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Rural and Urban in Uganda 

Introduction: How may one appreciate what is considered rural and urban in Uganda? This is the question that I attempt to answer in this analysis. I do so by using, as an example, Teso - the area (Teso - Uganda Maps 2016), which is in Eastern Uganda and Iteso - the people; from whom am descended. Since the main synthesis paper to which this analysis contributes is on smallholder farmers and is on agriculture, I particularly use the example of the food system of my people and the changes that have occurred in it. I am assisted in this by the book: The Iteso (Lawrance 1957), from which I borrow significantly.

We, Iteso, are one of the first nations - the peoples who occupied the geography now known as Uganda prior to it being colonised by the English and prior to it becoming Uganda. The peoples of the first nations are diverse – over 50 first nations, as recognised by the Constitution of Uganda (Republic of Uganda 1995); which, analyst (Blake 2013) find, makes Uganda the most ethnically diverse nation on earth. 

Iteso, according to Uganda’s most recent population census of 2014 (Mugerwa 2016), are the fifth largest first nation within Uganda. In the 1950s, Iteso were the second largest (Cohen 1957) and it is since the 2002 population census that the Uganda Bureau of Statistics revealed Iteso as the fifth largest first nation, making up at least 6.4 percent of Uganda’s population, at the time. Whereas, I use the example of Iteso to carry this analysis, it is easily extended to any other first nation of Uganda and it would be relevant. 

Iteso Way of Life: My people were prior semi-nomadic pastoralists, just like the Karimonjong, another of the first nations of Uganda. By the mid 1950s, however, Iteso had become mostly sedentary cultivators. It is quite possible that our ancestors became sedentary cultivators as an inevitable consequence of colonialism, among other reasons. Since we became sedentary cultivators, our food system relies on agriculture – growing of crops and rearing of animals - for the production of food. 

At first, our ancestors practised shifting cultivation – growing food crops on the same piece of land until signs of deterioration in yield appeared and then moving on to another piece of land. It is feasible that our ancestors actually shifted back and forth the same pieces of land in intervals – returning back to a piece of land after it had lain fallow and it had regained fertility. 

Subsequently, Iteso stopped the practice of shifting cultivation and adopted rotational cropping - a practice in which we farm on the same piece of land without shifting from it, but on which we ensure a crop rotation that allows the land to regenerate soil fertility. A typical full crop rotation in Teso, in the past, for example, was: grow epaaba (cotton) in the first year; then akuma (finger millet) in the second year; then in the third year split the land and grow emaido (groundnuts), emuogo (cassava), acok (sweet potatoes) and imare (beans); and followed by a three-year land resting period. 

In addition to rotational cropping, our ancestors also practiced strip cropping on contours – with grass bunds between strips - in order to safeguard soil fertility. Few Iteso, if at all, are still able to fully practice rotational cropping as our ancestors did in the past, especially so letting land to fallow for a three-year period. Our population growth, among others, is exacting pressure on the land, no time for it to rest.

Emeleku (the hoe), first in a wooden form and later in a metal form, plays a significant role within our food system – it is the most important farming tool in Teso. Emeleku of the metal form was imported into Teso through barter trade with the Banyoro and the Lango; two other first nations of Uganda. Emeleku of the metal form, in the past, was scarce in Teso and those who could not access it used emeleku of the wooden form or akuta (pointed sticks). It is unlikely that there are still Iteso who use akuta. The trade of akuta making is likely since extinct among our people; and if not, there are very, very few of the older generation who possess such knowledge. 

In 1909, ox-plough (emeleku lo imogin – the hoe of bulls) was introduced to Teso and found favour among our ancestors. It is documented that by the 1950s there were 40 thousand ox-ploughs in Teso that were used by their owners and that were also hired by others who did not have their own. Among Iteso, farming roles are typically allocated on the basis of gender. Breaking new ground, for example, was strictly a task of men folk. Consequently, the operation of ox-ploughs (aswam imogin – working bulls) became majorly the role of men – it is they who had the duty to break new ground. 

The more mechanised methods of cultivation – such as tractors – did not find favour among our ancestors. In the mid 1950s, when such mechanised methods were introduced, only a few Iteso were prepared to pay economic rates for hire of such machinery as tractors. This attitude sustains to date among Iteso. There were and continue to be inherent practical difficulties that do not allow the popularisation of highly mechanised farming methods in Teso. Iteso land tenure, for example, presents one such difficulty. 

Iteso land tenure seemingly evolved from when our ancestors practised shifting cultivation. When etesot (singular male from Teso) moved on with his ekale (homestead) to new lands and opened them, he de facto became the in-charge of the land he and his ekale had opened. Yes, Iteso, like all first nations of Uganda, are patriarchal – the head of ekale is a male. Even when the head of ekale (usually the husband) dies, tradition dictates that a male relative – son, brother or uncle - is assigned the responsibility of ‘heading’ ekale of the deceased. 

When Iteso men went in search of ‘new’ lands, however, they usually moved in groups, each with his ekale. There was therefore need for an administrative unit that had authority above the unit of ekale to which an individual ekale head was answerable. The unit: ateker (clan) thus emerged, which brought together the individual ekale within a particular geography to identify with others in the same geography as members of the same ateker. For peaceful co-existence, it was important to choose from among ekale heads apolon na ateker (clan leader) - to be in charge of land tenure, among others. Historians (Fountain Publishers, 2011), indeed, have documented that among Iteso, ateker was the basic social and political unit. It was administrative and judicial in character. 

Ploygamy, which is legal in Uganda, is widely practiced in Teso. A typical ekale among Iteso, therefore, does not always conform with the one-man-one-woman-and-their-children character of the global-western household. Ekale in Teso will likely comprise of one man, multiple wives, and their children, living within a homestead. Each wife, however, typically has her own house(s)/room(s); and among the more wealthy, such as was my grandfather (RIP), within the homestead, the husband has his own house as well. Also within the homestead, teanage boys each usually have their own separate sleeping house.The expectation, generally, is that there should be separate sleeping houses for the children – boys sleeping separate from the girls.

Ekale, naturally, grows and when it does grown up males from an ekale each want to marry and to each form ekale of their own. It necessitates that the grown males are also given land ownership rights of clearly defined sections of land, on which to reside and from which to farm to feed members of their respective ekale. Apolon na ateker, in consultation with ekale heads, thus in the past played the significant role of determining land allocations to members of his respective ateker. Iteso land tenure, best described as: extended family tenure of agriculture land thus evolved. 

An allocation of land to an ekale head, within Iteso land tenure, gave him and his ekale the following ownership rights over the allocated land: to cultivate it, to cut trees on it, to excavate in it, to build on it, to bury the deceased on it, to lend others access to it, to sub-divide it, and to bequeath it. An allocation of land within Iteso tenure de facto conferred use rights; it did not confer on one the right and authority to sell the land. 

Through the oral tradition of transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next, I have learned, especially from my partnal grandmothers (RIP), wives of my grandfather (RIP), seven were still alive when I was growing up - that Iteso gender-roles determined how land was allocated among ekale members and for what usage. This means that within ‘ekale land’ there was the provision for individual ekale members to be given land ownership rights over a portion of the ‘ekale land’. 

The role of food production among Iteso is primarily the role of women. Iteso women (ateso – plural and atesot - singular)  are further tasked with the responsibility of food preservation, in order to ensure that there is food in the home all year round – indeed in the past, a good wife was judged by the number and content of her granneries in the homestead. An ekale head is thus obligated by Iteso culture to ensure that the women folk in his ekale have an allocation of land on which to produce food for home consumption – ‘woman land’. 

As earlier, indicated, Iteso men are typically obliged to help women on the more ‘tougher’ farming tasks, such as opening virgin land and aswam imogin; this they are expected to do on ‘woman land’ as well. Once the men open the land and have aswam imogin, they let the other ‘simpler’ farming tasks – planting, weeding, harvesting and post harvest handling – to be done by women. 

Only if there be surpluses of the harvest from  ‘woman land’ which was determined for sale and or for free give away that Iteso men take on a significant decision-making role over produce from ‘woman land’.  Otherwise, if the harvest from ‘woman land’ is utilised only for home food consumption, the decision-making of how food is distributed throughout the year is left to women, each for the harvest from her ‘woman land’. It is women’s obligation, afterall, to ensure the nutrition of members of their respective ekale

During the colonial period, in sub-allocating ‘ekale land’, it was tradition and it was expected that the ekale head would reserve land for the growing of cash crops. The ownership of land that was reserved for growing cash crops was strictly always of a man – land for growing cash crops was ‘man land’ – a father, a son, a brother; in a similar manner that land for growing food crops was ‘woman land’. On ‘man land’ the gender roles still applied – the men opened the land and the women did the other farming tasks. However, the ownership of the harvest was 100 percent that of men, each of that from his ‘man land.’ 

Some may argue that this was the beginning of the exploitation of Iteso women for cash crop production. On ‘woman land’ women grow food that feeds ekale – the labour that produces cash crops; and on ‘man land’ women are the unpaid labour that produce cash crops. Yes, Iteso, like all other first nations that were colonised by the English, were forced to allocate land, labour and time to produce cash crops for the benefit of their colonisers. The primary colonial cash crop that was forced on Teso was epaaba

According to the Colonial Governor of Uganda in the 1950s (Cohen 1957), epaaba brought Iteso wealth; he gave an example of how in 1952, epaaba brought nearly 1.3 million pounds to cotton producers in Teso. One wonders the accuracy of the Governors assertion, however. Did epaaba really bring wealth to Teso? Was the value that the English paid Iteso for epaaba the true value of the labour that Iteso used to produce it? Did the price at which the English bought epaaba factor in the equivalent that one may have paid to rent the land on which epaaba was produced?  It is highly unlikely that the price for epaaba that the English paid reflected the true value of the costs of its production; a possible explanation why growing of epaaba has drastically reduced in Teso of today – the true cost of its production does not match the price on offer for it.

Cattle among Iteso are purely an economic asset first; even up to the present this is still majorly the case. For Iteso, cattle are a means of obtaining cash for basic needs and luxuries of life. One’s wealth, among our ancestors, was strictly measured by the number of heads of cattle that one had. Iteso, for example, used to brand cattle, but for economic reasons the practice is now extinct, because branded hide loses its value. In the past, Iteso traded hides and skins with Banyoro in exchange for emeleku of the metal form, for example. It is documented that in 1952 nearly 30 thousand hides and 37 thousand skins were purchased in Teso. 

Through oral history, listening to my aunts reminiscing, I have learnt that in the past etesot whose ekale ate bought meat was laughed at – and it was indeed rare. A proud etesot ensured that the meat that members of his ekale ate was of animals reared by his ekale. By the diet of an ekale, therefore, it was known if they were wealthy or not. My aunts perhaps exaggerate a bit about how good things were in the past and claim that in their ekale – that of my grandfather (RIP) – in those good old days at least one animal was killed every day in order to provide their ekale with meat. But it is feasible, considering that it was a large ekale of apolon na ateker. In any case, there were indeed Iteso meat preservation practices – salting and smoking – which preserved the meat for months.

Cattle rearing among Iteso necessitated apolon na ateker, in consultation with heads of ekale, to agree on grazing and watering areas to which members of the entire ateker had communal use-rights – the commons. In addition to the commons, ‘ekale land’ let to fallow was allowed to the entire ateker to access for purposes of grazing animals and for foraging – firewood, wild mushrooms, vegetables for nutrition; grass and poles for building. It is no surprise, therefore, that the other values of cattle in the food system were hardly recognised as such by our Iteso ancestors. 

Even to date, Iteso have insufficient appreciation of the value of cattle as providers of manure on land. This is likely so because of their farming practices – shifting cultivation and rotational cultivation - which allowed land to lay fallow for years; land which then became grazing land. Which means that in built within the Iteso cropping rotations and the Iteso farming calendar was automatic regeneration of land – leaving it fallow for years, during which the fallow land was used for grazing and thus allowing for animals to deliver manure direct into the soils. 

Our Iteso food system heavily relies on rain-fed agriculture. The months of the calendar year in Ateso (the language), in fact, are named in association with food production activities. The dry season was traditionally from the month of Opoo – when the sun is hot (December) to Okwang – when the children become white with dust (March); the wet season was traditionally from Odunge – when rain covers the sun (April) to Omodokoingol (direct translation: millet meal sticking on the mingling stick) – the harvest of millet (July); and the season of plenty was traditionally from Otikoik – the month of big stomachs (August) to Osuban – the month of celebrations (November). 

Our ancestors used natural indications of changes in season and that is how they determined the time to plant – where, for example, Erere (Ficus Ingens) sheds leaves or Etekwa (Albizzia Conana) is flowering it is time to plant. Again, traditionally, among Iteso, it was the men, those whose responsibility it was to break ground that decided when the symptoms are right for planting. Iteso are a spiritual and religious people and in the past, no planting was done until certain ceremonies were performed. A key Iteso farming ceremony, likely no longer practised, was aitangar – blessing emeleku – which is done by throwing grain over it on abila (the altar); a beer party follows and the planting season would be declared began. 

Crops, in Teso of the past, were grown at specific times as follows: from the month of Okwang (March) to Abwataidwe – when children wait for food (May) – they planted akima (finger millet), imumua (sorghum), ikanyum (simsim), ekirididi (maize), and emawele (bulrush millet); the months of Odunge (April) to Abawataidwe – they planted emaido and isuk (bambara groundnuts); the months of Abawataidwe to Otikoik (August) -  as prescribed by colonial State Law – they planted epaaba (cotton); the months of Omaruk – the month of mushrooms (June) to Otikoik they planted acok (sweet potatoes), emuogo (cassava), imumua; and the months of Omodokoingol (July) to Osuban (November) they planted imare (beans). It is important to note that initially, the staple food crops of Iteso were akuma and imumua. The other food crops such as emuogo, emaido and acok, were later introduced to Teso and became significant staple crops for Iteso.

The Rural: Suffice it to surmise that the way of life of Iteso, my people, as I have described herein, does firmly locate Teso of the 1950s in what is considered rural in Uganda. Elements of a rural setting as defined by encyclopaedia (National Geographic Society 2016), fit with what most perceive as rural in Uganda. Often viewed as an open swath of land that has few homes or other buildings; typically has a low population density – homes are located far apart; agriculture is the primary source of livelihood – as in the food one eats is more likely grown by one; where wildlife is more frequently found; and where the majority of people live. 

It is doubtful that this description of a rural setting still fully holds true in modern day Teso, especially so if one factors in Uganda’s rapid population growth. It is highly doubtful, for example, that there is an open swath of land in present day Teso that is teaming with wildlife. No doubt, forest cover has since been cleared for the ‘benefit’ of humans – homes and agriculture land. Nevertheless, within Ugandan’s psyche rural is still romanticised as such – eliciting imagery that there is loads of underutilised land in Uganda’s rural areas; which is not necessarily the case.

Rural in Uganda is also often described in relation to its proximity to the urban – a town or city. The further an area is from a town or a city, the more it is considered a rural area. Certainly, a greater part of Teso of the 1950s was rural. The only semblance of urban in Teso in the 1950s would have been the centres of the colonial governments, hospitals, schools and churches. 

The Urban: In Uganda’s post-colonial era, more urban centres emerged - transforming the colonial government centres and constructing new centres - to locate local government administration units – sub-county and district headquarters, especially, which are modelled on global-western styles. Within the towns and the cities and in their neighbourhoods there was a need for homes for government workers initially; and later those of CSOs and of private business; hence residential areas in the urban. 

The planning of urban centres in Uganda, to this day, still seemingly remains the same as with colonial era plans. There is noticeable stratification in which wealth and poverty co-exist. Urbanites in Uganda do not have the same experiences or quality of life - the differences are significant.  Neighbourhoods are characterised by class differences (in terms of ability to pay) and in some cases by which first nation one is descended. So to a great degree some ‘rural tendencies’ permeate the urban.

The predominant mindset in Uganda is that urban equals ‘like the global-west’ and rural equals ‘like the traditional way of life of the first nations’, such as the Iteso, as I have described prior in this analysis. Sadly, the classifications: rural and urban in Uganda are not neutral – they are coached in cultural imperialism. ‘Like the global-west’ comes with connotations of it being modern, progressive and how things should be – it is the measure for high standards of living. While the other of the first nations comes with connotations of ‘backward’, that which needs transformation and ‘modernisation’ – eliciting imagery of low standards of living.

So, for example, Uganda’s colonial Governor while extolling the good that epaaba brought to Teso, in the 1950s, claimed that it had brought Iteso wealth which had enabled Iteso a high standard of living. An example of high standard of living, in the eyes of the colonial Governor, was that Iteso had adopted the colonisers’ ways – for example, they adopted European fashions and had abandoned the spectacular clothing styles and body ornaments retained by Karimojong and Masai. 

Urbanisation and Slumitisation: In Uganda, in essence, urbanisation connotes significant changes in the way of life of the first nations; changes meaning: abandoned their ways and adopted global-western ways. The colonial Governor, for example, in the 1950s admitted that during that time assimilation of European culture – learning, techniques, fashion – within Iteso culture was but only superficial. The colonial Governor’s observation was that the impact of ‘global-western civilisation’ on Iteso had no effect on the traditional way of life of Iteso – their food system and governance system seemingly stayed intact. 

In modern day Teso, however, it is difficult not to believe that there has been a much deeper penetration of ‘global-western civilisation.’ Take for instance in the area of land tenure. As described prior in this analysis, Iteso land tenure is distinguishable from land tenures systems such as are promoted by the global-western neoliberal market economy model, which perceives land as a commodity to be traded. Iteso land tenure confers land ownership rights through giving use rights; as compared to other systems that are associated with the global-west, which confer absolute land ownership rights through buying and selling. 

Iteso land tenure, in principal, does not fit within neoliberal market capitalistic tendencies that promote individual greed - where one person engages in acquisition, ownership and primitive accumulation of large chunks of land, just for the sake of wealth accumulation. In present day Teso, however, it would appear that the traditional Iteso land tenure system is increasingly replaced by practices that are akin to land tenure systems more associated with the global-west – individual greed has taken over; in some cases with dire consequences. An example of such consequences can be deduced from changes in the food that the Iteso eat.

Take for instance the specific example of the changing composition of a staple food of Iteso – atap. A cultural survey (Owaraga 2012) was conducted as part of research into the association between food security and social economic institutions. The survey participants, 275 adult Iteso (52 percent female and 48 percent male), who were selected at random from among residents of six villages, were representative of Teso. They were from villages in five districts in Teso: Akalabai in Atutur Sub-County in Kumi District; Obulai in Olio Sub-County in Serere District; Aroba in Tubur Sub-County in Soroti District; Emokori A Cell in Bukedea Town Council in Bukedea District; Moruokume in Agule Sub-County in Pallisa District; and Apuna in Kibale Sub-County in Pallisa District. A question in the survey asked participants to indicate one of their favourite foods. No food other than atap was cited as their favourite food by more than 10 percent of the Iteso surveyed. Atap was the favourite food for nearly all the Iteso surveyed. 

Atap, is often mistranslated as millet bread. However, the preparation of bread – requiring baking – is different from the way in which atap is prepared - adding flour to boiling water and mingling – causing omodokoingol. Atap is more similar to ugali than it is to bread. First, atap was mainly composed of akuma - finger millet (Eleusine coracana), hence the mistranslation millet bread. Researchers (Oryokot 2001) at Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) find that finger millet is indeed the second most important cereal crop in Uganda after maize – in terms of meeting dietary and income needs. Finger millet is believed to have originated from Uganda or Ethiopia. It is interesting to note that historians (Tumusiime 2011) believe Iteso of Uganda to have originated from Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia) from whence they migrated to Uganda. If that be the case, then it is feasible that Iteso may have come with finger millet seeds from Ethiopia.  

During the last 40 years or so, however, the composition of atap has since changed from being composed of pure finger millet flour; to a mixture of finger millet-sorghum-cassava flour; to sorghum-cassava flour; and increasingly, lately, it just consists of cassava flour. The Iteso who participated in the 2012 cultural survey, indeed, when asked what they considered proper Iteso foods, 97 percent of them indicated cassava; finger millet and sorghum came second, each indicated by 87 percent of those surveyed. 

As earlier indicated, cassava (emuogo) is not indigenous to Uganda. Scientist at NARO (Otim-Nape, et al. 2001) believe it to have been introduced into Uganda between 1862 and 1875, after which it quickly spread to the extent that it is now ranked as Uganda’s second most important food crop, after bananas, in terms of area cultivated. In the case of sorghum, researchers at NARO (Ebiyau and Oryokot 2001) believe it to have been introduced into Uganda in AD 350. Sorghum, according to researchers at NARO, has become the third most important cereal crop in Uganda because of its ability to tolerate and produce good yields even in unfavourable weather, such as in drought conditions. 

Of the three crops – finger millet, sorghum and cassava - as determined by scientists at NARO, finger millet is the most nutritious. Finger millet is a nutrient rich cereal which contains nutrients that are crucial for human health and which nutrients are deficient in other cereals. NARO scientists confirm that finger millet contains: protein – eleusinin - which has high biological value with high amounts of tryptophan, cystine, methionine and aromatic amino acids - phenylalanine and tyrosine; that it contains calcium – 5-30 times more than in most cereals; and that it is high in phosphorus and iron. 

NARO scientists, in fact, assessed that in the past children from finger millet eating parts of Uganda suffered less from nutritional dieases as compared to those from banana eating areas. Whereas, like cassava, scientists find that sorghum mainly contains carbohydrates, researchers (The Sorghum Trust 2016) find that it does also contain traces of protein and is rich in iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium and phosphorous. 

The subsitition of finger millet with sorghum lowered the nutritional value of atap, for sorghum does not contain some of the vital nutrients contained in finger millet. The change which substituted sorghum for finger millet, nevertheless, was not as nutritionally catastrophic as that which substituted plain cassava for both finger millet and sorghum as the composition for atap flour. Nutritionally, cassava is very low in proteins and it is therefore much inferior to finger millet and sorghum. 

So, how did it come about that cassava, the least nutritious food crop of the three, has become the main composition of atap, replacing the more nutritious sorghum and finger millet? During the same period as the composition of atap changed from pure finger millet to finger millet-sorghum-cassava to sorghum-cassava and then to plain cassava, other change processes were also taking place in Teso. In particular, changes in the behaviour of Teso rural dwellers from their traditional practices to those which mimic practices of Ugandan urban dwellers who have adopted practices normally characteristic of the global-west. 

One such change in behaviour is the habit of drinking in bars/pubs; basically drinking in a place away from homes. So, instead of staying home and taking their home-made Teso beer – ajon, that is brewed out of finger millet, as was the case in the past, these days Iteso rural dwellers, mostly the men, go out to urban-slum-like centres to drink ajon which they buy from individual commercial brewers and sellers. There has been a mushrooming of urban-slum-like centres in rural Teso, which are characterised by small shops, small eateries, pork roasting joints and drinking places, which bear semblance to slums of Uganda’s cities and towns; de facto urbanisation in form of slumitisation is occurring in rural Uganda. 

Consumption of ajon is not only popular in urban-slum-like centres in rural Teso, but it is also very popular in other areas of Uganda including in urban centres – especially in the slums. No wonder the occurrence of a noticeable rural-urban migration of Iteso women to slums in Ugandan cities and towns, in order to take advantage of the business opportunity to commercially brew and sell ajon.

Another change that has occurred in rural Teso that is relevant to this analysis is the increased availability of bottled beer. Teso, in fact, now has its own bottled beer, Eagle Lager, which is made out of Epuripur sorghum. Epuripur is a 1995 product of the Teso based Serere Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) and it is now widely grown by Iteso and other Ugandans for the main purpose of supplying it to Nile Breweries for the commercial production of bottled beer. 

This Epuripur development has been heralded by some (Ebiyau, Arach and Serunjoji, Commercialisation of sorghum in Uganda 2005) as progress that has been brought about through public-private partnerships. In this case, the Government of Uganda’s SARI and Nile Breweries, working in collaboration with non-governmental CSOs claiming to promote innovations that increase farmers’ food security and incomes. Drinking bottled beer in rural Teso is indeed perceived as a significant status symbol which indicates one’s economic power – ‘he has made it, he even drinks bottled beer’ kind of sentiment. Yes, by this measure, Teso is urbanising and ‘modernising’, some will insist.

Seemingly, therefore, the changes in the composition of atap are not necessarily because there has been a reduction in the production of finger millet and of sorghum in Uganda. It seems that the changes in the composition of atap are because of the change in the focus of how finger millet and sorghum are consumed – now consumed more in the form of commercial beer as opposed to in the form of atap. The main purpose for the production of finger millet and of sorghum has thus changed in Teso from producing food crops to producing cash crops. That is to say, those in Teso who grow finger millet these days do so mostly to sell it to the biggest buyers – those trading in ajon in drinking joints. Similarly, those who grow sorghum do so mostly to sell it to Nile Breweries. 

Land dispossession can be overt, such as cases when so-called ‘investors’ have pushed people off the land – labelling them as squatters who, presumably, they considered to be ‘underutilising’ the land. In overt cases the ‘investors’ are often heralded as intending to put to better use the land which they have acquired through the physical removal of its prior occupants. Much of the rhetoric that accompanies overt land dispossession more often than not is blind to best farming practices of the first nations, such as of the Iteso, as described in the previous section of this analysis. 

For example, it is not uncommon for advocates of overt land dispossession of the first nations to assert that land let to fallow in order that the fertility of its soils is regenerated, is land underutilised. Such overt land dispossession of first nations’ advocates are indeed blind to the other uses of land let to fallow – such as grazing and foraging – which are important within the food systems of the first nations, such as of the Iteso, as  described in the previous section of this analysis. 

Nevertheless, such overt land dispossession of the first nations has occurred in the name of the need to transform Uganda’s rural areas, so that Uganda can industrialise, ‘develop’ and become like the ‘developed’ countries of the global-west. No doubt, overt land dispossession has occurred in Teso and does continue to occur – case in point, is land dispossession of some in Soroti as was brought to light by the naked protest of women (Owaraga, Conflicts in Uganda's land tenure 2015) who unsuccessfully protested the grabbing of their land which was taken over for the construction of a global-western university. Dispossessing of rural communities of the land that feeds them is a necessary evil for modernisation, they argue; for in their eyes utilisation of the land for a global-western university, for example, is the modern thing to do. It is progress, so they say.

Covert land dispossession, however, rarely makes it to the mainstream media and moreover, it is often the case that it lays the groundwork for overt land dispossession to take place. Covert land dispossession is quite likely widespread in Teso, affecting thousands of vulnerable Iteso, especially the women who are likely regularly dispossessed of their ‘woman land.’ Covert land dispossession does not necessarily physically deny the dispossessed access to land, but it rather denies them the decision-making powers over the way in which the land is utilised and/or over the way in which the produce from the crops grown on the land is utilised. 

This is in direct contrast with how Iteso land tenure, for example, empowered women of the decision-making regarding growing of food and utilisation of food from ‘woman land.’ Considering the content of atap these days – mainly cassava – it is not unreasonable to infer that there has been a change in Teso in the way ‘woman land’ is utilised; the way in which the produce from crops grown on ‘woman land’ is utilised; and who holds decision-making power over produce from crops grown on ‘woman land’. 

Who has benefited from the changes in the production of finger millet and sorghum from food crops to cash crops? Who has been dispossessed of their land to make way for commercial production of finger millet and sorghum?  For sorghum, specifically, whose land has been taken over for the production of Epuripur sorghum that is specially modified for making bottle bear as opposed to the traditional sorghum (emumua) that is better suited for making atap?

It is not farfetched to infer from the changing composition of atap that there has been covert land dispossession in Teso in which the dispossessed are likely the women. It is indeed feasible that once the commercial and economic value of finger millet and sorghum went up, Iteso men inevitably made the decision to utilise ekale land for the production of these crops more for cash as opposed to for food. So whereas, for example, Nile Breweries did not overtly dispossess Iteso of their land, its need for cheap local inputs for the production of its Eagle beer has resulted in the covert dispossession of Iteso women of their land – ‘woman land’; and with the knock on effect of diminishing the nutritional value of atap – the drastic change of composition to cassava. 

It is not uncommon for Iteso elite – those who have attained higher levels of global-western education qualifications, likely working for GoU and or CSOs, and or for private businesses – to treat land which they have inherited as a commodity. Increasingly, landlord-landless relations are the norm in Teso, where the rich are ‘making a killing’, so to speak, renting land to others or outright engaging in speculative selling and buying of land. It is likely that when initiatives which commercialise food crops - such as millet and sorghum - are introduced, it is the elite Iteso who either cheaply buy or rent large chunks of land to grow such crops; or they function as the English colonialists did with epaaba – conscript smallholder farmers to produce and sell to them, likely at exploitative prices.

Iteso elite are easily able to do so, for Iteso land tenure of the old, which directly contradicts with the popular application of Uganda’s state laws which generally allocate land ownership to an individual or to a corporation, are becoming the thing of the past. Iteso elite these days easily by pass Iteso land tenure and look to State law to effectively disenfranchises women for it is often the case that the ‘individual’ ownership of ekale land will be claimed by the ekale head and in whose name the title is often written. This status quo, as others have found elsewhere (Maathai 2009), reduces women’s rights by giving them access to land at the pleasure of the father or husband whose name appears on the title deed. And this is what is considered modern.

Background to this analysis: On Thursday, 25th June 2015, at Hotel Kigo in Lweza in Uganda, KT held a policy dialogue that discussed the question: “Can the 2015/16 Uganda national budget support ‘smallholder’ farmers to improve agricultural production and to stem the rate of rural-urban migration?” A KT synthesis paper: “Uganda’s National Budgetary Allocations to Agriculture in Support of Smallholder Farmers and Rural-Urban Migration” resulted from that policy dialogue. This analysis is Part II of that synthesis paper. Part I, a description of agriculture in the context of Uganda and titled: “Agriculture in Uganda” is published online. Read it here

The synthesis paper to which this analysis is a part of, in essence, captures the thought processes that emerged during the KT policy dialogue; a dialogue session that is among such events that KT has organised under the traditions of the Chatham House Rules, which protect the identity of the opinion holder while encouraging the sharing of opinions. It is important, however, to know that the dialogue was attended by active citizens of Uganda and other persons who live and work in Uganda. They included persons in academia; persons working in Government of Uganda (GoU) ministries and departments; persons working with civil society organisations (CSOs); persons that are active in governance politics of Uganda and moreover of varied political persuasions; and persons active in Uganda’s private business sector. 

The KT policy dialogue of 25th June 2015 was sponsored with grant funding from the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA)  and from the Bank of Uganda (BoU). Whereas, Owaraga has authored this analysis on behalf of KT the views herein contained are not necessarily those of KT or of OSIEA or of BoU or of CPAR Uganda Ltd.

About the Author: Norah Owaraga, a cultural anthropologist, authored this analysis on behalf of the Kigo Thinkers (KT). She is one of the four founding members of KT and Since April 2012 she is the Managing Director of CPAR Uganda Ltd a not-for-profit development organisation. Read her detailed bio here.

Works Cited:

Blake, Matt. Worlds apart: Uganda tops list of most ethnically diverse countries on Earth while South Korea comes bottom. May 17, 2013. (accessed May 5, 2016).

Cohen, Andrew. "Foreword." In The Iteso - Fifty years of change in a Nilo-Hamitic Tribe of Uganda, by J.C.D Lawrance. London: Oxford University Press, 1957.

Ebiyau, J., and J.O.E. Oryokot. "Sorghum (Sorghum Bicolor (L.) Moench)." In Agriculture in Uganda - Volume II: Crops, by Joseph K. Mukiibi, 42-54. Kampala: Fountain Publishers, 2001.

Ebiyau, J., T. Arach, and L.K. Serunjoji. "Commercialisation of sorghum in Uganda." Africa Crop Science Conference Proceedings, 2005: Vol 7: 695-696.

Lawrance, J.C.D. The Iteso - Fifty years of change in a nilo-hamitic tribe of Uganda. London: Oxford University Press, 1957.

Maathai, Wangari. The Challenge for Africa - A New Vision. London: William Heinemann, 2009.

Mugerwa, Yasiin. "Baganda, Banyankore, Basoga dominant tribes." Daily Monitor. March 26, 2016. (accessed May 5, 2016).

National Geographic Society. Rural area. 2016. (accessed 05 27, 2016).

Oryokot, J.O.E. "Finger millet (Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn." In Agriculture in Uganda - Volume II: Crops, by Joseph K. Mukiibi, 29-41. Kampala: Fountain Publishers, 2001.

Otim-Nape, G.W., G.N. Semakula, A. Bua, Y.K. Baguma, and S. Ogwal. "Cassava (Manihot esculenta)." In Agriculture in Uganda - Volume II: Crops, by Joseph K. Mukiibi, 1994-228. Kampala: Fountain Publishers, 2001.

Owaraga, Norah. "Adherence to social economic institutions and food security among Iteso of Uganda." Doctoral (PhD) Thesis , Kampala, 2012.

—. Conflicts in Uganda's land tenure. June 16, 2015. (accessed May 29, 2016).

Republic of Uganda. Consitution of the Republic of Uganda. Kampala: The Law Development Centre, 1995.

Teso - Uganda Maps. 2016. (accessed May 27, 2016).

The Sorghum Trust. SORGUM SA. 2016. (accessed May 29, 2016).

Tumusiime, James. Peoples and Cultures of Uganda - Fourth Edition. Kampala: Fountain Publishers, 2011.


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