As a Musoga — or a Munyoro-Muganda with deep Busoga roots — Museveni’s cynicismon our poverty in Busoga hurt deeply.
That he had been “peeping through [his] car window,” and “kept wondering: how do these people live through this sort of poverty?” This man brought us here. But we shall not cry over his cynicism; we will appreciate it as a challenge.
Born and raised in Jinja, I hurt every time I visit this town—then Uganda’s industrial capital— that is now the living embodiment of the ruins of structural adjustment and Museveni’s politics. The memories are strong: I was born in
Mpumudde health centre III in Jinja, and got my early education in Rwanda, a small village along the Jinja-Kamuli highway. I studied at Main Street primary school, which was the school then.
Growing up at the intersection between Mafubira and Mpumudde (opposite that football playground that now disappeared), I recall the good days of eating fish, either tilapia from Masese landing site (six or seven big fishes at Shs 600), or from ku-Source. Nga bwetwayetangawo, aye waffa buti.
My father worked in Nyanza Textile Industries (Nytil) and after Museveni’s rabid embrace of structural adjustment—from which he lost his job as a ginner—he became a sugarcane vendor around Jinja town.
When life became harder, we moved to Kampala in search for a good life. Fortunes didn’t change much in Kampala either—as here, this deft-fingered ginnery operator was reduced to fending for his family by frying pancakes, which he hawked to Kampala labourers in the evening.
My Basoga kindred, Busoga is in my blood, and every time I visit Jinja—like several other parts of Uganda that once buzzed with activity—my heart aches. With all the industries, access to water, fertile soils, water transport, railway connection including a colonial-time pier with oil shipment capacity connecting Uganda to Mwanza, and immense tourist potential, Museveni was right to be shocked at our poverty. But how could we be so dumb not to turn ourselves around? Let’s do it!
WE’LL BEGIN WITH BUSOGA GROWERS
Our major problem—like all other regions of the country—is not necessarily the lack of local capital (which is undoubtedly a big one). But the failure to have collective and informed voices from the grassroots to mobilise and champion our cause.
Take for example the prices of sugarcane. If we collectively bargained with our extortionist processors (Indian monopolies, enabled by Museveni’s colonial comprador policies), there would be no way for them to squeeze blood from us as they often do.
It is individual farmers bargaining, and this is undoubtedly a weakened position. Working as a collective would give us a chance to mobilise local capital as it enables us to borrow money for extension services, help in terms of calamity or dire need, et cetera. We have suffered enough as individuals, and it is the time to work together.
We have both rich and educated people in Busoga who, if mobilised well, are ready to give us their knowledge, energies and resources. Important to note is that we do not need money from government. That is the wrong model. (In fact, all we need from Mr Museveni’s government is not to interfere. We should be ready to pledge support to his political manoeuvring on the ground that he left us alone to work).
The beginning part for resource mobilisation is our community radios. With enhanced sensitisation, and committed leadership, we will mobilise from the bottom up. We need to impress it upon the individual farmers that this is their cooperative and it is their money.
Once the people contribute their monies, they will demand for more accountability, which will help keep the union transparent. Consider for example: If 100,000 sugarcane farmers—who are actually much more in Busoga—with committed leadership gave the union Shs 1,000 every day for 30 days, that is 100,000 X 1,000 X 30. (By the way, Shs 1,000 is the same amount of money they give Airtel in Pakalast calls every day).
This is Shs 3 billion raised within one month. If this exercise was engaged for three months — again, with committed and transparent leadership — this would be Shs 9 billion in three months. With this, you cannot turn back.
We have the equipment, the storage facility/ginnery in Kaliro. George Mutyabule, the former treasurer of this union, and Minister Fred Ngobi ought to be challenged for committed background support. The educated children of the land have to then come and help with the organising.
But the daily running of the cooperative should be the farmers and workers of Busoga, and this will begin by them contributing just Shs 1,000. I will caution that while we need absolute support from the kingdom, we do not have to necessarily re-organise through the kingdom.
This will unnecessarily politicise the cooperative. Neither do we need to work through the municipality. Sugarcane and rice farmers should identify among themselves leaderships, open bank accounts in local banks such as Centenary bank.
Dear Basoga, we have suffered enough ( jigger epidemic, the bone-biting poverty, famine, et cetera), and is time to see our suffering as a collective and thus the need to work together: Abasoga bana, tuli nseete. Being rich alone in a sea of poverty is selfish and precarious. Let’s grow together.
In Busoga presently, it is more profitable to dry one’s mature sugarcanes, and sell them as firewood than sell them as juice-laden sugarcanes to processors. Indeed, it is a well-known fact that all sugarcane-growing regions across the world are the most impoverished.
This is because many of the natives growing sugarcanes never develop the capacity to process and refine their sugarcane. Processors, obsessed with maximum ill-gotten profits, tend to convince farmers and out-growers to grow as more canes as possibly could, only to collapse the prices at the time of harvesting so as to get the canes on the cheap. I know, this is the dilemma of capitalism.
To this end, with our growers’ union running, the first agenda item should be establishing a Busoga Growers’ Refinery (BUSOGA SUGAR LTD) where we buy canes from farmers—at reasonably market rates—and process them.
If the market is bad, sugar can be stored for long. Within no time, our extortionist friends will not be our competition as we shall be selling our sugar to the regional and international markets.
But I promise you Basoga: while the roadmap I have spelled out might look simple and easy, there will be saboteurs along the way. These will range from our national leadership, folks amongst ourselves, and other external forces.
Those who still want to dominate and buy our canes on the cheap will go to great lengths to make this dream impossible. Some of our entrusted leaders might steal these monies, might channel them into politics, and soon or later, we will be mired in wrangles of corruption, and cases of tax evasion.
Some of our leaders would be killed or even imprisoned, and there will be threats coming from different corners. But we need to keep our eyes on the prize. Teach our children, and tell them to teach their children the prosperity of their region—and indeed all of Uganda—will not come from above, but in working together especially at the grassroots. Mobilisation and endless conscientisation is the future.
The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.