Ugandan Farmers Are Not Peasants

The nature of Uganda’s economy, consisting of smallholder farmers, is a known reality and it has its own distinct nature. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), in 2016, for example, nearly 80 percent of households in Uganda were involved in agriculture, they are agricultural households:

“An economic unit of agricultural production under single management comprising of all livestock kept and all land used wholly or partly for agricultural production purposes.”

Uganda Bureau of Statistics (emphasis mine)

So, when the current administration of Uganda, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, claims its intention to transform Uganda to a “modern and prosperous country within 30 years”, what does it mean?

  • Does it mean that within 30 years Uganda will be like Kenya or better still like Britain, in which large scale economy dominates?
  • What are the implications of agricultural households – sedentary small scale farmers and semi-nomadic pastoralists becoming “modern” as espoused by Uganda’s national development plans?

By the way, in the case of Kenya, in order that large scale farms were established by outsiders, indigenous Kenyans were forcefully removed and alienated from their lands, as George Githinji, for example, effectively documented in his analysis: “Land Injustice in Kenya: Impact of Colonial Land Policies”

  • Does the NRM Administration expect that the majority who live in rural areas will gladly move from their homelands to make way for the establishment of large scale farms by outsiders? 
  • Is it the NRM Administration’s plan to cause the removal or the movement of sedentary smallholder farmers and semi-nomadic pastoralist out of the rural areas, away from their homelands?
  • Is it the case that the NRM Administration plans to modernize within small scale economy paradigms?

Becoming “modern” could be the bettering of terms of trade to the advantage of smallholder farmers and semi-nomadic pastoralists. “Modern” could mean that the role of women in the economy will be recognised through increased farm-gate prices so that farming households become “prosperous.” “Modern” could mean ameliorating the imbalance in which cash crops are for men and food crops for domestic consumption are for women.

There are many alternatives for modernizing without ethnocide of smallholder farmers, but these alternatives are not within the NRM Administration’s aspiration for “modernizing.” The attitude to modernize, in order to become like Kenya or like Britain is apparent in official Uganda policy documents as prescribed by the NRM Administration .

The Uganda National Land Policy (2013), for example, is premised on a vision to see:

“A transformed Ugandan society through optimal use and management of land resources for a prosperous and industrialised economy with a developed service sector.”

Government of Uganda

The implications of an industrialised economy with a developed service sector, as it is espoused in that vision, implies that smallholder farmers and semi-nomadic pastoralists who live in rural areas of Uganda, necessarily have to cede ownership of their land to others better positioned to use it in “optimal” ways.

Those currently mal-described as “peasants” are required to transform into landless labourers and service providers and to be like the majority of the British, who are landless labourers.

With urgency we must detoxify our discourse of this kind of cultural imperialism.

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