Museveni’s Government under Scrutiny as Famine Ravages Uganda
By Namwiza Ritah
Ugandan media outlets were late last year awash with stories and images of Mr Yoweri Museveni‒Uganda’s president for the last 30 years on a bicycle carrying a can of water. The official statement was that the president was demonstrating irrigation practices to farmers in Luwero, a rural district in central Uganda. This story inspired many online memes but also aroused indignation of Ugandans who claimed that the president was not in touch with reality.
This media stunt was meant to show that Museveni is a man who identifies with his people; a leader who understands the challenges of his people and one who is committed to improving the lives of the ordinary Ugandan or Wanainchi as he fondly calls them.
In early 2016 when Museveni won his fifth term, he said things would be different. In typical Magufuli style he dubbed his fifth term “KisanjaHakunaMuchezo” which loosely translates to “a term of no jokes”.
Yet, a year down the road, a significant number of Ugandans continue to wallow in poverty. According to the World Bank, 19.7% of Ugandans are living on less than a dollar a day. Poverty, especially in rural Uganda has been compounded by an extended drought which has pushed up food prices and consequently, inflation. Government reports indicate that over 1.3million Ugandans do not have food. This number does not take into account the number of Ugandans who are at risk of a similar fate if the drought extends to March as projected.
Two years ago, 37 year old Francis Luwaga, a father of five used to be one of the biggest banana and coffee farmers in Budde Sub-county, Butambala District. Traders from neighboring towns used to flock into his farm in search of bananas for sale. On average, he would produce 50 bunches of bananas every week. With each bunch going for 15,000UGX ($4.3), he would rake in over 750,000UGX ($215) every week. Today, he is only able to produce about 15 to 20 bunches a week—more than 50% reduction. He blames his current circumstances on the extended drought.
“Many of us with banana plantations have been hard hit. The number and size of bunches we get has reduced drastically. Government has not been very supportive. There are no irrigation structures at sub-county level which we could use to irrigate our crops,” Francis told Rural Reporters at his farm this month.
“To worsen matters, we do not have agricultural extension workers to advise us on simple, low-cost irrigation models that poor farmers can use to ensure that they do not lose their crop,” he further explains.
Uganda last experienced a major famine in 1984/1985. A year later, Mr. Museveni came to power and since then, the country has been touted as the food basket of the region. Uganda has been exporting food to its East African neighbors in Kenya, South Sudan, and Rwanda, among others. It is therefore shocking that the country is currently unable to feed its people and risks falling back into the tragic times of 1984/1985.
Agriculture, one of the biggest contributors to Uganda’s GDP, is yet to be prioritized. In 2016, farmers under the auspices of the National Farmers Federation launched the National Farmers Manifesto, calling upon government and key stakeholders to prioritize the needs of the agricultural sector. This, however, is yet to be achieved.
Francis is one of many farmers across the country that feels betrayed by government.
“We are disappointed in the government. Recently, they were giving people handouts of food. But two kilogrammes of flour and a kilo of beans cannot do much for a farmer with a family. We do not want handouts, we want government to bring good quality seeds and pesticides so that we can grow our own food,” Francis complains.
“Government needs to teach us about modern irrigation methods so that we are not affected by droughts. We hear that people in desert countries can grow their own food using irrigation, why doesn’t government bring such models home?”
While the government of Uganda has made strides to address farmer challenges and bottlenecks in the agricultural sector, there is still so much that needs to be done. Unfortunately, hungry Ugandans are tired of waiting for the government whom they think is taking forever to urgently address the current situation.
Political analysts argue that the famine signifies major underlying leadership and governance challenges that have plagued Mr. Museveni’s government for decades. Runaway corruption, misappropriation of resources and poor planning are high on the list of accusations.
During her recent visit to Uganda, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund: Christine Lagarde called on government to reign in mismanagement of government institutions.
According to Lagarde, “For Uganda to build and sustain development momentum…investment must be efficient. That calls for strong institutions to keep mismanagement in check and ensure maximum value for money…if Uganda’s investments were better managed, annual growth could be 2.5 percentage points higher.”
Food security is a governance and leadership issue, and without appropriate structures, frameworks and policies, a country cannot ensure food security of its people.
Government needs to invest in food reserves at regional level. These are necessary to provide complementary food supply during periods of scarcity and therefore balancing the forces of demand and supply.
The current policy environment have been accused for stifling development in the agricultural sector which employs over 75% of Ugandans, who are also constitute the country’s poorest. Some of the persistent challenges include: inadequate access to quality inputs especially seeds and fertilizers, breakdown of natural agricultural advisory and extension programmes, limited access to credit services and facilities, and failure to sustainably respond to and mitigate effects of climate change.
Addressing systemic and infrastructural challenges in the agricultural sector is therefore necessary to uplift the lives of people who rely on agriculture for survival. Additionally, these changes are needed if the country is to further grow its economy and alleviate poverty.
Namwiza Ritah writes from Uganda. She is a 2016/2017 Global Health Corps Fellow.