Sunday, May 15, 2022

In 1986, at the start of his presidency, President Yoweri Museveni made a stopover at a fuel station in Kawempe to get his car tyre fixed and noticed that apart from tyre repairs and re-fuelling vehicles, there weren’t other services offered. When he next appeared at a public function he recounted his story having waited over an hour without refreshments offered to clients. He then advised fuel station and garage owners to establish restaurants so that when clients make stopovers they can refresh and quench thirst. Today, it’s a standard that every station however small doesn’t just serve fuel and repair tyres, but have fully-fledged shopping malls many working 24/7.

This anecdote is relevant in light of the blitz rubbishing his recent comment on International Labour Day May 1, that if bread, or prices of imported goods were out of reach, and substitutes are locally available, Ugandans should shift their consumption giving cassava as an example. Museveni’s advise isn’t falling from the skies because he has publicly confessed he doesn’t eat fish, chicken, rice, pork, and avoids processed foods like bread. Instead, he eats ground nuts, millet, cassava, matooke, potatoes, beans and beef especially smoked in our traditional way. Knowing his health consciousness, there’s no reason to doubt him on this matter. 

Many supposedly enlightened Ugandans, opposition MPs inclusive, took to the media and other platforms to lambast Museveni as being out of touch with economic realities, and insinuated he was mocking Ugandans like Queen Marie Antoinette allegedly told the French in 1879, to ‘eat cakes if they cannot afford bread’ sparking the violent revolution that overthrew Louis  XVI. In Uganda today, wheat is neither a major crop nor is bread a staple in family dishes. Only Sebei and Kigezi grow some wheat leaving much of it to be imported, hence price is bound to rise whenever adverse factors emerge.

Bashing Museveni exposed how shallow the critics of his preposition are. While many could have read the 1789 French Revolution, most, perhaps didn’t understand Antoinette because cakes were are and more expensive than bread, unlike cassava in Uganda. The runaway commodity prices is a global phenomena induced mostly by two years of Covid-19 lockdown, sustained adverse climate change, and US generated tensions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Middle East that have gushed the world including Uganda. As everyone should know, Africa is very vulnerable even to the slightest shocks because it hasn’t built formidable centres of gravity for resilience.

Museveni’s counsel that Ugandans could substitute wheat and other imported foods with locally available cassava, matooke, yams, and potatoes doesn’t in any way demean our dignity, or show that doesn’t care and appreciate the hard times Ugandans are going through. To the contrary, it demonstrates that he, in fact, understands Uganda and global dynamics much deeper than his critics because these foods are readily available, supply sustainable, fresh, organic, more nutritious, cheaper or affordable, and we are accustomed to them.

Cassava is a food security crop in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, DR Congo, and grown on a much larger scale for domestic and commercial use in West Africa with Nigeria leading at 60 million tons annually compared to Uganda’s 3.5 million. It grows relatively well even in poor soils, rains and crop management which are the main characteristics of our agriculture. Many eat cassava for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as snacks in many forms. Many of the critics actually eat it with molokonyi, pork, goat, or chicken meats at many nooks, and certainly increasing its consumption supports BUBU instead of donating foreign exchange to Russia or Ukraine, the major producers and exporters of wheat.

According to available food science evidence, cassava is richer in Vitamin C (20%) and B6 (6%), carbohydrate (40gms), calorific value (191), proteins (1.5gm), fats (3gms), folate (6%), fibre (2gms), copper (12%) thiamine (7%),  potassium (6%), magnesium (5%), and niacin (5%), than bread that Ugandans appear to hype about. White wheat and bread that is most common on the Ugandan market is inferior to cassava. Ugandans should know they can bake high grade cakes, crackers, biscuits, bread and other confectionaries from natural and organic cassava fresh from their gardens, and not only from imported wheat. Anyone needing proof can ask former IGP Gen. Kale Kayihura who’s modestly in this business. Apart from being food, cassava is a commercial crop along its many value chain such as alcohol, soap, sanitiser, fuel, starch and animal feed.

Today, Uganda supplies cassava although modestly unprocessed form to Kenya, Rwanda, and South Sudan. In Burundi and Rwanda, cassava leaves is delicious vegetable commercially traded in markets. Back in 2012-15 farmers in Acholi, Lango and Teso earned handsomely from cassava sold from the gardens to traders exporting to South Sudan. Now, those who even didn’t know that Uganda and East Africa doesn’t earn much from cassava which they grow, yet spend so much dollars importing wheat from Russia and Ukraine, need to show some humility and cease their misdirected fire against President Museveni.