Scottish or Welsh if what we know today as Britain - part of which they are - had instead been frivolously christened as ‘England’, whether in Gaelic, Flemish, Frankish, Viking lingo or any other equivalent of Swahili? If the colonialists had made their incursion through Bushenyi or Bukonjo or Kigezi or Bugisu, would everyone else have accepted Ushenyi or Ukonjo or Ukiga or Ugisu as the country’s name? What if sections of the citizenry of our short-fused polity demanded that the country’s name should be changed to ‘South Nile Republic’, or any other label that is everything but the lousily thought-out and perpetually mispronounced Swahili word ‘Uganda’, which also means Buganda? And why should someone, somewhere, not make that demand anyway?

Compatriots, let us shape up.

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