President Museveni says he now knows why not enough peasant farmers have escaped poverty over the years and he says he will immediately rectify the situation with the help of the military. But his decision to draft the army into his government’s anti-poverty drive has met with criticism.
Mr Museveni says the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads), through which much of the money for rural development has been channelled in recent years, has failed.
The President said in the State-of -the-Nation Address: “Naads that has been given huge resources to do this spends most of the Shs203b we give them each year on salaries and seminars. They only spend Shs57b on buying materials for plantation and breeding. The rest is spent on salaries and seminars. We are determined to totally restructure Naads in the next financial year.”
By so stating, the President was concretising a plan he has been talking about for a while now and for which his younger brother and senior presidential advisor on defence, Gen Salim Saleh, has already developed a blueprint and overseen the completion of the pilot phase.
A week after the State-of-the-Nation Address, when Mr Museveni spoke after the budget reading on Thursday, he said: “We have made a decision to really go massive about the commercialistaion of agriculture.” “I told you that we are going to use the personnel of the army to help,” the president continued, “We have already started to do that in a limited way and the moment we did that (agricultural) production went up.”
In her budget speech, Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka said the government would “support interventions in the agricultural sector.”
She further noted that the interventions would focus on provision of inputs and minimising expenditure on administrative costs, seminars and workshops. Ms Kiwanuka said, above all, that the strategy “will be implemented holistically by government agencies working in concert.” This was a veiled reference to the participation of the army.
Operation wealth creation
And the action plan is complete, thanks to Gen Saleh. The policy brief is embodied in a document titled “Operation Wealth Creation: Conceptualisation of the mission and task analysis.”
The document starts out: “To banish subsistence farming from Uganda, the President of Uganda and C in C (Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces) has decided to tackle this situation of poverty by starting with the zones which supported the political liberation struggle beginning with war veterans.”
Operational zones in which the war that brought Mr Museveni to power was waged, 43 in total, were identified and military coordinators posted there “to oversee the task of liberating the country from the poverty that has dogged this country despite the various interventions by the NRM government.”
The approach, the document said, will be “wholesome and multi-sectoral,” covering the economy, health, education, infrastructure, investment, industrialisation, export (marketing), environmental preservation, rural electrification, research, mobilization, credit, saving “and many more.”
The activities to be carried out by the commanders, the document says, are “multi-dimensional”. They will involve “but not limited” to monitoring, supervision, coordination, planning, implementation, support efforts, social work and community participation.
“On top of the agenda will be food security and wealth creation,” says the document, “emphasising pre and post-harvest handling of products, diversification, mechanisation, value addition and systematic development of infrastructure.”
The 43 zones were identified only for piloting the project, the document says, with the ultimate objective being to eventually roll it out to the entire country. This is what the President has said will happen in the next financial year.
In the absence of production figures for the areas in issue, it is difficult to independently verify the President’s claim. But he did say at the budget reading that production had “shot up” in the areas where the programme had been piloted, beginning late last year.
Trusting the army
Mr Museveni has in the past expressed trust in the army, usually deploying soldiers to “fix” whatever sector he believes to be problematic. When he was expressly unhappy about the police, continually accusing the Police Force of not supporting him, Mr Museveni deployed soldiers, first Gen Katumba Wamala and later Gen Kale Kayihura to manage the police.
When the National ID programme run into problems with billions being paid out against just a handful of ID cards being produced, Mr Museveni deployed another soldier, Gen Aronda Nyakayirima, to “sort it out.” He has vowed to deploy soldiers in many other fields where he thinks things are not going well.
“Ill-thought out approach”
And it is against the same background, still, that soldiers are being drafted into the rural development equation, a development former army commander and president of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, says is “ill-thought out.”
Gen Muntu argues that the mere fact that the departments which have to carry out certain programmes, this time agricultural extension and related services, have failed does not constitute a basis for the army to be drawn into civilian activities.
In the first place, Gen Muntu says, the President’s decision to bring soldiers into managing agricultural services “is a tacit admission that he has failed.” Gen Muntu says what Mr Museveni should embark on is to ensure that all institutions of the State work well, failing which would amount to “ducking responsibility as a leader.” He says that the army is not designed for the areas in which they will find themselves while running the unfolding programme, which he says will have “ramifications on the image of the force.”
“The government, which is charged with offering these services, is formed by one party,” Gen Muntu says, “This would bring the army into a partisan process. We contest that.”
The FDC leader says that the army can only participate in productive activities through arrangements like the National Enterprise Corporation (NEC), which is engaged in a number of activities.
Mr Christopher Twesigye, a political science lecturer at Uganda Christian University, says drafting the army into managing agriculture and rural development would amount to ‘militarisation of the country.”
He says Mr Museveni “is trying to keep the army’s loyalty by making them feel appreciated and allowing them opportunity to earn some more money.” Mr Twesigye says that the proposed programme will be a “diversion” from the army’s function as stipulated in the Constitution.
According to Article 208 (2) of the Constitution, the army is supposed to be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional, disciplined, productive and subordinate to the civilian authority as by law established.
Military involvement a necessary evil?
Based on what the military is constitutionally mandated to do, Mr Twesigye even argues that involving it in service provision the way the President intends to do may have legal implications.
But, according to Prof Augustus Nuwagaba, involving the army in monitoring the agricultural sector could be out of lack of alternatives on the part of the President.
“I am not happy with Naads and most other people are not,” says Prof Nuwagaba, “the design, the implementation, almost everything about Naads is wrong. It needs revamping. The President maybe knows that involving the army is not the best thing but he has no alternative.”
Prof Nuwagaba says the army has been “exemplary” in terms of discipline and organisation, arguing that the President may want to draft it into the rural development agenda to “challenge” the other institutions of State.
Structure of Naads
Prof Nuwagaba, whose research firm, Reev Consult, does consultancies in the field of poverty eradication and rural development, says key challenge is that the army “may not be technically qualified” to carry out many of the activities which Naads has been carrying out.
Naads was originally meant to be one of the seven pillars of the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA), the other pillars being research and technology development, agricultural education, Rural finance, Marketing, Sustainable use of natural resources and physical infrastructure.
First piloted in six districts and 12 sub-counties in 2001, Naads was eventually rolled out to the entire country, while progress on the other six pillars was negligible. With time Naads moved into fields other than offering the advisory services for which it was originally designed.
One such area is the provision of agricultural inputs to farmers – what are otherwise called technologies – which would otherwise have been done under the pillar of research and technology development.
A Naads official at the sub-county level, who asked not to be named because he is not allowed to speak to press, says one complication Naads run into is that “inputs became more of an issue than the advisory services.” “People started focusing more on the inputs than the advisory services,” the official says.
Naads is structured that it has three professionals at the sub-county – a coordinator, a veterinary official and an agricultural extensionist.
Problems would “often” arise, the official says, that the principals in the sub-county – the Naads coordinator, the sub-county chief and LCIII chairperson and his councillors – issue conflicting orders to the extension and veterinary officer. He said the politicians became “agitated” whenever the available funds seemed to be going more into extension work than into buying inputs.
This is the same question the President seems to raise when he faults Naads for committing more money to things like seminars instead of providing inputs. But if the objective were to distribute inputs, the Naads officer says, “hiring three agro-based graduates per sub-county was clearly the wrong thing to do.”
Gen Saleh’s document does not say clearly whether in the new arrangement extension workers will be retained to work under the military commanders, but the prevailing argument seems to favour more the provision of tangible things like coffee seedlings and livestock than technical knowledge and support.
And this, Gen Muntu says, “falls well into President Museveni’s 2016 schemes. This is all about bribing voters for the forthcoming election and not at all about improving the lot of the poor Ugandans.”
Time is the best judge in circumstances like this.