When he seized power in Uganda, Museveni dabbled in barter trade then commodified goods, services and relationships

When he seized power in Uganda, Museveni dabbled in barter trade then commodified goods, services and relationships


In Uganda, commodification of anything in post-colonial period started with President Tibuhaburwa Museveni when he exhibited the political will and decision to commodify the food crops in the country to maximise money incomes from them.

The commodification of goods, services – and even relationships – was perhaps to be one of the fundamental changes Museveni envisaged for the country when he was sworn-in for the first time as president on January 26, 1986, following his capture of the instruments of power by force of arms on January 25 1986. 

He was anxious to use barter trade, an ancient method of exchange of tradeable goods as an alternative to the capitalist economy, which uses money as a medium of exchange. The capitalist economy is wheeled mainly by the international financial institutions (IFIs) of the United Nations (UN), also called the Bretton Wood institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The United States dollar is the principal money medium of exchange, which President Tibuhaburwa Museveni wanted to evade because he regarded it as a medium of exploitation and domination.

Let me explain right away what “to commodify something” or “commodification of something” means. To commodify something is to convert it from a public good, which is or was a socially, culturally, communally and publicly-owned good and a public right, to a tradeable commodity or economic good.

It is traded and exchanged between those entities engaged in the trade. Commodification is the process of commodifying something so that it becomes a tradeable or economic good. Whenever possible, I will use Uganda in the article to discuss what appears to be a complex, controversial and sensitive topic.

Complexity, controversy and sensitivity are all necessary resources in critical thinking and analysis intended to enhance our knowledge, wisdom and insights necessary to understand human affairs. 

The president, who has since become the beginning and end of everything in Uganda, reasoned that every cultivated crop of Uganda was a cash crop, just like coffee, and could be traded on world markets as such through barter trade, which does not involve money but tradeable goods, in the case of Uganda crops. He, therefore, preferred that Uganda would offer not only coffee, which was the major cash crop of Uganda then, but also food crops such as beans and maize as cash crops.

We had hitherto known, and taught generations of our children and grandchildren, that cash crops and food crops are not the same. Unfortunately, Uganda failed to satisfy the identified markets in Libya, Middle East and Cuba with barter tradeable goods, including beans and maize, and at other times they were attacked by moulds and spoilt before they reached their destinations.

The Barter Trade Scheme failed and the country relapsed into the labyrinth of the IFI’s economic blueprints and loans.

Today Uganda is firmly in the armpit of the IFIs, although China has also extended its ecological footprint through loans and projects, and the country’s debt which was in billions of shillings by the time Idi Amin was toppled from power by combined Obote and Museveni forces, is now over 80 trillion shillings after 37 years of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s rule, accompanied by untold impoverishment of once prosperous indigenous communities. 

Apparently, President Museveni has emerged as the most forthright advocate of the money economy preferred by the IFIs to dominate the global economic space perpetually. He has influenced a shift of the national economy and the national budget towards drawing every Ugandan into the global money economy. Therefore, calling himself a revolutionary is misleading because he has made a turnabout to serve the sterile culture of money. He has been doing frantic business with IFIs, which invest money in form of loans to make more money, while proliferating the lie that they are helping to reduce poverty.

The newfound friendship of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni with the IFI has pushed Uganda’s international debt to unprecedented levels (more than Ush80 trillion) amidst a rising sea of poverty – economic, political, social, financial, ecological, environmental, intellectual, ethical, moral, etc.

One school of thought argues that the programmes President Tibuhaburwa Museveni has initiated to combat poverty, such as Bonna Baggagawale, Operation Wealth Creation, Myooga and Parish Development Model, and based on giving money bonanzas to a select few – usually partisan ethnic and familial – are instead impoverishing indigenous Ugandan communities, which are not targeted at all.

Ultimately, they are serving to recreate the country as a labour reserve, which it was during the British colonial era, and to connect it to the rising and proliferating global modern slavery. There are claims that, just as traditional chiefs served as agents in the orthodox slave trade, many regime agents are participating in the modern slave trade as the sources of the slaves. 

Meanwhile the president is using the programmes of Bonna Baggagawale, Operation Wealth Creation, Myooga and Parish Development Model as tools for sowing the seeds of the money economy by committing to suck an increasing number of Ugandans into it although, by not targeting whole communities, he is leaving the majority out, preferring to have them as reserves of cheap labour. 

The president also sees his money bonanza-based schemes as tools with which he can combat poverty in Uganda. Of late he has been traversing the country, stopped only by Covid 19 from doing political work based on eliminating poverty using the Parish Development Model, which he believes is the latest means to build a money economy in Uganda.  However, as indicated above money economy is what the developed world and its IFI has used to impoverish humanity all over the world, confounded by China’s free-wheeling loans of late.

It remains to be seen how money economy will work differently in President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s Uganda. There is no doubt that that the 21st century is the era of commodification of water and recommodification of humanity, including the commodification of human body organs. 

We were there at the beginning of the Second Millennium when the developed world and its IFIs and corporations plotted to commodify water. This happened at the World Water Forum II and World Water Forum III. 

I travelled to Kyoto, Japan, for World Water Forum III in March 2003 together with three government ministers (Ruhakana Rugunda, then Minister of Internal Affairs, Daudi Migereko, then Minister of Energy, and the late Maria Mutagamba, then Minister of Water). Several leaders of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Uganda, including the executive director of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) Frank Muramuzi, also travelled to Kyoto. The then executive director of the intergovernmental regional organisation for nine countries called Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), Patrick Kahangire, was also there. It was during that forum that concrete resolutions were taken in favour of commodifying water, thereby effectively desocialising, deculturalising and decommunalising it. It henceforth denied many indigenous communities of the world their right to the sacredness of fresh water while also eroding their rights of resistance to commodification of a previously free public good – Fresh Water.

What this meant was that global corporate, national and regional economic and political interests could access and displace local and indigenous peoples from the freshwaters of the globe and pursue their interests with no restraint and constraints. We are today witnessing the political and economic interests of the rulers of Uganda threatening the freshwaters of western Uganda with exploitation of oil.

I want this article now to dwell on the recommodification of humanity to service the mushrooming modern slave trade as well as the commodification of human body organs to drive the lucrative organ trade nationally and globally. It is difficult to separate the two because many young men, women and children who are healthy could as well end up being sources of organs to renew the lives of the sick rich in the Middle East and elsewhere. The two processes thrive on the poverty of nations, and in a way are aspects of the ongoing commercialization of poverty.

Let me start with recommodification of humanity. I have variously touched on this evil in other articles. I call it recommodification of humanity because several decades ago, our African people were commodified and ferried to distant lands to power the rising economies of white settlers in the Americas and the neighbouring small islands, Australia and New Zealand. Arabs were the slave hunters who also participated centrally in the slave export trade.

Although the slave trade was stopped later on, slave labour did not immediately stop. It persisted in a subtle form. Indeed, it resurfaced in the USA to service its policy and practice of segregation (actually Apartheid) against its Black population. Around 1948, it reared its head in South Africa as Apartheid (separate development), where it was a political philosophy and a practical undertaking, resulting in the Bantustanisation of the country into ethnic entities called Bantustans, which the racist rulers granted sham independence so that they could pursue their own development separate from that of the racists. Slave labour from the Bantustans supported the white supremacist economy.

For God and my country – Uganda!                                                

  • A Tell report / By Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula, a former professor in the Department of Environmental Science of the Makerere University, Uganda
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