Tuesday, September 12, 2017


It was the shot heard around the world.

Last week the Supreme Court of Kenya nullified the Uhuru Kenyatta’s August 8th re-election causing jaw dropping shock and unbridled jubilation – depending on which side of the divide you were. The supreme court ruled by the narrowest of margins that the illegalities, irregularities whatever you may call them were enough

The court called for a repeat of the poll within 60 days and since then the Independent Electoral & Borders Commission (IEBC) has set an October 17th date for the show down.

Kenyatta in his initial reaction said he disagreed with the decision but would respect it, but hours later in front of his adoring fans, with emotions running high, he used a few choice words to describe the Supreme Court justices and his political rivals, which had all the do-gooders out in force.

Commentators were split down the middle.

 On the one hand there those who said this set a dangerous precedent especially since no election is perfect and the irregularities were not significant as to overturn the end result. On the other hand there those who argued that the Kenyan judiciary was coming of age and taking its independence seriously, which was a good thing in and of itself....

Both sides were right and wrong.

The idea that we should look the other way because some indiscretions were committed but could not be proved to have affected the poll and therefore we should ignore is wrong. It allows for a constant readjustment of what is right and wrong, badly blurring the line between right and wrong. We do not live I a perfect world but we should aspire to some minimum standards of decency that should be shifted only at the cost of much pain.

True we do not live in Utopia. And true that in our everyday lives there is no clear black or white but rather many shades of gray between the two extremes.

Once you allow a certain moral relativism to be take route in judgement of your actions as sure as night follows day you can expect that our conduct will worsen rather than improve over time.

On the other hand I think the judges are not the real heroes of this outcome but the people who took their grievances to the court in the first place.

There is a lot of cynicism about the working of government institutions and whether they can deliver on their mandate. This negativity then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because then we don’t engage these institutions and they do nothing anyway. It is not for instance the courts’ job to go out looking for cases to try. If nothing is brought to them they will do nothing.

I like to use the example of our local police post. If people break into our homes and don’t report to the police because after all what will they do. When they draw up a budget it will be hard to justify it in your area because not much crime as reported. Therefore your police post will remain underfunded and undermanned.

"The pillars of democracy can only be built and confidence built in them if they are tested. You need to put them on the spot....

We hear only about the demonstrations and confrontation with security during the US civil rights movement of half a century ago. What gets less play is the amount of court action there was, where the movement forced the courts of the land to pronounce themselves on various issues that contradicted the spirit of the US constitution. And it’s not as if all the courts were populated with liberal judges willing to give them a fair hearing.

The demonstrations helped raise awareness but the court rulings helped uphold the law. The fight still goes on in the US but there has been major improvement in many parts.

So the lesson from Kenya is that we cannot give up on our institutions even if it’s convenient to do so, because in doing so when the final day of reckoning comes they will be without teeth due to our negligence.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Last week the Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC) issued a report on the state of agriculture, which made for painful reading.

It said a lot of things we already knew – growth in the sector has been anaemic for the last two decades, poor extension services means we are still using Stone Age technologies in the sector and that most of research in donor funded and not necessarily tailored to our needs.

It also pointed out that our middle income nation status and goals to transform the economy away from a peasant based one to a modern one will remain a pipe dream if we don’t go beyond paying lip service to agriculture as the back bone of the economy.

"EPRC reports a disjoint between the fact that while seven in every ten Ugandans derives a livelihood from Agriculture the sector has grown by only about two percent a year for the last 20 years. This despite the obvious potential of the sector which while neglected provides 40 percent of all our exports...

They put the low growth in the sector down to poor methods up and down the value chain but especially at the production stage.

Using Irish potato productivity the report showed yields on our farms could more than triple to 16.5 metric tons a hectare from the current 4.8 metric tons with the use of the quality seeds and fertiliser.

The issue of farm output and therefore production levels is an important one because to have a sustainable agroindustry we need to push up the volumes of everything we are producing multiple fold.

At current levels of production we can only manage cottage industries that have no real chance of breaking into export markets, regionally or internationally.

It is doubly important when one understands that our best chance of becoming an industrial nation in the shortest possible time is through agriculture not through dabbling in toilet paper making or steel production or even car assembly.

It really is a no brainer.

How far we have to go to really significantly improve farm productivity is shown up by the fact that only about seven in a 100 farmers use a combination of quality seeds and fertiliser on their crops and only one in a hundred employ irrigation systems. Imagine the gains in the sector if we just brought this figure to one in four farmers? It would be revolutionary.

And what is causing this abysmal state of affairs?

While Uganda has one of the highest outputs in agricultural research there is little transmission of these new findings to the farmer and secondly that because a significant part of the research is donor funded it may not be tailored to local needs.

The flip flopping around extension services has really hurt the sector. In recent times extension services was taken away from the ministry vested in the National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS) and then taken back to the parent ministry.

Partly as a result of this the gap between the required extension workers and the ones actually employed has been as high as 89 percent in the last three years. This has meant that the share of farmers who have come in contact with extension services have fallen from an already woeful 14 percent three years ago to an even more disastrous eight percent.

"It is no wonder that our farmers are being caught unawares by impending pest break outs or weather pattern changes or still using primordial farming methods...

To state the obvious agriculture is important to this national and its development ambitions because we have a competitive advantage in it – we have about half the arable land in the region, amiable climate and 20 percent of our land mass is under water.

But secondly and even more important is that an improvement in agriculture output is the single biggest intervention needed to narrow national income inequalities.

A recent Uganda Bureau of Statistics report showed that while inequalities were reducing in central and western Uganda the opposite was the case in northern and eastern Uganda. The correlation between the increasingly urbanised regions – and probably improved farming methods due to exposure to information and finance, and reduction in inequality cannot be by mistake.

And EPRC suggests things may get worse before they get better, if ever.

Increasing land degradation and conflict suggests that the window for us to exploit our land optimally may be quickly closing.

In story “Acres of diamonds” the story is told of a man who sold his farmer and went out into the world to seek his fortune. After years of wandering and trying this or that venture he eventually returns home a broken man with nothing to show for his travails only to find that his farm is now thriving diamond mine.

A better analogy for Uganda could not be found.