It is possible that Museveni’s actions are indicative of a ‘pragmatic’ and visionary leader.
PART 2: A brief Irrigation History behind the President's act
By Eng. Kant Ateenyi Kanyarusoke
Agricultural irrigation is the act of controlled supply of water to plants at regular intervals to promote healthy growth in times of natural soil water scarcity. It can also be used to deliver other plant nutrients to the roots, if the soil is short of them.
Historically, it was common in relatively densely populated settlements that had severe and prolonged dry seasons. The oldest known systems being the labour intensive canal systems in ancient Mesopotamia (8,000 years ago) between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers or present day Iraq and Iran. The settlements enabled establishment of central authority that could mobilise the labour necessary to build the canal systems.
In Africa, about 8,000 years ago, the Faiyum oasis basin formed by one of the Nile delta's distributaries enabled surface irrigation that delivered both water and nutrients to the desert sands in annual floods.
The floods were believed to be tears of the goddess Isis underneath present day Aswan, annually mourning death of her brother-husband, god Osiris of the underworld. Homesteads manually built ditches and canals to share the annual ‘tears'.
A culture of respect for good neighbourliness developed such that it was so much a taboo to ‘steal' a neighbour's share of the ‘tears' that it was believed the act would be punished extremely harshly by the underworld gods - led by none other than Osiris himself.
Central authority on Egyptian canals/ditches as a public works activity is reported to have been established by the legendary and unifying king - Menes about 5,100 years ago. He is said to have motivated his subjects for the common cause of food security by participating in actual canal building as a demonstration to his people. He led from the fore. Then, he introduced taxation of peasants in form of labour for public works canal digging.
Elsewhere on our continent, the Nubians of Sudan designed and used a water wheel to extract water from the Nile and surface-irrigate their crops 4,000-5,000 years ago. The Niger basin peoples at the southern fringes of the Sahara used wet season flooding to irrigate their fields about 1,000 years later. In South Africa, white colonists introduced river diversion first for themselves and later in the 19th century, among black people ‘homelands' as smallholder schemes. This was to be followed by canal systems early in the 20th century.
The whites-run state owned the irrigated land but paternistically allocated it to ‘high performing' farmers. Poor performers were chased off the irrigated land. After formal establishment of Apartheid in 1948, it was desirable to the whites that the ‘Bantustan states' become self-reliant in as many areas as possible. Large scale and modern irrigation systems were introduced in these ‘states' not only to assure of food sufficiency but also to provide local employment, supposedly to stem the desire by blacks to move to ‘whites only' areas.
In Uganda, with good rains and soils in almost all land settled by cultivators and with a small population up to mid-20th century, there was little incentive to start irrigation schemes. However, in the pre-colonial period, the Bakiga had been cultivating on contour slopes with garden separation ridges formed by cleared weeds and stones to prevent soil erosion in Kigezi.
This was a rudimentary form of terrace irrigation, which worked well at the time. With a rapid population growth, colonial agricultural officers worked hard through local chiefs between mid-1920s and 1950s to transform the traditional forms to the present magnificent terraces as seen in Figure 2. As a result, Critchley and Brommer (2011) quote a 1949 government publication presenting Kigezi as ‘unrivalled' in soil preservation on the African continent at the time.
In 1964 and 1965 Mubuku and Doho irrigation schemes were set up in present day Kasese and Butalejja districts respectively. They suffered neglect in the country's dark years of mid 70s to early 80s but have now been rehabilitated.
Concluding the history bit of this series, it is possible that Museveni's actions are indicative of a ‘pragmatic' and visionary leader. Like Egypt's Menes, he may have been trying to motivate ‘his' people. If so, he needs to follow it up with enforcement actions like Menes did. It is also possible that like the supremacist whites of South Africa, he had ulterior selfish motives camouflaged in ‘good' actions. Whatever the case, it is up to Uganda residents to pick and use what is beneficial in his actions.
To do so profitably however, requires a bit of understanding of the science of his main message - drip irrigation. I explain this in the coming submissions.
The writer is a pan Africanist Engineering Don and CEO of Progressive Africa Solar Engineering Pty Ltd. in Cape Town