Acholi MPs, Don’t seek to Preserve Poverty

By Ofwono Opondo

 Aug.16, 17

Once again, a section of Members of Parliament (MPs) from Acholi sub-region early this week led peasant women into the ignominious act of stripping naked to the world in the so-called protest to protect ‘their’ land against large scale commercial investors. Un-ashamedly, they have dehumanized these innocent peasant women for their cheap political gain as a way to remain relevant. Equally, we should strongly disprove the continuous excessive use of force against un-armed civilians in civil protests by the police.
The MPs who are obstructing government efforts to attract modern large commercial investments to their region using the sensational subject of land ownership are not fighting to protect the land, but rather are opportunistic leaders seeking a lease of electoral life, while preserving underdevelopment, backwardness and poverty among their communities.
For quite a while, there have been false claims peppered by opposition politicians that government, and in some cases, President Yoweri Museveni wants to ‘grab’ peoples’ land for his own personal and private benefit, and yet in each of these cases nobody has been able to bring a single evidence to back their allegations.
It is interesting to note that none of the above MPs comes from the affected villages, and neither do some of those women who stripped naked. Purportedly, these peasant women were seeking to prevent surveying of land for a prospective large scale sugarcane plantation and factory, which ought to be supported because it modernizes agriculture, productivity, commercial activities, and provides better and sustainable skilled jobs for Ugandans.
But all wasn’t lost as the Acholi Paramount Chief, Rwot David Onen Achana II led a delegation including religious leaders to meet President Museveni in an effort to amicably resolve the impasse. It was agreed that the leaders jointly go and persuade the population through public sensitization to amicable and acceptable terms with large scale private entrepreneurs to invest in their areas. Ugandans, especially elected leaders ought to know that it is their responsibility to cause socio-economic transformation, and they cannot accomplish that when they remain ever obstructive and without offering credible alternatives. Mere ‘ownership’ of land doesn’t translate into development, transformation and wealth as experience in many parts of Uganda attest.
According to the 2014 national Population and Housing Census as well as other major recent studies of Uganda’s trends show that northern Uganda, especially Acholi sub-region remains in extreme poverty, with 43.7% of people still living below the poverty line. In fact and sadly, it is the region where poverty levels have been going up in recent years in spite of restoration of peace, security and having special recovery programs. And while there may be many explanations for this, production and productivity remains very low partly on account of land usage, although soil fertility is high. Paradoxically, some of these leaders have been falsely accusing the NRM government and President Museveni of ‘neglecting’ their region.
These findings are shouldn’t be surprising even for the casual observer because since pre-colonial, Acholi had lived under a moribund system where large tracks of arable land was owned by nobody and merely left for hunting wild game and fruits. Consequently, although the land is visibly fertile going by the ever lush and green tall vegetation, and water streams that cross each other from multiple directions, agricultural productivity remains very low to-date. Acholi, is where the per capita of small, dingy, mud and wattle grass-thatched huts remain highest alongside Lango, Teso, and West Nile. And usually, the leaders especially elected politicians when challenged why this is so, their quick response without shame, is that it is part of “our culture.” Yet, these same politicians including MPs have built themselves better and permanent houses and other properties in their local towns and other parts of Uganda where they enjoy the pleasures of modern civilization.
These leaders seek to perpetuate an archaic land holding system absurdly christened ‘communal tenure” which has preserved much of land in the north and eastern to primordial and unproductive subsistence livelihoods. It is imperative that in Uganda we start discussing land usage, management and productivity rather than mere ‘ownership’ parse.
After all, it is quite apparent that our Asian, especially Indian brothers who come to Uganda with one penny, start up businesses from bare beginning and live frugal lifestyles become much more prosperous than we, indigenous Ugandans who proudly ‘own’ large although redundant tracks of land, either individually or collectively own as families, communities or even tribes, yet just eking out a living.
Instead of mobilizing people and teaching them about land use optimization as opposed to ownership parse, some politicians have continued to mislead and therefore condemning their people into perpetual poverty. The example of Mrs. Josephine Kizza in Masaka who earns over fifty million monthly from hardly five acres of land ought to be emulated. Equally, Ugandans in south western regions of Ankole and Kigezi who long ago adopted better land use and farming methods appear to be more prosperous than the rest where communal ownership is still prevalent. Practicing high value crops and integrated livestock husbandry is perhaps what Ugandan farmers need, and not owning tracks of land.