Ugandans marked Easter Sunday of 2021 like no past one, as Kampala’s Catholic archbishop, Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, was found unexpectedly dead on Saturday morning. His already prepared Easter sermon was read for him by Monsignor Charles Kasibante, standing in for the prelate who had left suddenly but permanently.
In his sermon, the dead bishop implored the state authorities to either release the “many young people” being held in detention without trial, or charge them in court as required by the constitution. The dead man’s sermon read in part: “Let us come together and soberly consider the reasons behind the restlessness, the grievances of our young people, and advance lasting solutions to the issues they are raising for the good of society."
While the departed Catholic prelate had distinguished himself as the voice for the lowly, those who have been looking up to him don’t have to wait for a replacement. His Anglican counterpart, Dr Stephen Kaziimba who was consecrated just a year ago, is already active in speaking for the dispossessed. And while the deceased Lwanga has been overtly political by addressing democracy and human rights issues, Kaziimba has incessantly addressed economic injustices for over the one year he has held office.
Kaziimba was enthroned Anglican Archbishop of Uganda just as the country was starting lockdown over Covid-19, and until the recent easing of restrictions, he has only been a ‘New Normal Shepherd’ delivering all his sermons via media. Though preaching ‘in space’, it is hard to recall any major sermon of Kaziimba which doesn’t address the land issue of grabbing.
With three quarters of Ugandans living directly off the land, land grabbing is definitely the most inhumane act being committed by some of the mighty in the land.
Kaziimba is quite a tall man but a humble one and an engaging speaker. He keeps wondering that if at his height he will only require two metres by one to be laid to rest, why anyone would clamour for square miles of land to their name, moreover by evicting fellow humans who depend on it for survival. His departed colleague Lwanga clearly suggested the solution in his posthumous sermon by calling for advancing “lasting solutions to the issues the young people are raising for the good of society”.
The issue that clearly keeps Kaziimba awake — land grabbing — is the denial of access to means of production for the majority. Of course the government has good plans to modernise the economy so that majority stops relying directly on land and get employed in industries and services.
But this cannot be realised fast enough in a country whose fertility is nearly the world’s highest, with every woman bearing seven children on average. Industrialisation will take longer than government plans because of injustice and criminality in land grabbing. Agriculture in which the country has comparative advantage, is regarded as output only rises from more land opening instead of higher yield per acre — thanks to poor farming methods.
Uganda is now believed to be more endowed with strategic minerals than previously believed. Just the other day, government contracted a foreign firm to survey minerals in the north eastern corner of the country called Karamoja sub-region at a fee of 20 million euros. Government takes two full days to collect that in total revenue.
Borrowed money will even take longer to collect and repay with interest. But then, as the survey nears completion, land grabbers will acquire land titles where the minerals are found, making it unaffordable for the government to compensate them before mining can start.
So while mining would be the quickest way to spur industrialisation, it won’t take off, and the youth whose unemployment numbers are growing rapidly will get angrier. If it takes off, industrialisation will at a huge cost because of the compensation, which would make the industries uncompetitive. Government can wave a magic to end the uncomfortable sermons of archbishops by stopping issuance of titles where minerals exist under public lands. This is not a new suggestion.
A couple of months back at the launch of the Inspectorate of Government 2020 report, a frustrated minister of Ethics Rev Simon Lokodo talked bitterly against such title acquisitions (understandably he hails from Karamoja). Then the newly elected MPs from Karamoja also decried land grabbing “by Kampala people”.
So rather than letting dead and living bishops annoy it, government can listen to government officials!
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]