Written by MARY SERUMAGAWhen US ambassador Deborah Malac left
her office on January 19, 2018 to meet with Uganda’s disgraced minister
for foreign affairs Sam Kutesa, a number of options were open to her.
She could have raised the issue of the bribery allegations made
against him by the Department of Justice and which have led to the
arrest and remand of Patrick Chi-Ping Ho in New York. Ho is accused of
transmitting bribes through New York to Kutesa for the award of oil
She could have avoided Kutesa until the minister’s legal issues are
sorted out. Yet ambassador Malac did not choose to refuse the
invitation, if in fact her visit was by invitation. She proceeded to the
ministry where, failing to make a citizen’s arrest on behalf of the
Department of Justice, she held discussions with Sam Kutesa about
‘peace, security and development.’
To hold Ho responsible for bribery while
the other side of the transaction remains in the odour of sanctity with
the American administration is absurd. It is like charging a person
with murder while the alleged victim is known to be alive and well.
What this tells us is that Kutesa’s exoneration is already decided
without a trial. The value of Uganda’s cooperation in furthering
American foreign policy and corporate interests clearly outweighs any
embarrassment caused by Kutesa’s alleged incontinence. FOOD SECURITY
There is the matter of seeds. For some time, oligarchs in the global
agricultural industry have been striving for global control over food
and other agricultural production. Legislation admitting
genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) to Uganda was finally passed in
October 2017 after a six-year struggle with opposition to the scheme.
It is notable that the Act was passed in the absence of 25 members of
the Opposition who had been suspended for opposing the removal of
presidential age limits. Opposition to GMOs is mainly based on the lack
of adequate research in to the effects of consuming GMOs on human
health. There were calls for further research from Canada after an
entirely new disease related to GMO consumption was discovered.
GMO advocates argue that genetically modified plants are
substantively equivalent to the natural varieties they mimic. However,
as Nnimmo Bassey points out, if this were so, there would have been no
need to patent GMO seeds.
The second issue is the loss of biodiversity. If entire populations
discard indigenous seed (and livestock) varieties and become dependent
on a single species, their food security rises or falls with the success
of that one species. GMOs are an unknown quantity and their success is
Third, it is foreseeable that food security will be threatened by
Africa’s perennially weak currencies. Foreign exchange fluctuations
govern a farmer’s ability to profit from a planting season. To abandon
indigenous foods in favour of patented products engineered with foreign
money and whose patents are foreign-owned means farmers may be unable to
This is already happening with the several varieties of terminator
seeds, fertilizers and pesticides on the market. Carrying out research
locally is not an assurance. Uganda regularly runs out of reagents for
lab tests in hospitals and essential drugs. How will GMO research be
shielded from that reality?
Questioning voices are drowned out by those who have taken on
themselves the role of sole custodians of food security and improved
However, just as the GMO lobbyists were celebrating, Alliance for
Science reported that President Museveni had sent the biosafety act back
to parliament for review in January 2018. The matters he raised are
issues any bonafide representative of the people would have considered
the first time around.
Starting by saying, “I have heard that the following points may be
inimical to our future”, Museveni goes on to list areas of concern. The
issues of due diligence are ones that responsible food security and
environmental protection lobbyists have been pointing out from the
The need for: • Preservation of biodiversity in indigenous crops by construction of a gene bank, • Clarification of the ownership of patents for GMOs, • Identifiability of GMOs by compulsory and regulated labeling, •
Provisions for isolation of GMOs from indigenous seeds, including
protecting the environment from pollen and effluent from GMO farms. • Explicit prohibition of the use of biotechnology in human genetic engineering. • Penalties for non-compliance.
The president also requires responsibility for biotechnology to be
moved from the new ministry of Science and Technology to the president’s
office which is presumably better equipped to deal with the
geo-politics of GMO scientific research. That he should be making this
about-face after supporting the bill for six years is puzzling. THE GMO LOBBY
The introduction of GMOs in Uganda was vigorously supported by the Alliance for Science, a Cornell University-based group.
Their objective is said to be to give small-holder farmers access to
farming innovations. Alliance for Science was started in 2014 with a
$5.6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Other
funding comes from the American Endowment Foundation, USA Department of
Agriculture and a number of American private foundations and
The Gates Foundation invested a further $6.4 million to promote GMOs
among smallholders. They have since given $8.4 million to promote Quali
Basic Seed in Kenya to produce “high quality foundation seed for small
and medium enterprise (SME) companies on the [African] continent.”
The Gates Foundation is also funding the Realizing Increased
Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) programme together with the British
government. Bill and Melinda Gates’s impartiality in the debate is
questionable given that they are major shareholders in Monsanto, the
global giant in genetically-engineered seeds.
Uganda’s new legislation provides for local research in to
biotechnology and regulation of the dissemination of genetically
engineered material. Excitement has been expressed by Ugandan
agricultural researchers. But what is more likely to happen is that
foreign-owned seeds engineered by global oligarchs (in Uganda or
elsewhere) will continue to flood the market.
The world is not waiting for Ugandan seeds. The oligarchs are working
towards creating a market for their own patented seeds and co-opting
local researchers in their campaign. This requires large commercial
farms. They also need markets for pesticides listed elsewhere as health
hazards such as Roundup, popular in Uganda.
Phase II of food capture: plantation-scale commercial farming
Reliance on smallholdings is seen as a factor contributing to food
insecurity. Farmers rely on rain for water and there are too few feeder
roads to transport their produce to market efficiently. Post-harvest
technologies such as refrigerated vehicles are still minimal.
The provision of supporting infrastructure for agriculture was the
primary goal of the Uganda co-operative movement, a nationwide movement
of smallholder farmers. Their achievements were many including building
national infrastructure and providing social services until the movement
was derailed by bad national governance.
There are efforts to revive the cooperatives. They will have to
compete against corporate and mainly foreign-owned plantations now being
touted as the answer to food insecurity. Following decades of
ineptitude in supporting farmers with basic infrastructure, the
government are now implementing a programme of large farms run by
The only trouble with this type of commercial farming is that there
are people living on the proposed sites. At least 80 per cent of
Uganda’s population is dependent on smallholdings for its survival and
it needs room to grow. (Coincidentally, in addition to investing in
genetically engineered seeds, Bill and Melinda Gates are working with
the British government to slow population growth.)
Somehow, those populations will have to be transferred to urban areas
to make room for the plantations. The World Bank is on the case,
encouraging urbanization. Although there are some protected springs in
urban areas, for the majority to relocate to urban areas would mean to
purchase water daily by the 20-litre can.
Electricity is still only available to a small minority (38 per cent
in 2013). The urban population is mostly unemployed or under-employed
while the rural population grows food.
Other benefits of rural life include nutritious affordable and
uncontaminated food and free water for domestic use from natural
sources. Presumably, the GMO plan is for the expanded urban population
to be employed by the agro-industries that are expected to follow in the
wake of commercial farming.
Demand for Ugandan land is heightened by the animal industry. In
January 2018, the president offered twelve square miles, free of charge,
to one Dr Ahmed Eltigani Al Mansourie, an envoy of the Emir of Sharjan
in the United Arab Emirates, to set up a model dairy farm.
This follows the president’s visit to Qatar in 2017 during which he
promised to allocate land to potential investors. Dr Mansourie is said
to be in possession of a drug that will enable a single heifer to
produce fifty high-yield milk calves. With such a Midas touch, it is a
wonder Dr Mansourie needs free inputs from a developing country like
The GMO debate is a valid one. There may even be some value in GMOs.
However any meaningful consideration of the issues is undermined by the
knowledge that historically, non-elite Africans have benefitted little
from transactions between African leaders and super-powers, foreign
corporations and oligarchs.
With our leaders still willing to give away state resources (of which
biodiversity is one) it is doubtful that anything has changed.
Ambassador Malac’s recent show of support for Minister Kutesa seems to