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How Colonialism Under-Developed Uganda

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Under development is the failure of a country to rich maturity.(WW.Rostows) Afro centric scholars have traced the roots of the present state of poverty and misery in Uganda way back to the early days of imposition of British rule who established a dis-articulated economy. Rodney (1981) stresses the negative social, economic, and environmental impacts of the colonial period when he states: “The only positive development in colonialism was when it ended” (Rodney:1981, 261). Rodney (1981) accurately deconstructs the European colonization of Africa as a fundamentally oppressive relationship which fostered African dependency and alienated the African peoples from their cultural identities, their traditional sociocultural organization, and their sustainable relationships with the environment

“More often than not, the term development is used in an exclusive economic sense-the justification being that the type of economy is itself an index of other social features” (Rodney: 1981, 4). This simply states that social, political and religious development all depend on whether or not the culture is economically developed. A culture’s economy is the driving force behind how quickly and extensively that culture develops. The economy is what finances development and the culture’s ability to progress. Rodney then goes on to state that “A society develops economically as its members increase jointly their capacity for dealing with the environment” (Rodney: 1981, 4). Uganda’s under-development therefore can trace its roots into colonial practices of condemning and complete erosion of traditional African culture.

The core of Rodney’s definition of development states that in order to develop, a society must understand the power of nature and technology. This point introduces the idea of using nature to boost the economy by means of production. Nature and technology must be applied hand and hand in order for a culture to fully benefit. Through understanding nature, a culture can invent different types of technologies that will allow for the use of nature as an economic resource. When a society has mastered this ability then that society is on its way to becoming fully developed (Rodney 4). It can be argued that any culture can increase their ability to live a better life through exploiting nature’s resources. If a culture is recognized for extending its control over nature, the culture is showing signs of economicĀ development (Rodney 4). The British did not give Ugandan chance to exploit their natural resources through appropriate technology. Instead, the made them primary producers of raw materials for British industries. This led to underdevelopment.

The British also constructed Uganda railway and a network of roads as the first step in the “process of domesticating nature” (Collett, 1987: 139), connecting preferential land exploitation, and the alienation of traditional East African societies from land and resources they had managed sustainably for millennia. The construction of the Uganda railway represented the beginning of British colonial efforts in East Africa, based on a sociocultural and ideological framework stressing the domination and “domestication” of the African “wilderness” – including human communities and the environment – and the imposition of an extractive and exploitative relationship benefiting British economic and technological expansion at the expense of East African sustainability of human and natural resources.

It is grimly appropriate that the old Ugandan Train Station is now surrounded by trash and poverty-stricken slums, physical manifestations of the impoverishment and environmental degradation imposed upon the lives of most East African peoples by the destructive models of British colonialism which had their origins in the railroads constructed out of this very train station. The British introduction of this parasitic model of human and environmental interactions was to create a colonial legacy of dependency, degradation, and impoverishment that was to prove disastrous for the Ugandan geography throughout the colonial period and the modern era.

To fully understand colonial power dynamics, ideological frameworks, and interactions with the people and the environment of the Ugandan geography, it is necessary to deconstruct some of the Western European, philosophical foundations that gave rise to the colonial mentality and agendas that the British imposed upon the East Africa Region. The most important philosophical foundations shaping British involvement in East Africa are contained within the male-dominant, Judeo-Christian traditions and the emerging capitalist ethical and socioeconomic frameworks embraced centrallyĀ as ideological and social models at the turn of the century in Western Europe and by the British in particular.

The philosophical implications of the Judeo-Christian tradition in Western Europe provided an important basis shaping British relationships with the natural world and with other human beings. Fundamentally, the Judeo-Christian tradition is based on a mechanistic and male-dominated world view that has historically been antagonistic to nature. This tradition embraces an anthropocentric position towards the environment, in which “God is the supreme being ruling over the rest of nature followed by the human male with women, children, mammals, non-mammal animal life, plant life and inanimate nature following in descending order. The tendency has been to bring nature under the control of humans for their use” (Wamalwa, 1991: 38). The development of scientific rationality out of this Judeo-Christian tradition has stressed the importance of a mechanistic consideration of the natural world devoid of spiritual reverence; the environment and its resources are useful in so far as they can be utilized and conquered by human beings, and not in their own right.

This conception of the physical world tends to invalidate the importance of the environment in itself, and has important consequences for human relationships with the natural world. Based on a cartesian, anthropocentric consideration of the world, the Judeo-Christian tradition and the development of scientific rationality out of this tradition encouraged human groups to dominate and exploit natural resources for their own benefit, disregarding the ecocentric respect of and reverence for the natural world that allowed human groups in East Africa to interact with the environment on a sustainable level.

The importance of the natural world as a source of exploitable and extractable resources to be utilized by human beings has tended to focus on short-term human gains at the expense of long-term, environmental sustainability. This is graphically illustrated in the massive deforestation and loss of species diversity in many parts of the United Kingdom historically, and in the continuing exploitation and extraction of resources from East Africa. Shiva (1995) stresses this point by suggesting that British colonization of the “South” was directly linked to a Judeo-ChristianĀ tradition seeking to dominate and conquer the sacredness of the natural world in favor of a more mechanistic world view: “Throughout the world the colonization of diverse peoples had at its root a forced subjugation of the ecological concepts of nature and of the Earth as the repository of the powers of creation” (51). The Judeo-Christian concept of nature as a set of resources to be dominated and exploited for human beings was imposed upon the East African geography throughout the British colonial period, with disastrous results leading to underdevelopment as Uganda was robbed of he raw materials were taken.

The mechanistic, exploitative tendencies of the Judeo-Christian tradition were “eminently suited to the exploitation imperative for the growth of capiatalism ” (Shiva, 1995: 51) that began to emerge with the modern industrial age during the turn of the century. Capitalist ethical and ideological frameworks were consistent with many aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition: the domination and exploitation of natural and human resources were important foundations of functioning capitalist systems, based on a mechanistic view of the world that quantified these resources in terms of their potential for yielding increasing profits and economic expansion. In the context of the globalization of capitalist economies and dynamics throughout the “North” and “South” in the modern era, the importance of capitalist socioeconomic processes and ideological frameworks cannot be stressed enough.

Schnaiberg’s and Gould’s (1994) analysis of capitalist dynamics and tendencies is extremely instructive of ways in which emerging capitalist ethics and structural principles in England at the turn of the century provided an important framework for determining ways in which British colonialism manifested itself in the East African context. According to Schnaiberg et. al., capitalist reproduction is based on “the assumption that unlimited economic expansion is desirable possible, and necessary” (Schnaiberg, Gould 1994: 199), and this economic expansion requires increasing exploitation and extraction of natural and human resources to make the continued reproduction of capiatalism possible. Given the lack of resources and the small land surface area of the United Kingdom, British colonial activities in Uganda and Africa at large were largely driven by the need to expand economic growth and resourceĀ exploitation in other continents to preserve the reproduction of capitalist dynamics in England.

Intrinsically related to this expansion of capitalist markets – and to the exploitation and degradation of East African resources – were the expanding technological capacities and economic wealth of Britain (and increasingly other “Northern” countries in Western Europe and in America): “The colonialists’ primary goal was to enrich themselves and their nations by removing anything of value from the South and repatriating that wealth to the North. The plunder of the wealth of the South was essential in subsidizing the development of Europe and the industrial revolution” (166).

As Schnaiberg et. al. (1994) correctly observes, the capitalist ethic, in connection with the Judeo-Christian tradition, were fundamentally important philosophical foundations justifying British exploitation of resources, oppression of human communities, and extraction of wealth from East Africa to be used for the benefit of British sociocultural and economic development. These philosophical foundations were extremely important in determining the dominating and exploitative agendas of British colonization in Uganda, and the ways in which the sustainable strategies of traditional societies and indigenous cultural groups in East Africa were disrupted and disregarded in favor of the increasingly destructive and oppressive tendencies of the British colonial framework.

Although most authors agree that the colonial period of East African history from the 1880s to the 1960s was economically and ecologically disastrous for East Africa, due to colonial mismanagement and misunderstanding of human and ecological systems within the East African Region, many fail to make the important connections between colonial management decisions, the ideological frameworks and beliefs systems of the British, and the socioeconomic and ethical principles of capitalist dynamics that continue to be directly involved in environmental and human disasters in the today. Many authors contend that the colonization of East Africa included some “positive” results, such as increased technological innovations, decreased mortality rates, and economic expansion.

The critical analyses of Davidson (1992), Jarrett (1996), and especially of Rodney (1981), demonstrate effectively that the justification for the colonial process in East Africa on the basis of its “positive” results proves quite hollow, short-sighted, and misguided on closer observation. Although technological innovations, improved infrastructure, decreased mortality rates, and economic expansion did take place during the colonial era, these “positive aspects” of colonialism did not benefit the majority of the people or the natural resources of East Africa; “the most convincing evidence as to the superficiality of the talk about colonialism having “modernized” Africa is the fact that the vast majority of Africans went into colonialism with a hoe and came out with a hoe” (Rodney, 1981: 219). The contention that British colonization contributed “positively” to East African development is not only “completely false” (Rodney, 1981: 205), given the evidence of poverty and environmental destruction throughout the East Africa Region during the colonial and postcolonial periods, but fails to take into account the philosophical foundations of a dominating Judeo-Christian tradition and an exploitative and oppressive capitalist framework, and the ways in which the British related to the East African people and environment during the colonial and postcolonial periods.

These philosophical foundations are intrinsically connected with the purposes of British colonization, the agendas of the British, and continuing trends of domination and oppression in East Africa. Although the British colonial agendas in East Africa were complex and numerous, the most important agendas can be divided into the categories of: the institutionalization and reproduction of capitalist dynamics; the imposition of conservation and development models based on British philosophies and experience; and the management and restructuring of East African human-environmental interactions according to British traditions and ideologies that would pave way for fully fledged exploitation and plunder.

The most important root of underdevelopment in Uganda by the British was the institutionalization and reproduction of capitalist dynamics of production, resource exploitation, and economic growth. Marx (1996) correctly observes that the capitalist socioeconomic system is prone to encountering crisisĀ situations in reproduction, as economic growth and profits begin to decrease with a lack of new markets of production and expansion. To survive, capiatalism must overcome these crisis situations by finding new ways of expanding and intensifying production, increasing economic growth, and extending profit margins into new or existing markets (although this constantly creates greater crises in capitalist production that are more difficult to resolve. The main reason that Britain began to occupy colonies throughout the “South” at the turn of the century was because it was experiencing these crisis situations that Marx (1996) speaks of.

To reproduce capitalist dynamics and to steadily increase wealth and technological gains for Britain at the expense of Uganda after resources and markets had been exhausted in England, it was necessary that the British colonize regions such as East Africa to create new markets for capitalist production. Rodney (1981) recognizes the profound importance of this in his discussion of African underdevelopment: “It is fairly obvious that capitalists do not set out to create other capitalists, who would be rivals. On the contrary, the tendency of capiatalism in Europe from the very beginning was one of competition, elimination, and monopoly” (Walter Rodney : 1981, p. 216). Rodney’s point explains decisively why colonialism in East Africa cannot be considered in terms of intended “positive” benefits.

From the beginning, the capitalist agenda of the British directed colonial exploitation and extraction of resources for the sole benefit of the white settlers in Kenya and Tanzania and primarily for use in England to make possible the machinations of technological and economic progress during the industrial revolution. The exploitation of East African peoples and the environment, the extraction of human and natural resources, and the monopoly control over exports and imports, was organized from the beginning to work for the British at the expense of localized control of resources and the maintenance of self-sustaining livelihoods for the vast majority of the East African people.

A couple of examples serve to illustrate the point that colonialism represented the capitalist interests that the British wished to preserve for themselves by creating and maintaining a dependency relationship with theĀ human groups of the East Africa Region. Davidson (1992) identifies the “carving up” of Africa into European colonies in 1895 as a significant step towards promoting the formation of a dependency relationship between “North” and “South.” In Uganda, the identification of territorial boundaries served to solidify private ownership of resources by British interests. The territorial boundaries were specifically designed as a strategy of divisiveness disrupting solidarity between indigenous East African groups, and tensions between agriculturalists and pastoralists – such as the Bahima and Bairu – were taken full advantage of by the British: the Bahima were given preferential treatment because their agricultural activities and their willingness to submit to colonial and capitalist authority (unlike the Bairu) fit more effectively into the capitalist dynamics of British socioeconomic organization.

According to Davidson (1992), the application of the nation-state model to the African continent, and the purposeful manipulation of cultural tensions between human groups in Africa, proved useful for European interests in exploiting natural and human resources without having to face a unified movement of resistance from African peoples. For the East African peoples, the results were disastrous; the nation-state model cut off peoples such as the Karamajong from important resources such as watering holes and grazing lands across state boundaries, and the colonial fostering of competition over resources and tensions between cultural groups alienated peoples – especially pastoralists and hunters and gatherers – from accessibility to resources, involvement in conservation and development strategies, and alternatives to increasing impoverishment .

“The transfer to Africa of non-African farming and technology” (Davidson, 1992: 217) also served the colonial agenda of under-developing Africa, Uganda inclusive by preserving an exploitative dependency relationship between British and East African peoples. Juma (1991) observes that “the East African agricultural sector is a product of the colonial economy which was largely based on exotic genetic resources… The fact that most of the crops were exotic guaranteed control over their production knowledge and ensured that local labor would be available to the colonial farmers” (126-127). The British colonial administration Uganda actively shaped theĀ agricultural sector so that it was dominated by “exotic genetic resources” that the British could supply and control through export and import markets. Wheat, cereals, and livestock were examples of exotic resources imposed upon the East African people and environment by the British colonial system. These resources helped the British develop a monopoly over cash crops and agricultural production, and further reinforced a dependency relationship with African pastoralists and agriculturalists by forcing them to buy, produce, and sell resources that they could not control locally or self-sustainably.

As with the imposition of the nation-state model, the “exotic genetic resources” imposed upon the East African environment proved disastrous in the East African context: the “exotic resources” – such as wheat and cotton – drain the fragile soil fertility of semi-arid areas and are much less resilient than local resources. But in the short term, colonial control of these resources helped the British expand capitalist markets through the forceful imposition of these markets on East African peoples; the exotic resources were environmentally destructive for the “South” but economically viable for the “North.” It has become increasingly clear in the postcolonial era that the preservation of dependency relationships serves the capitalist interests of the “North” by providing resources and markets that can be exploited to the benefit of “Northern” nations. However, the long term effect of this preservation of dependency for the East African geography is that human and ecological systems were increasingly stressed by degradation and impoverishment.

Perhaps the most destructive aspect of British colonialism in the long term was the internalization of the contradictions of the colonial, capitalist-centered world view by the East African people; the profound sociocultural disruption of traditional systems of human and environmental management realized over the course of the colonial period radically changed the ways in which many Ugandan peoples were capable of relating to each other and instead created enmity among the people in form of ethnic differences for example the Baganda and Banyoro, Bairu and Bahima who could no longer relate to one another harmoniously.

Many Ugandans also could not co-exit harmoniously due to Increasing population pressures (due to increasing food supplies, medicinal supplies, and sedenterization of populations) and the imposition of an exploitative and extractive model of capitalist-based socioeconomic organization forced many East African peoples to abandon strategies and lifestyles that had been sustainable for them during the pre-colonial era, in favor of urban wage labor and intensive agricultural production based on the dependency relationships designed by British colonial efforts in East Africa. By the time East African peoples began to resist the oppressive and dominating dynamics of British colonial occupation of Tanzania and Uganda in the 1940s and 1950s, the disruption of traditional, ideological and sociocultural frameworks of many East African peoples effected by colonial restructuring of the East African geography had been profound enough that Ugandans embraced the realities of the colonizing mentality as their own.

As Davidson (1992) suggests, “Against the 1950s leaders of nationalism, the real count is not that they failed to foresee the traps and snares that lay ahead, but that they all too easily accepted what was offered them. They accepted the colonial legacy – whether of frontiers or of bureaucratic dictatorship – on the rash assumption that they could master it. But as things turned out, it mastered them” (Davidson : 1992, 181), because they had accepted the realities of the colonial and capitalist mindset responsible for their own subjugation and oppression; they had swallowed the framework of their own dependency, and this had profound effects in connection with developmental and conservation failures, and the increasing, poverty, ecological and human crises in East Africa, throughout the modern era.

The privatization of land imposed by the British colonial system was important in providing a foundation for the capitalist ownership of East African resources, and proved disastrous to the human and ecological systems of Uganda. Because East Africa was colonized with the intention of creating capitalist markets and resources for the British, the privatization of land in East Africa mainly benefited overseas interests in England. The most productive and fertile areas – such as the “White Highlands” at the base of Mt. Kenya and outside of Nairobi – were reserved for white settlers to useĀ as prime farming and grazing land, a process that proved disastrous for traditional Kenyan and Tanzanian socieities that had relied on the resources of the “Highlands” for agriculture and rangelands, especially when drought conditions destroyed more fragile resources in semi-arid regions. The privatization of land through “the individualization of land tenure” (Kanogo, 1991: 10) proved to be alienating and ecologically destructive, not only by denying indigenous peoples important resources and forcing them to overuse more fragile landscapes, but also because land privatization invalidated the potential for traditionally sustainable methods of resource use – such as shifting cultivation by agriculturalists and rotational use of rangelands by pastoralists.

The colonial centralization of the East African economy within urban centers was based on the emerging, industrial notion of the importance of “town” and “country” in England (Davidson, 1992), in which the towns served as focal points for the manufacture and production of resources from the rural areas in the country. The capitalist stimulation of economic growth involved in this process often left rural laborers and wage laborers in the Ugandan towns in abject poverty, a situation that was repeated on a larger and more destructive scale when the notion of “town” and “country” was transplanted to East Africa with British colonization. The development of East African cities – such as Jinja, Kampala, Mbale was intended to provide more effectively for the capitalist exploitation, extraction, and exporting of resources to England, in line with British colonial agendas of economic growth and capitalist market expansion.

For the majority of Ugandan people, though, the imposition of the “town” and “country” model was economically and culturally destructive. The construction of East African metroplises alienated the rural communities and robbed them of local, natural resources and the capacity to live self-sustainably. The traditional systems of ecological and social sustainability were further disrupted by the “town” and “country” model because the emergence of cities and of wage labor drew an increasing population of males away from rural areas and into the cities (a process that is continuing in East Africa today), especially as the privatization of land ownership made rural life less sustainable and accessible for a large percentage of rural families.

The migration of men from rural communities “to meet metropolitan demands during the colonial period played havoc with the environment” (Kanogo, 1991: 11) because women were forced to take on the burdens of agricultural production and land management that had traditionally been divided between men and women. Women’s work in rural communities was considered “uneconomic” and was invalidated by a patriarchal colonial system that reinforced the gender divisions in traditional Uganda society that prevented women from owning land and managing resources without the consent of fathers, brothers, or husbands. The alienation and domination of women in East Africa prevented them from effectively and sustainably managing local, natural resources, a process that has become increasingly destructive for the environment in the modern era (Joekes et. al., 1995).

A clear look at the nature of colonial education also shows British intentions to under develop Uganda. The British government first of all neglected Education to the segregative and chaotic missionary management. This produced half baked, submissive colonial Ugandans that could only work as colonial facilitators. Such education made Ugandans participate in the their own humiliation and exploitation. It also produced Ugandans divided along religious lines. Professor Ado Tiberondwa, in his book Missionaries as Agents of Colonialism narrates how the situation was between protestant and catholic schools. He compares a foot ball match between the two categories of schools to real war that could result into loss of lives. Such was the nature of colonial education. Even upon the recommendation of Phelps Stocks’s commission that colonial government should fund and direct education, little attention was paid to the sector.

British mismanagement of the East African people and environment took many other forms as well. British colonial planning and restructuring of human and natural relationships in East Africa “introduced intensive farming, plantation crops, and commercial livestock husbandry… These developments exerted more pressure on the soils, interrupted the stability of farming practices and in fact fragmented land into smaller pieces, which in many instances reduced the ‘fallow farming methods’ to nil” (Korir-Koech, 1991:22). Ultimately, these “developments” proved disastrous because they were based on an inadequate colonial understanding, of the dynamics of human-environmental interaction in East Africa as they existed in traditional societies, and the complexities of East African ecosystems. Plantation and cash crops destroyed soil fertility and failed to provide local peoples with nutritious food resources.

In the final analysis, the unsustainability and the inherently dominating tendencies that the British colonial capitalist system inflicted on Uganda proves to be irreconcilable with a “cure” for the poverty and environmental destruction in East Africa. Once again, an extension of Marx’s (1996) analysis of crisis situations reinforces this point. The finite resources of the planet “must ultimately impose limits to economic growth” (Schnaiberg et. al., 1994: 202), and this creates economical and human crisis situations that are proving more and more difficult to overcome. East Africa’s degradation and impoverishment illustrate the reality of these crisis situations today, and it is clear that an exploitative, self-destructive mode of socioeconomic reproduction cannot sustain itself much longer as East African resources are approaching the brink of collapse. “If ever increasing global poverty and unemployment are not sufficient to bring the assumption of economic expansion into question, the collapse of the global ecosystem on which all life depends will” (Schnaiberg et. al., 1994: 202).

The above are the roots of underdevelopment that colonialism ushered in Uganda. Even though Euro-centric scholars contest some of them reasoning that why has Uganda and Africa at large failed to take-off after many decades of self-rule, the Afro-centric scholars should not be swayed away from the fact that colonialists did plunder too much that it has been too hard for the region to recover from the damage and yet neo-colonialism still subjugates Uganda.


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