Rotational Grazing African Wisdom

“This is to show how tall the grass can grow after letting this paddock lay fallow for four months. Grass grows by itself when you leave it for about four months.”

President Yoweri Kagutta Museveni

This was the caption to a photo that was published on the ‘Face Book wall’ of President Museveni in November 2017. Back then and now, that photo and its caption have me thinking of the irony of the normalisation in Uganda of the roots of colonialism.  

The practice of rotational grazing embodies the very essence of the environmental conservation wisdom of pastoralist first nations of Uganda, including, among others, the Iteso, my people, and the Karimojong.

A major component of the practice of rotational grazing is letting grazing lands fallow for months, in order to allow for the vegetation – grass and shrubs – to regenerate. One part of grazing land is left to fallow; while another is utilised to graze the animals; and the cycle continues.

The only difference is that for some pastoralists, they practice rotational grazing within fenced grazing farmlands that stretch for miles; while others, such as the Karimojong nomadic pastoralists, they do so in the commons.

How ironic it is that when President Museveni does rotational grazing, it is considered ‘progressive’, for he is considered among the “industrious and rational.” He is doing rotational grazing in a ‘modern’ way, the argument goes, for he is doing it within fenced ‘modern grazing farmlands’.

When plots on his grazing lands in his Rwakitura farm are left to fallow, it is celebrated; and it is not considered “woods uncultivated … left to nature, without any improvement, tillage or husbandry.” In contrast, for example, when Karimojong semi-nomadic pastoralists practice the same age old wisdom of our forefathers, rotational grazing, they are vilified.

They are labelled as Uganda’s “wretched inhabitants” who do not know how best to utilise God’s gift to man. They are labelled ‘backward’ and ‘unproductive’, because they are practicing within the ethos of humanity, sharing the world in the commons.

This business of owning large herds of animals and moving them from one place to another is not sustainable, a government official, one too many, has argued. And moreover, that argument is often accompanied with inappropriate policy and programming for Karimojong, in order to force them to abandon their nomadic pastoralist way of life and to become sedentary crop farmers.

Sadly, discourse on Uganda’s land often begins from 120 years ago, when our territory was colonised by the British. This tendency of beginning discourse on Uganda’s land only 120 years ago and not before colonisation, redirects the discussions away from the Machiavellian schemes that are the structure that holds and sustains the root causes of Uganda’s land woes.

I am referring to greed-driven Machiavellian schemes, which justify the removal of Ugandans off their land, in the name of making way for “development.” Schemes that are rooted in culturally imperialistic interpretations of Locke’s Second Treatise. Such imperialistic interpretations and schemes, moreover:

“Can be traced at least as far back as the burgeoning of mercantile capitalism and the accompanying development of the ideology of liberal individualism in eighteenth-century Europe.”

Edgar and Sedgwick in their 2008 edition of “Cultural Theory – The Key Concepts.

Machiavellian schemes, in fact, are the real reason why the promoters of the ‘neoliberal-commercialisation-of-land-for-modernisation’ school of thought, ensure that Ugandan citizens are not defined as the owners of the land that is Uganda.

And so they go to great length to categorise us, Ugandans, as:

  • Squatters
  • Bonafide occupants
  • Vulnerable people
  • Poor people
  • Peasantry in the negative
  • Peasants in the negative
  • Landless on own land, because it is not titled. 

Machiavellian schemes, importantly, often cannot be sustained without insider collaboration; hence, the creation of a class of Ugandans, akin to the ‘one-percent’ in the global-west; and in Uganda who are then labelled as ‘investors’. 

The so-called ‘investors’ are encouraged to accumulate long stretches of land; enclose it and claim absolute ownership rights over it; a practice that is contrary to genuine land tenure systems of the African peoples, the latter which promote ownership through use rights.

Photo credit: The people of Karamoja @Emmanuel Owaraga

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