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Sounds Familiar?The Madhivanis’ thirst for Land in Northern Uganda must be shelved

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Obargot Paabwola, a Ugandan writing about land policy and economic governance in Uganda, thoroughly analyzed the land policy is Uganda which is skewed to privatization of land in Northern Uganda thus leading to dispossession of the local communities who are yet to recover from two-decades of war. This is an excellent case study to our policy makers in South Sudan as external investors such as UAE, Egypt, Chinese and British invetors are now shirting their investment focus to farming to underdeveloped counties such as Sudan, Madagascar and Uganda.


The Madhivanis’ thirst for Land in Northern Uganda must be shelved

Monday 15 December 2008 03:11.

By Obargot Paabwola

December 15, 2008 — I must begin by making an apology to readers for the length of this article which I am putting together. I am writing this long article because the issue I am addressing is of extreme importance: the question of land giveaways in Uganda, especially the land in Northern Uganda – Amuru District – where it is being alleged, the government of Uganda is scheming to take land away from the displaced locals in the area and give it to the Madhivanis to establish sugar plantation. So bare with me, and please take the time to read what I am going to say because I strongly believe and very strongly suggest Amuru land should not be given to the Madhivanis. There are better ways of bringing about development in Northern and Eastern Uganda which apparently Museveni’s regime has overlooked due to corruption and miss-governance. For many Ugandans, the name Madhivani does not invoke a lot of search in the back of their minds to know who he is. The Madhivani business gurus have been in Uganda for very long time; as long as anyone of my generation or even of the generations before me can remember. The Kakira Sugar plantation in Jinja, Busoga District, is owned and run by the Madhivanis; they have been running this plantation for ages; probably close to a century. The only time when the Madhivanis ran into trouble runing their investments in Uganda it was when General Idi Amin came to power in 1971, and for his nationalist penchant, booted all East Indians out of the country by 1972. General Idi Amin may have been an illiterate leader, but when it comes to nurturing and empowering indigenous population, he may have blundered kicking the East Indians out of the country, but putting his action in context, at least he delivered compared to Museveni who has been in power for 23 years so far. To General Idi Amin, one may argue that economically, Ugandans came first no matter the consequences – Uganda economy basically collapsing under his leadership. However, despite the collapse, had he stayed away from using brute force on some sections of Ugandan populations out fear of their disloyalty to his government, and also not provoked Tanzania’s government by attacking it in late 1978, the general may not have died in exile in Saudi Arabia even if the economy of the country was collapsing around him. I am not Amin’s apologist by any stretch, but when it comes to economic nationalism, I believe the man did the right thing. After all, before 1972 Ugandans were basically beggars, literally, in their own country. Most businesses then were run by East Indians. Their businesses were well established; spread out into even small towns across the country. Some of them were even selling stuffs in local markets. The indigenous populations, whom then were not savvy enough – as far as business acumen is concern – were basically reduced to consumerists of the East Indian goods. Their local economic activities, the proceeds of which, ended up into the coffers of these East Indian business moguls, making these people richer and richer by the day while the natives, poorer and poorer. It was only after General Idi Amin booted the East Indians out of the country when Ugandans began to taste what it means to run their own economy. After the 1972 revolution which saw many East Indians driven out of the country, shop ownerships among the indigenous population spread like wildfire. From Kampala, the capital city, to small village centres across the country, shop owners became none other than the indigenous people. Many Ugandans, who plunged into businesses head-on, commenced acquiring wealth despite the fact that they were not savvy enough to conduct sound businesses. At the time, what was important to them was the fact that they were now running their own economy despite the inefficiencies and level of corruption; the rest did not count very much. The honey moon however was short lived. For, by 1986 when the NRA/M came to power, after fighting a five years guerilla war, the populations of Uganda were set to be disenfranchised once again. It was therefore not long after the NRA/M came to power that the same East Indians who had been booted off the country by General Idi Amin – most of them had taken up refuge and citizenships in countries like Britain, Canada, The US, Australia, et cetera, were invited to come back. Today Uganda economy is basically back in their hands. Some of them are now running big businesses in the country – virtually controlling the economy. The likes of the Madhivanis control sugar productions in the country almost exclusively. Given their extensive connections in countries like Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, The US, the indigenous population are no match to these people as long as there are no government intervention on behalf of the indigenes. Uganda economy is therefore falling back into their hands perfectly – just like it was before General Idi Amin booted them off the country. Taking advantage of the NRA/M disdain for Ugandans generally – considering that 23 years has elapsed without any tangible development in the country – the East Indians are wasting no time to disenfranchised Ugandans one more time, and the Madhivanis are at the forefront of these disenfranchisements. Not only are the indigenous populations being disenfranchised in the area of business, land as well is becoming a very contentious issue, for some of these people are now scheming on taking even land from the indigenous populations. Currently there are claims that the Madhivanis are now venturing further and deeper into the countryside; into places they never dreamt of establishing their Sugar plantation businesses in before. Of particular concern and the reason for this lengthy write-up is the question of Amuru land in Northern Uganda. There are of course land wrangles almost all over the country. For instance, in Buganda region, the Baganda are furious that the government of Museveni is trying to take their land away and give it off to foreign investors. Recall the contentious issue of Mabira forest land giveaway the galvanized almost the entire nation into action, protesting violently, the giveawy of which Museveni’s government had to back down? It is therefore a foregone conclusion that the fallouts from these land wrangles are going to be dire should the NRA/M government proceed to dispossess the population of the country of their land. In that light therefore, I will like to touch on the confrontation between Northern Ugandan population and Museveni’s regime, over the question of giving away Amuru land to the Madhivanis. The question of Amuru land thus far has been in the news for some time now despite the fact that the local population also, who have for the last 20 years suffered immensely due to the war between the NRA/M government and the LRA/M, made their position very clear they do not want their land given away to any foreign investors. Just like the Baganda in the South, the locals in the North are also furious and do not want their land tempered with or simply forcefully taken away from them and sold to foreign investors; at least not now. The important thing to note on this contentious issue is that what the Madhivanis and the government of Uganda are up to in Northern Uganda is, trying to buy off land from the locals, especially in Amuru District so that the subjugation and despoliation of the population in the region continues. Recall that these are people who have been under war for the last two decades and the entire populations were forcefully herded into camps. Recall also that the very tactics being used currently by the Democratic Republic of Congo rebels, the CNDP, of shooting on sight, any able bodied young men the rebels come across were also used by the NRA on the population of Northern and Eastern Uganda. I personally lost a few of my classmates that way; they were simply gun down because they were deemed potential recruits into the rebel ranks. With such gruesome crimes on the populations, why would someone want to take advantage of the population’s situation – majority of who still live in the dilapidated camps – and dispossess them of their ancestral land? There is nothing the government of Museveni is up to save, to try and take advantage of the diabolical situation in the region given the over 20 years of war that virtually rendered the entire population of Northern Uganda the poorest in the country, to dispossess them of their land. It appears, to the government, whatever the position of the people of Northern Uganda, the land must be taken away and given to the Madhivanis. The people of the North have made it abundantly clear, and on many occasion – through their leaders – that they do not want their land sold to any foreign investors! Members of parliament from the region have communicated this message many times to both the Madhivanis and the NRA/M government. Yet the government of Museveni keeps pushing the envelope so the land are taken away and given to the Madhivanis to establish a Sugar plantation in the area. What part of ’we do not want our land given to any foreign investors’ do the Musevenis and the Madhivanis not understand? The people of Northern Uganda have said “NO!” to this venture and that is what must count; not pushing the envelope and provoking the population. The bogus arguments by the Museveni’s regime that the government of Uganda in collaborations with other players are engaged in bringing in development through wooing foreign investors into the country to come and invest, are at best mediocre arguments. First of all, the Madhivanis have been in Uganda for almost a better part of a century. If foreign investors bring development into a country, what development have the Madhivanis brought, for instance, to Jinja municipality to begin with, let alone Busoga District where they own Kakira Sugar works and have owned it for decades? Despite years and years of running Kakira Sugar works, the Madhivani investments in Jinja have brought absolutely zero development in the area. Jinja infrastructures are still the same old infrastructure left behind by colonialists. The Owen falls dam for instance where hydro electric power station is built, and that supply the country with electricity – situated right beside Jinja town – is falling apart because of ware and tears. These ware and tears are the reasons why electricity supply in the country is quite erratic and in many cases, the country goes without electricity for weeks! Does it make sense that a country like Uganda, which has no manufacturing base that would consume high volume of electric supply, goes for weeks without electricity yet it has hydro electric power station situated in her second largest city? Also, poverty in Jinja and surrounding area are as high as that of Northern Uganda where 20 years of war has devastated the populations. Transportation alone is terribly lacking in Jinja. People who work in Kakira Sugar plantation cannot live in Jinja town; they must live in the plantation for various reasons including lack of adequate transport systems. What kind of foreign investors are the Musevenis and their NRA/M government talking about then when even streets in Kampala are potholed to the max, enough to attract foreign tourists? The merely labour employment in Kakira Sugar works cannot be considered gainful employment; their meager incomes don’t even contribute to one-tenth of Jinja economy. The overwhelming majority of the populations of Jinja who support Jinja economy do not work in the plantation. The plantation workers are merely people who are being used, abused and exploited by the Madhivanis. What kind of employment and development are the Musevenis talking of then with their grand plan to establish another plantation farm in Northern Uganda? There is no such thing as “foreign investors bring development in a country”. Such blanket statement is misleading. In UAE where foreign investments are bearing fruits, the foreign investments are carefully attracted and sedately designed and tailored – through rules and regulations – towards particular industries, in this case, promotion of tourism. Besides, the UAE had to make sure, by law, that their citizens are accorded utmost treatments such that when it comes to providing services, the UAE citizens must always come first. This means foreign investors must play by the rules or get kicked out of the country. Foreign investments in UAE are not merely wooed into the country in jumble; they are tailored for particular industries, while the government of UAE handles the rest of the economic sectors. This is true as well of Macao in the Philiphines. Foreign investments in Macao are tailored toward promoting tourism. Consequently most investments in that Island are directed towards putting in place infrastructure that support gaming and casino industry. If you look at Macao and UAE economies today, you will find that they are the fastest growing. This is because of prioritizing foreign investments based on the locations and situations of these countries. In Africa, leaders like Museveni would rather, foreign investments be invited anyhow, and are granted rights in all sectors. Governments therefore absolve themselves of any responsibilities to their citizens. Yet foreign investors always work to maximize their profits and not to cater for citizens of a country. Where laws are lax like in Uganda therefore, foreign investors do quickly take advantage of the laxity in laws to rapidly build their wealth. Whether citizens are suffering or not, is none of their business. That is why the plantation workers in Kakira Sugar works owned by the Madhivanis are suffering to this day under dilapidated working environment and meagre wages. For, as long as the Madhivanis pay whatever money they agreed to pay to the government, what they do with their plantation workers is none of the government’s business! That is why up to today, the plantation workers in Kakira Sugar works are still the same armies of poverty-stricken men and women who came from all over the country in search of employment many years past but ever since have never developed beyond cutting sugar cane in the plantation farm! Some of them have even failed, for all these many years, to travel to their home villages because they cannot afford transportation costs. How could they when Museveni’s regime has privatized public transport system as well? Despite the fact that these people are employed by the Madhivanis, their conditions have not changed in all these decades. The work environment has not changed; the pays are as meager as ever; probably the same pay as it was before General Amin took action to reclaim Uganda economy. The plantation workers therefore live like slaves literally. Even worse is the fact that these plantation workers’ rights are being violated or trampled upon left, right, and centre. Recently when the workers embarked on exercising their workers’ rights through protests and demonstrations, demanding that there be improvements in their work environment, including pays, what happened? Museveni’s government instead chose to dispatch gun wielding security forces into the plantation settlement in order to forcefully bring the protests to an end as if Kakira Sugar works is the last remaining plantation of the infamous American plantations of the slavery era where African slaves suffered gross inhumanity. The government of Museveni took this action because they believe there can never be consequences; after all they have for all these years been using heavy handedness on the populations of Uganda with impunity. Second, if foreign investments bring development in a country why is it that Uganda, under the current pro-foreign investors regime, failed miserably in the last 23 years from registering development of any kind? It has been 23 years since Museveni took power yet there are no tangible development in the country. All indices that show whether a country is developed or developing, point to the opposite – that Uganda is not developing. The human development index for instance indicates that Uganda is terribly underdeveloped. People are suffering from all kinds of diseases including malaria and aids. No tangible development has been made in this area to help ease the sufferings. Uganda health industry is in shamble. Referral hospitals like Mulago in Kampala operate without drugs and medical instruments; sometime the hospital carries expired drugs! Outside the cities and towns, health centres don’t exist. People suffer all kinds of sickness like animals; others die and others survive due to their immune systems resisting and fighting off the diseases. Yet we have leaders in Kampala who gloat about wooing into the country foreign investments. Also, the economic development index is as dismal as it can ever get! Uganda does not manufacture any kinds of goods. So the manufacturing industry does not exist. In the area of agriculture, the country does not seem to have any policies governing agricultural industry. There seems to have been attempts to promote private large scale farming in the past. But the country does not have anything to show for that. Most agricultural productions are therefore carried out on the basis of subsistence agricultural. Because of this, the people are barely feeding themselves. In places like the North and East where wars have been raging on for two decades, even subsistence agriculture is dead. People in these areas are being fed by NGOs. Further, infrastructure wise, the government of Museveni has put in place absolutely nothing in 23 years. Roads almost do not exist. Access to places outside the city simply is impossible in many cases. The very roads that were prepared by colonialists are the very roads that are still being used today. Even worse, most are not tarmarcked and become out of use whenever it rains heavily. Even roads within the cities and towns that are tarmarcked, potholes have eaten them off to the point of being useless for human use. Also, Uganda railway is still the same railway system left behind by colonialists. There has never been improvement or expansion of the railway system. The railway wagons are still the same including the railway tracks. Now, here is a government that is fighting tooth and nail to promote foreign investors’ businesses and is hell bent on selling Amuru land to the Madhivanis. A government that, on its own, cannot provide basic, simple but necessary services to its citizens! How can such a government claims to be working with foreign investors in order to create jobs and bring in development? They have failed to create jobs on their own, 23 years of the time, and the plantation workers of Kakira Sugar works owned by Madhivani cannot even afford to feed their immediate families! By what magic are they going to change the conditions in Northern Uganda through establishing the same kind of sugar plantation? And to crown it all, out of all these, we should not forget that the country’s budgets are, year after year, being propped up by donor nations to the tune of 50%. If foreign investors bring development into a country why is it that Uganda government is unable to meet its budgetary requirements? Why is it that foreign investments that the Musevenis keep singing about have failed to help eased all these dire conditions stipulated? Are the foreign investments the Musevenis talk about wooing into the country a different kind of foreign investments? Although corruption is fraught in the country, it would be advisable to note that foreign investors always look for their own interests through profit repatriations, which might explain why the Madhivanis have not been able to transform Kakira Sugar plantation. The question then is, why would Museveni, if the president really has sound judgement, wants to give Amuru land to the Madhivanis when the same Madhivanis have done absolutely nothing in terms of econmic and gainful employment development in Jinja? The resume of the Madhivanis are a matter of public record for all to see. Why is Museveni’s regime failing to see glaring failures in the resume? Matter of poor jugdement? Can the NRA/M government explain the apparent dilapidated state of economy of the country to the populations therefore before talking of giving Amuru land to the Madhivanis? We have an entire population of Northern Uganda rendered unproductive after having killed so many in a war they did not understand the reasons for! How then can the Musevenis and the Madhivanis keep pushing for an already overburden population in Northern Uganda to be dispossessed of their land when the same Madhivani has nothing to show out of Kakira Sugar plantation? What moral authority do the Musevenis and Madhivanis have to keep on insisting on the notion of acquiring land in Amuru for another Madhivani Sugar plantation when the Madhivani Sugar works in Kakira cannot even provide acceptable working environment and conditions for the armies of poor Ugandans working the Kakira sugar plantation – they have not been able to provide acceptable working environment for years and years? The people of Uganda cannot be disenfranchised through hypocritical claims of bringing in foreign investors. The history of NRA/M government is replete with failed economic policies because of poor judgement, and the increased number of poverty-stricken populations is proof. Ugandans know all these. Foreign investment does not bring development for a country. Foreign investment only suplements a country’s economy, which can lead to speeding up the country’s economic growth provided there are favourable conditions. Things like infrastructure and skilled population must already be in place for any foreign investments to contribute to economic development. Unfortunately in Uganda, all the above are lacking. There is therefore nothing NRA/M regime can do as from today that can bring about miraculous economic development in the country. Foreign investors do not bring developments in a country, especially a country like Uganda where even infrastructure do not exist; the populations largely illiterates; and means of communications are basically none existence! How can foreign investments bring about economic developments in such a country? In Northern Uganda, the 20 years war has even worsen the already dire conditions in the region. Almost 100% of the population is unskilled. How can the NRA/M leadership even think of taking advantage of the population? What the North need are heavy investments in educational and skill training! Not exploitations. What the Musevenis and the Madhivanis are looking for in Northern Uganda are merely continuation of the same old, tired exploitations of Ugandans like it was and still is the case in Kakira and Lugazi Sugar plantations, nothing more nothing less. And as a people who want to see more than the exploitations of our people, we cannot accept this hypocritical, capitalist informed venture. Therefore, the idea of giving Amuru land to the Madhivanis must be shelved; we do not need it, for it is informed by the same old, tired capitalist ideology that has continued to impoverished many Ugandans without end. The people of Uganda are poorer and suffering tremendously today to the extent that there is need for an effective and ideologically sound and informed policy implementations – which the government of Museveni has failed to put in place for now 23 years. Unfortunately the same can never be ushered in the country 23 years later; NRM-O leadership who are quasi Marxists today, and flat footed capitalists without capitals tomorrow – depending on which direction the wind is blowing, have failed. Such leaderships therefore only facilitate the dilapidation and destruction of our populations. Ugandans can do better. The Musevenis’ and the Madhivanis’ thirst for land in Northern Uganda therefore must be shelved; we do not need such unscrupulous investments at this material time when especially rampant ideological bankruptcy in the country is the order of the day. It would cause more damage to the populations than good. The writer can be reached at:


Written by torit1955

December 15, 2008 at 2:38 pm

The petroleum and poverty paradox We must work smarter to reverse the resource curse.

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The petroleum and poverty paradox
We must work smarter to reverse the resource curse.
By Dick Lugar

from the December 11, 2008 edition

Washington – Logic says that petroleum-rich countries should be rich. The oil-producing, less-developed nations that reaped a bonanza during the past few years of sky-high oil prices ought to be sitting pretty even as crude prices experience free-fall today. However, things aren’t that simple.

Venezuela, for instance, thanks to mismanagement of its oil windfall, is suffering high inflation, a drop in petroleum production, and is talking of possible austerity measures, even though it is the Western hemisphere’s largest oil exporter.

In fact, history shows that oil and natural gas reserves frequently can be a bane, not a blessing, for poor countries, leading to corruption, wasteful spending, military adventurism, and instability. Too often, oil money intended for a nation’s poor lines the pockets of the rich, or is squandered on showcase projects instead of productive investments.

A classic case is Nigeria, the eighth-largest oil exporter. Despite half a trillion dollars in revenues since the 1960s, poverty has increased, corruption is rife, and violence roils the oil-rich Niger Delta.

The term “Dutch Disease” was coined after the Netherlands’ economy weakened following the 1960s discovery of natural gas, thanks to a rising exchange rate and a fall-off in manufacturing. Even OPEC countries are not immune. As a group, their per capita gross national product actually dropped from 1965 to 1998, one study found.

This “resource curse,” as economists call it, curses America, too. It worsens global poverty, which can be a seedbed for terrorism, it empowers autocrats and dictators such as Saddam Hussein, and it can crimp world petroleum supplies by breeding instability.

What can we do to reverse the resource curse? A new report I commissioned from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff, “The Petroleum and Poverty Paradox”, offers some answers. There is no simple cure, of course. But where leaders are ready to face the problem, outsiders can offer important incentives and advice.

One key prescription is to promote stronger anticorruption measures and more openness, or transparency.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have launched efforts to improve accounting and transparency of extractive industry revenues, to make it harder for officials to hide corruption – and easier for citizens to demand that the money be spent wisely.

An especially promising development is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a voluntary program which certifies that participating countries, and the oil companies operating there, are honestly accounting for funds flowing into their coffers. The G-8 and UN have praised the EITI and its work.

Yet action falls short. In Vietnam, where 30 percent of the budget comes from oil, the World Bank and major bilateral donors have done little to address extractive industry transparency. Peru and Equatorial Guinea have signed up for EITI, but major-country donors are not stepping forward to strengthen those nations’ capacity to manage massive oil wealth. Skeptical Indonesians asked why America has not joined EITI. In Angola, which has the world’s highest infant mortality rate, the US is terminating a program to help the country administer its oil billions, which are largely unaccounted for.

There is an urgent need for concerted diplomacy and assistance targeted at budget management and expenditure accountability. Donor coordination in these areas is rare. And China, whose state-backed oil companies have a large footprint in many developing countries, has not yet engaged on these issues.

As we are now seeing, oil prices can come down just as far, and just as fast, as they go up. That’s why it’s so critical that developing countries act urgently to ensure that their funds are managed wisely, so that they are not left in poverty after earning billions. We can do more to help:

•America should lead by example and sign up for EITI, submitting its oil and gas royalties to outside audit. This low-cost move would encourage more developing countries to follow.

•The G-8 countries should back their transparency words with deeds. They could, for instance, require that their oil and mining companies publish country-by-country data on royalty, tax, and other payments as part of routine financial reporting.

•International assistance to resource-rich countries should focus on improving revenue management and fighting corruption. Relatively small amounts of aid money could thus help channel large amounts of countries’ own funds toward poverty reduction.

•Oil and mining companies can be part of the solution by voluntarily disclosing their payments to countries where they operate.

Most important, the United States, whose attention to transparency often appears sporadic, should vigorously back these efforts. Reversing the curse is in everyone’s interest.

• Dick Lugar is a Republican senator from Indiana and the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Written by torit1955

December 11, 2008 at 4:18 pm