Tuesday, February 10, 2015


President Yoweri Museveni has been taking every opportunity he can to warn against the dangers of land fragmentation.

He counsels that instead of breaking up of land for inheritance purposes families should maintain the land as a whole and instead share out the produce of the land.

That is the logical thing to do. 

But we continue to parcel out our land, which means inheriting producers get smaller and smaller pieces which deny them the economies of scale that come with working larger lands, increases costs of maintenance and inevitably leads to poverty being passed down the generations.

"Inheritance is a way for males to perpetuate their legacy, that is why property was often passed down to male heirs, who in other societies will keep the patriarch’s name alive. That was a useful method for a pre-industrial time when wealth was created by manual labour....

Two things happened in Europe that changed this chauvinistic way of thinking.

The Catholic church allowed widows to inherit some of their dead husband’s lands, which became the source of a lot of the church’s wealth when these widows eventually passed on and bequeathed the property to the church. 

Secondly, in industrial and post-industrial societies, where education has proved a great leveller, where women can be just as productive in the workplace, as knowledge is more critical than muscle in productivity women had a hand in creating family wealth and therefore had a say how it would be distributed.

The first helped consolidate a lot of land under the church, which reverted to the state in many instances after the revolutions and the second, often meant land remained in one chunk as most people had moved to the cities, selling off the lands and sharing the proceeds.

Of course there were other movements like the landlords harrying the serfs off the land to make way for large scale production made viable by the new market in the cities and by increased mechanisation. 

Inheritance still continues in the west. And yes the male offspring still get the larger share. But the women do too. This shift did not come from wishful thinking but was forced on society by developments in the structure of the economy.

In Uganda of course we are still in the pre-industrial age, actually we have not even experienced an agrarian revolution. Part of the reason we have not seen an agrarian revolution, is because our land holding are not only small but we have a convoluted land tenure system that can be a nightmare to navigate.

So the urgency to keep our land in viable wholes is there. 

However since we are in democratic times we cannot forcefully push people off valuable land, replacing them with more productive agents. And because we have no industries to herd people into if we dispossess them the issue of what to do with these idle masses will pose a serious threat to national security and the powers that be.

But we cannot leave things as they are. That is, if we are serious about real progress into the future.
For starters government should repossess all the land in the country and issue leases. This will allow them final say about land use and probably reduce the compensation claims that stall major infrastructure projects. The leaseholders will always be entitled to fair compensation but they would not hold the country to ransom.

We don’t have to wait for this to happen. Government should tax all the land in the country -- commercial, residential and farm land. To begin with this will automatically swell the treasury and secondly those people holding land fallow or undeveloped will have to make the very real economic decision whether to hold on to the land and pay taxes out of their pockets, develop the land and it pays its own way or sell it to people more likely to put it to good use.

It’s a mathematical certainty that a lot of value will be unlocked from our land like this.

"People have argued that taxing agricultural land will kill agriculture. 

I hope it kills agriculture as we know it today where farms are eking out a living on small patches because they are not using advancing farming methods, do not apply fertiliser or organise themselves into meaningful entities like farmer associations or cooperatives which can hold their own in the open market....

Land reforms are always a political hot potato.

In Uganda most especially, where the votes are in the rural areas, but also because of the absentee landlords who are content to brag about their vast lands in bars but have no plan or are incapable of exploiting their birthright.

To suggest these changes would galvanise these fat cats and make it uncomfortable for a seating government. And then of course some of the government’s biggest champions are unfulfilled farmers themselves and cannot pass judgement on the forest.

The inevitable consequence of all this would be a massive exodus to the cities, a touchy issue politically.

So politicians are more likely to retain the status quo than rock the boat however progressive the ideas may be.

Throughout history land reform has not come from moral suasion, the question then is who will bell the cat?

No comments:

Post a Comment