Handheld hoe is lousy for digging and terrible even for tough palms

Pope Francis’ visit displaced the hoe debate and the attendant gazillion jokes and sneers only temporarily. We went back to the beloved hoe the moment the beloved Pope’s plane hit the chilly skies on November 29.

The hoe is such a potent prop for chatter on a country’s economy, especially if that country is poor yet has grand pretensions to socio-economic transformation. Chap, chap.

In ordering that 18 million hoes be given to six million households in the next financial year, President Museveni may never have counted on the hubbub his directive would cause coming as it did during a presidential contest. Much is being read with electioneering glasses on. No matter.

For a leader selling “steady progress”, for a leader saying he has brought Uganda to the point of economic take-off and therefore should be rewarded with yet another term in State House, the hoe suggests he may be selling stalled progress. He found the hoe when he arrived in January 1986. On the eve of January 2016, President Museveni is still embracing the handheld hoe.

There is plenty of room to use the hoe to chop to bits the President’s electoral message, and government record.

We still talk hoes not because hoes are not relevant (smallholder farmers are indeed asking for more of them), but rather that the government’s policies have made the hoe an inevitable, stable, enduring technology in our agricultural sector.

So, yes, the President’s supporters are right to say those criticising the directive are ill-informed about, and disconnected from the needs of everyday rural Uganda. They are mistaken. Or maybe not, they are simply twisting and deflecting denigration.

Not much of consequence is happening in agriculture. It is plenty of more of the same. Plan for modernisation of agriculture went under in the increasingly unproductive soils. Naads is incredibly still attracting money. Let’s wait and see what Operation Wealth Creation will produce. Probably not more hoes.

Let’s recall that in the 2011-12 national Budget speech, then Finance minister Maria Kiwanuka said: “To augment local production and encourage food security, import duty on hoes was remitted from 10 per cent to 0 per cent.” Right, we don’t even manufacture the all-important hoe.

When discussing government matters, I am happy to be ageist. What are those very old men doing in agriculture? A couple of ministers in there maybe smart people, but I don’t see much energy and fire and creativity. For a ministry that looks after a critical sector, Uganda’s ministry of Agriculture is extremely quiet.

No ripple. Just still water. The last time it was a in the news it was about headquarters moving from Entebbe to Kampala and then back again to Entebbe. I have no idea where it is located now. Who cares.

At this rate in another 30 years, the hoe will still be our good companion, stunting productivity, ruining our delicate palms.

Sometimes one needs to properly shake things up, forget political expediency. President Museveni can’t claim to infuse energy into his Cabinet when he returns people like Kirunda Kivejinja, Philemon Mateke and sticks with the likes of Moses Ali and Henry Kajura.

Age maybe wisdom, but age also may mean marriage to old ways even when the world one is operating in requires completely new energy and approach.

However, age and the right heart and the right brain can bring excitement. Look at Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria. He showed up and power outages disappeared overnight into the dark night.

No new power was produced. The shady people running the country’s power system stopped thieving on the job once the new leader made clear he would take no rubbish.

Dr Pombe Magufuli has just breathed new life into the Tanzanian state bureaucracy. I hear people who are being invited to the Cabinet are furiously declaring their disinterest. They say they are comfortable in their present occupations. Liars them all. It’s because being in Cabinet in Dodoma now means work (hapa kai tu), not just per diem. Did I say President Magufuli is in his 50s?

So, by any means have whoever you choose in your Cabinet. He or she, however, should add value to the country. Not just votes to the President’s tally.
Otherwise the hoe, that ancient implement that speaks to the peasantry that Mr Museveni says is a shining symbol of backwardness, still has plenty of life left in it in Uganda.

Mr Tabaire is the co-founder and director of programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala.


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