Landlord to enslaved cane-grower

The Humanist View has chosen to share Hon. Betty Nambooze Bakireke’s open letter to the President of the Democratic Party, Norbert Mao, on the matter of land in Acholi in Northern Uganda, whose use “investors” want to convert to sugarcane growing.

The push by investors to change the land use of Acholi land to sugarcane growing is reportedly in collaboration with the Government of Uganda and seemingly in collaboration also with both the political and cultural leaders of Acholi.

That is to say, the “investors”, the government and the leaders of Acholi seem agreed to change the land use of land in Acholi to sugarcane growing for the benefit of a sugar factory that has been constructed in the region, but that is is owned by an external “investor”; external here meaning a person not belonging to the Acholi, one of the first nations of Uganda.  

In constructing the factory, in addition, the “investor” seemingly received financial support from a government programme that is code named: “Operation Wealth Creation (OWC)”; and which is coordinated by Gen. Salim Saleh, who also happens to be the brother of President Museveni.

OWC is programmatically mandated to directly benefit farmers at household level. Supporting the sugar factory is therefore a departure from what OWC is traditionally associated with. OWC, however, explains that by supporting the single “investor”, it will indirectly and in the longer term support thousands of household in the area.

Hon. Nambooze, does not agree with the move, because according to her it goes against the DP Manifesto. She wrote:

We in DP have never promised to turn people in Northern Uganda into cane growers.

Here below is the full text to her letter that she posted on her Face Book wall (we have made a few minor edits – grammar and typing errors):

Dear Comrade Mao,

Sugar under Museveni is sour.

Salim Saleh posted on Face Book that he was in Northern Uganda last week on the invitation of some leaders that were led by you, Comrade Norbert Mao. He also indicated that you first led these leaders to visit him in Kapeeka.

I remember that the people of Northern Uganda have for a long time resisted the taking over of their land to grow sugarcane to the extent that women undressed publically the day government officials toured the area to see the land under contention.

I saw you brother Mao on NBS Television explaining that you are conceding to this deal, in order to bring development to Northern Uganda and to show Ugandans that you are not anti-development as it has always been believed.

It confuses me and maybe many others on which Mao was in Kapeka to act as a land-broker for the State Mafias. Was he Mao the DP President or Mao the Acholi elder?

As a DP President you must be advancing the party manifesto that has a completely different program for Northern Uganda. We in DP have never promised to turn people in Northern Uganda into cane growers.

Maybe you discussed this in your clan meetings and if that is the case, I have nothing useful to add, apart from requesting you to benchmark Busoga and seek to learn from them. In Luganda we say: “Omusajja omugezi ayigira ku nsobi za banne (direct translation: a man who is clever learns from the mistakes of others).

Here below I reproduce a statement of fact authored by former Minister Asuman Kiyingi on what cane growing has done to Busoga region, maybe you will reflect on it:


There must be concerted efforts at a political and policy level to save what remains of Busoga. We are slowly but surely becoming a sugar production colony which activity is not transforming the region’s economy notwithstanding the apparent benefits in terms of creating some employment and payment of taxes to the national treasury.

True, Kakira Sugar, the model sugar manufacturer of the region and the country, has something to show. It produces 180,000 tonnes of sugar, generates 50 megawatts of green electricity and 20 million litres of ethanol per annum. It directly employs 9,366 people, 7,000 out-growers, donates shs 100m to the community per year;  runs  scholarship schemes worth USD 800,000 per annum; and pays over shs 150 billion in taxes to government every year. It also runs schools.

This contribution and that of other manufacturers, however, ought to be evaluated against the overall impact on Busoga’s economy, especially the population’s quality of life.

Kakira’s expansion over the years has been bringing more land under sugarcane cultivation. Its nucleus estate of 10,000 hectares provides only 35% of the factory’s cane requirements. The 65% balance is provided by the 7,000 out-grower farmers who cultivate about 19,000 hectares.

Though they should be earning big from sugar cane sales, the farming communities still exhibit features of extreme poverty and food insecurity. This situation has been exacerbated by the new sugar manufacturers that have set up shop in the region, adding more pressure on arable land.

We have Mayuge Sugar Industries in Mayuge District, Sugar Allied Industries in Kaliro District, Kamuli Sugar Factory in Kamuli District and GM Sugar. Kenlon Sugar Factory in Namasagali and Bugiri Sugar Company in Bugiri District were also licensed recently. More and more land is therefore being devoted to sugarcane growing by the factory owners, peasant farmers and out-growers, at the expense of land for food production, dairy farming and other activities.

Yet the population is growing very fast. The proceeds from sugarcane sales are not enough to cater for households’ food, education, health and other needs. The consequence is famine and malnutrition due to food insecurity and general poverty which is now a visible feature in most of Busoga today.

Local administrations have failed to get Busoga’s population to accept the advice that only farmers with enough land (at least 3 acres) should grow sugarcane. The only solution now is for government to come in and stop licensing more sugar manufacturers in the region and support farmers with alternative farm inputs to produce other more profitable crops than sugarcane.

Busoga is currently producing more than 50% of the country’s sugar (Kakira 43%, Kaliro 7%, Mayuge 3%, Kamuli 1% and GM 1%). This should be enough from one region which is already land stressed.

Hon. Betty Nambooze Bakireke identifies as a journalist and a politician. She is a Member of Parliament representing Mukono County, North, in Mukono District, in Buganda Kingdom, in the Central Region of Uganda.

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