Andrew Mwenda Shifts His Discussion To ‘Serious Policy Issues’

By Andrew M. Mwenda

February 23, 2017: The Crisis In Uganda’s Agriculture

According to a government report, eleven million Ugandans are facing food shortages (famine) and need relief food to save them from potential starvation. Our country has suffered a drought. This has been followed by famine.

Many people think the drought caused the famine. WRONG!!! Droughts don’t cause famines. Famines are caused by bad politics and poor public policies.

Let me explain: a drought is a natural phenomenon characterized by insufficient rainfall which can lead to crop failure. Famine is a social problem characterized by shortage of food leading to starvation. The transition from a drought (a natural phenomenon) to famine (a social problem) is mediated by political institutions and public policies that manage the relationship between rainfall and food supply. That is why Dubai, which is a desert (has a permanent drought) does not suffer from famine.

If you have the right institutions and policies, you can have irrigation to cushion against crop failure that results from droughts. You can have food storage policies at family level (granaries) and at national level (huge silos). You can have programs to buy food during plenty and sell during scarcity. You can import food or control food exports (apparently Uganda has a food shortage partly because we exported too much of our bumper harvest last year).

What we are witnessing is a political and policy failure in agriculture by the NRM government. Indeed President Yoweri Museveni has no one to blame but himself since he has been in power for 30 years. Surely he should have promoted many of the policies mentioned above. Instead, like his presidential opponent for life, FDC cult leader Kizza Besigye, Museveni is most likely going to look for excuses. He may blame the opposition for sabotaging his programs just like Besigye blames him for stealing his votes.

Shifting blame has become to art of our politics by both Museveni and Besigye and by both government and the opposition. Yet we must address the political causes of poor agricultural performance. Before that, let us deal with the facts and figures in agriculture.

Over the last 30 years, annual growth in agriculture has averaged 3.24% against an average rate of population growth of 3.12%. This means per capita growth in agriculture has been close to zero. Now u know how stupid Besigye and his radical extremists are when they say official figures are cooked. They don’t even look.

However manufacturing has grown at annual average rate of 9.8%, services at 7.8%, construction at 11.2% etc. Thus while Museveni has been successful in these sectors, he has performed poorly in agriculture, a sector that employs 80% of Ugandans. In fact while agriculture employs 80% of Ugandans it generates only 22% of GDP; meaning 20% of Ugandans take 78% of total income. Why this failure and what can be the solution to the problem?

Tomorrow we shall return to address the political roots of poor agricultural policies and the possible solutions. We shall also demonstrate that both the government and the opposition ironically share similar retrogressive politics that undermine the ability to promote the right policies that can foster the development of a vibrant agricultural sector.

February 24, 2017: Crisis In Uganda’s Agriculture Part 2

If you want to understand why agriculture has performed poorly in Uganda over the last 30 years, ask yourself: how do our politicians, both in government and in the opposition, cultivate support among the rural folk? They appeal to the rural voters using a combination of patronage, welfare and tax relief.

On patronage, they give small gifts (bribes) in form of fees for children of some voters, pick healthcare costs of others, attend and contribute to funerals and weddings and contribute to local causes like in building churches. These symbolic gestures of personal generosity mean a lot to peasants. Within the moral economy of peasants, our politicians are seen as generous individuals who help their people.

Politicians also promise voters welfare programs like universal primary and secondary education, universal healthcare and clean water. Our country is actually poor to afford this kind of nanny state; so the services are inevitably characterized by incompetence, corruption, absenteeism and indifference. But they make peasants feel cared for.

And of course politicians also promise peasants protection from payment of taxes. This is how Besigye promised to end graduated tax and Museveni, not to lose out, “stole” the cult leader’s promise. At the local level peasants have been allowed to avoid paying market dues, thus making local governments almost entirely dependent on the central government for funding.

All these strategies of cultivating a political following, it must be observed, do not address the issue of the productivity of the peasant as an economic agent. Thus the productive margin in the search for peasant votes does not lie on tapping their productive potential but in bribing them with state handouts.

I admit there are times when government has tried to intervene at the level of their production by distributing free seedlings, fertilizers, free hoes, free goats, pigs and cows. Even here, these are supply instead of demand driven interventions. Because they are state plans rather than peasant initiatives, few farmers use the fertilizers, the seedlings are delivered during the dry season, cows, pigs and goats are eaten or sold etc.

Our agriculture has stagnated because politicians, in their pursuit of peasant votes, privilege welfare handouts instead of engaging the peasant as a productive agent in his/her own right. Tomorrow we continue this analysis.

February 26, 2017: Crisis In Uganda’s Agriculture 3

We argued yesterday that government interventions in agriculture have privileged patronage, welfare and tax relief for the peasant instead of a more economically productive relationship. But the opposition and government share this paternalistic attitude towards farmers.

For example, FDC has been complaining that NRM killed cooperatives. Now we know that cooperatives are not (and should never be) state bodies. They MUST be voluntary associations of people at the grassroots with the aim of promoting the interests of members. They should be bottom-up institutions rather than top-down.

If the opposition really meant business, they would have gone to the grassroots to provide organization and leadership to peasant interests. Instead FDC cult leader and opposition presidential candidate for life, Kizza Besigye, is always seeking cheap popularity in urban areas where he can grab quick headlines for the next TV news. Hardly has he and his party found it necessary to fold their sleeves and engage the rural masses – well because there are no evening headlines there.

Cooperatives are absolutely necessary to transform peasant agriculture into commercial agriculture. Peasants would voluntarily organize to access affordable credit, buy fertilizers, seedlings, farm implements and pesticides, do collective bargaining for their produce, raise money to buy tractors, invest in extension services, lobby government to finance or co-finance irrigation schemes, build silos, process and export their produce, etc.

NRM has failed to provide meaningful productive leadership in agriculture. The opposition has also failed to offer an alternative. Peasants know this. As a result during election time, peasants do not see politicians on either side as different. So they only demand for payment in advance – hence voter bribery. And who can blame them?

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