On Wednesday July 08, 2015, the Head of Operation Wealth Creation programme (OWC), Gen Caleb Akandwanaho, also known as Salim Saleh, pledged to give the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNAFFE) Shs5bn shillings to help the cash-trapped organization upgrade the Jinja Show Grounds.
Gen Saleh, who was presiding over the official opening of the 23rd edition of the Source of the Nile National Agriculture and Trade Show, made the pledge as he addressed farmers, exhibitors and other attendees at the show.
“UNAFFE is not playing its rightful role because they lack money, but they have said they are willing to function if they get it and I am announcing that I have the Shs5 billion. Therefore, I am announcing that you have this money next season,” Gen Saleh said.
Although allocations to the agriculture sector in the financial year 2015/2016 did not cater for development of infrastructure at the grounds, he said, the promised money would be raised by cutting allowances meant for implementers of Operation Wealth Creation.
According to the General, the money would be used to spruce up the grounds. Under the planned upgrade, the roads were to be tarmacked, aisles between the stalls were to be paved, a proper fence was to be erected, proper and decent sanitation facilities were to be constructed and the offices were to be given a massive facelift.
By the time the General made the promises, the farmers’ federation and the management of the grounds had been under heavy criticism for failure to improve the grounds during its time in Charge.
The grounds had been first designated to host national trade shows in the early 1970s by former president Amin Dada. By 1975 when Uganda hosted the Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting, the grounds had become very popular, almost as popular as the UMA trade show grounds in Kampala are today.
Some of the buildings took direct hits as the combined force of Tanzania People’s Defense Forces (TPDF) and fighters from Ugandan fighting groups such as the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) and Kikoosi Maalum fought to expel remnants of the Uganda Army out of Jinja.
Close to 38 years since President Amin’s ouster, rubble and skeletons of some of the former structures remain on the premises.
Though the grounds were initially neglected, a few enterprising people latched on to them around 1984 and turned them into the home of the defunct Eastern College of Advanced Studies.
The grounds, which had fallen back into the hands of the Jinja town authorities, were in 1992 handed over to the Uganda National Farmers’ Association (UNFA). UNFA was to later have its name changed to that of the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNAFFE).
However, critics claim that despite collecting millions of money in gate collections and exhibition fees in the 23 years that it has been managing the grounds, UNAFFE has not done much to improve the grounds.
During the last edition of the show, entrance fees for show goers stood at Shs2,000 for children and Shs4,000 for adults while the 400 exhibitors paid different amounts for different sizes of stalls.
Those with small stalls paid Shs150,000 for those with small stalls, Shs300,000 with medium sized stalls and Shs500,000 for those with bigger stalls. Some exhibitors like Kakira Sugar Works who have jumbo size stalls pay at least Shs1million.
It is estimated that the grounds rake in at least Shs500million per year, but pit latrines and a conference hall are the only additions that the federation has made to what President Amin left behind.
The conference hall, which had initially been meant to be a farmers’ training center, was constructed with assistance from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA). It has, however, since been rented out to Garden Hotel, which leased part of the show ground premises and set up a health club.
The show grounds management is also yet to put in place facilities for persons living with disability (PWDs).
The promise by General Saleh was seen as the panacea to the ground’s problems. It had been envisaged that the dusty or muddy potholed roads, dirty buildings and lack of a fence and lighting would have by now been in the past, but close to two years after he made the promise nothing has happened.
The idea of gazetting the grounds as the official agricultural trade show ground was perhaps one of the biggest indicators of the NRM government’s commitment to using agriculture as a vehicle that would drive Ugandans living in the rural areas out of poverty.
The agriculture shows were therefore meant to be part of process aimed at helping the rural poor register demonstrable improvements in their living standards through improvements in the manner in which they practice agriculture.
The Agricultural shows were therefore meant to help the agriculture modernisation process by providing farmers with study tour opportunities. Farmers would learn from the experts and get inspiration and motivation from some of the more successful or more fortunate farmers.
Such learning becomes invaluable as it often involves all sensory functions. In addition to the optical experiences gained, farmers are also able to put other sensory organs into use. They can then apply the practical skills in their farmers.
Unfortunately, those aims are not being realised at this point in time because the environment hardly allows it.
Just like a teacher needs to create a positive learning environment to allow students feel comfortable, safe and engaged, it is important that the agricultural show grounds be spruced up to provide farmers, exhibitors and indeed all show goers the kind of environment through which they can learn matters agriculture. That can only be achieved by sprucing up the facilities.
That is a national asset, but the state in which it is suggest that the people in government have failed to plan for this country. They seem to think that all national developments in this country should be in Kampala. They do not understand how import it is to them and to the people. I think that is why they have not taken interest in renovating them to enable us realize its full benefits.”
Mr Kirunda Mubarak, Chairman LCIII, Jinja Central Division
“There is obvious need to tarmac the roads in the show grounds. It is always in extremes. During the dry seasons they are extremely dusty, but they get unbearably muddy during the rainy season. I think that once the roads are worked on it will be easier to attract new exhibitors. People always expect to learn something new things and innovations, but it is the same items that are displayed every year. May be it will change once the renovations take place.”
Mr Fred Kamurasi, Proprietor Beauty World Saloon
“I think it was a very big mistake on the part of the government to put the show grounds in the hands of the UNFFE. It solely owns and manages the facility. The local stakeholders like Jinja Municipal Council are not involved. This makes it extremely difficult for them to have a say. That is why you find that though a lot of money is annually realized from the show there is no progressive development or innovation on the ground.”
Mr Majid Nsereko, Councilor and former Deputy Speaker Jinja Municipal Council.
Jinja Municipality West Member of Parliament, Mr Moses Grace Balyeku, who has been closely following up the pledge, told Daily Monitor that the promise has not been effected because of new developments that have recently cropped up in government circles.
Those developments including a plan by the government to set up an agricultural demonstration school and start up an agricultural tourism training institute that is to be jointly run by the ministries of Education and Sports, Agriculture and of Trade and Tourism. There is also rumoured proposal to transfer the show grounds to another location and make it difficult for one to commit resources towards sprucing up the grounds at this point in time.
“I am aware that the discussions are going on at cabinet level but the uncertainty surrounding the future of the grounds is the problem here. The money will be availed to the Farmers’ Federation once a decision is reached on whether to retain the present location as the show grounds,” Mr Balyeku said.
Daily Monitor position
While it might have been a good gesture on the part of Gen Saleh, it is unthinkable that he suggested that funds to renovate the show grounds would be raised by cutting allowances meant for the implementers of the Operation Wealth Creation programme.
Diversion of funds is illegal under the country’s financial and accounting regulation and the General should not be seen to be endorsing it as a method of raising funds.
However, the importance of the national agricultural trade show grounds and the role that they can play in shaping the future of Uganda’s agricultural sector cannot be overemphasized.
The government should therefore not abdicate its responsibility. The country cannot afford to leave the maintenance of such a national asset at the mercy and whims of Gen Saleh.
At the same time, the government should start moving towards making available resources to have the grounds redeveloped to internationally acceptable standards. This might entice big time agricultural manufacturers and producers who have not been exhibiting here to do so.
The government should also consider subsidising the operational costs of UNFFE so that entrance fees to the annual showpiece are reduced. Many a rural farmer who would have loved to attend the annual showpiece simply may not afford to meet the cost of transport, entrance and upkeep during the show.