Uganda’s Gen. Yoweri Museveni — his NRM reneged on land promise
In Uganda everyone is attached to the land.
With the current United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) civic education, land tenure and use have taken on new meaning as a means of livelihood, profitable investment, store of value and a source of prestige.
The British colonial administration decided that land belonged to the people of Uganda and passed a law severely restricting foreign ownership and utilization provided Uganda peasants produced industrial commodities and food stuffs needed in the United Kingdom.
In areas as in Buganda where attempts were made to allocate more land for public purposes, peasant response was swift and in some cases with serious outcomes.
Before coming to power, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) which is the current regime, recognized the sensitivity of land tenure and use and promised that those who had been dispossessed would get their land back or compensated. However, once in power, the NRM position changed. Those with money and power acquired land at break neck speed especially in the Luwero Triangle where half of the population lost their lives during the five year guerrilla war and many of the survivors did not return.
By 1989 land grabbing had become so serious that a delegation complained to the president but nothing was done. Instead, the president announced regularly that Uganda had much unutilized arable land and water resources. He appealed to Ugandans to allow immigrants into the country to help in the development process. He also urged Ugandans to abandon rural life and settle in towns where development and employment prospects were better.
The 1995 constitution which allows Ugandans and increasingly non-Ugandans to settle and own land anywhere in the country has opened the gate for massive land grabbing and dispossession of powerless and voiceless Ugandans. What is even more disturbing is that foreigners especially from densely populated neighbors are grabbing Uganda land with tacit support of the NRM government. Organizations are being formed and facilitated financially with the principal purpose of purchasing land on the false notion of “willing seller and willing buyer”. In practice, however, much of land acquisition is being realized at gun point or manipulation under cover of darkness.
Recent developments have finally revealed NRM land policy. Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi has become an advocate for privatizing Uganda land to large scale farmers presumably foreigners since there aren’t many rich Ugandans. He has reasoned that Uganda small holder farmers have failed to utilize the land productively to feed the nation and generate surplus for export. The scientific evidence does not support his reasoning.
It is known the world over that when adequately facilitated with infrastructure like roads and affordable energy and institutions like extension service, credit facilities and information, small holder farmers are more productive, more efficient, create more jobs and are more environmentally and socially friendly than large scale farmers.
The international community including the United Nations, the World Bank, the Group of 8(G8) industrialized countries and philanthropists like Bill Gates have recognized the superiority of small scale farmers over large scale ones. At its USA Summit in 2012 the G8 allocated money to support small scale farmers including those in Uganda.
By way of emphasis, it is important to remember that during the colonial days, Uganda small scale farmers produced the export commodities and foodstuffs demanded by United Kingdom consumers even during periods of economic recessions in the 1920s and 1930s as well as food stuffs for domestic consumption.
Per capita agricultural production has declined since the 1970s largely because of endemic conflicts and wars, economic mismanagement and policies that have focused on urban services development since NRM came to power. Kampala and its vicinity generates over 70 percent of Gross National Income (GNI) with a population of less than two million, leaving 33 million people to generate less than 30 percent of GNI.
What is needed is to refocus on agriculture and rural development, where over 85 percent and most of the poor Ugandans live, as Uganda’s engine of economic growth and equitable development. Through education and healthcare and appropriate inclusive policies, Uganda peasants will produce enough food to feed the nation adequately, generate surplus for export and facilitate transition to commercial agriculture and middle income country and society.
NRM government needs to remember that many revolutions including those in France (1789), Mexico (1910), Russia (1917) and Ethiopia (1974) were supported by peasants who wanted their land back.
Eric Kashambuzi is Secretary General,United Democratic Ugandans (UDU)