Back to Front Page

Museveni’s Poetry of the Nile

Museveni’s Poetry of the Nile


Amen Teferi 07-06-17

Most often than not, I find the speech of H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda, to be cogent and it is more so when he opts to deliver an unscripted speech, where he generously embellish his talks with wits and adages drawn from Uganda’s folkloric wisdom. When he made the speech at the first ever Nile basin head of State Summit held, on the 22nd June, 2017, in Entebbe, Uganda, I dare say, Museveni was the best of himself. I must ask his apology for I have somehow “mutilated” in the interest of space. Therefore, if you wish to read the full unadulterated version of the text (I recommend) you must start goggling the internet right now. 

At the Summit mentioned above, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni had inspiringly argued that the prosperity for all the Nile basin countries is the best way to protect the Nile and the other river system of Africa. On the Nile Basin Heads of State Summit held in Uganda, Museveni pointed out that the biggest threats to the Nile and, possibly, other Rivers in Africa are the following:

(i)             The growing population of Africa;

(ii)           The lack of electricity, especially in the Tropics where the two branches of the Nile originate from;

(iii)         Lack of industrialization in the Tropics;

(iv)          The continued reliance on primitive agriculture for subsistence in the tropics; and

(v)            The destruction of the environment upon which the Nile depends.

Elucidating his first point he said the population of Africa was 133 million in 1900. It is now projected to grow to 2.4 billion by 2050.  Whereas, the population of Uganda was 1.8 million by 1900 and it is now 40 million.

According to Museveni, bigger population, by itself, is not a problem. He rather considered bigger population to be a blessing. “After all, Africa is almost 12 million square miles (the exact figure is 11.73sq miles or 30.22 million sq. km). This means Africa is 12 times the size of India and four times the size of China. Yet China and India have been having a bigger population than Africa until recently” ” said Museveni. 

Recapping these facts he concludes: “the problem is not a bigger population.” Then, Museveni argued, “The problem is the continued under-development of that population. It is the continued pre-industrial, pre-capitalist and traditional characteristics of this population that are the problem.”

He then asserts that; “the modest increase of the population, alongside the continued under-development of the population, becomes a problem by default.” According to Museveni, bigger and under developed population can cause disturbance to the eco-system of the Nile River system. He raised the case of China, and tried to show that bigger population size is actually a big advantage. The Chinese are hard working entrepreneurs, scientists and consumers too, hence they are blessed to China.

The second point he raised was the phenomenon of population increase visa-vise the scarcity of electricity in the Nile Basin. To support his case, he mentioned that Uganda’s electricity consumption per capita, in comparison with countries in the first world, is low. Uganda’s electricity consumption per capita in the year 2012 was 69kwh and today it is 130 kWh.  As Museveni has pointed out after the completion of the Karuma, Aswa and Isimba dams in 2018/19, the consumption of Uganda per capita will go up to 500kWh. Some of the countries in the Nile Basin have gotten as low as 28kwh per capita, while the USA and Norway, on the other hand, have got kWh per capita of 12,973kwh and 23,000kwh respectively.

Then “What does this mean?” Museveni asked.

He answered the question he has raised and went on to say, “This means the cutting of trees and the destruction of the other bio-mass. Uganda is destroying 32 billion cubic meters of the bio-mass per annum. The destruction of the bio-mass interferes with the transpiration of moisture from the soil to the atmosphere which helps in the formation of rain. The only way to stop the cutting of trees is to electrify all the Nile Valley countries, so that the population is weaned from using the bio-mass as fuel to the use of electricity.”

Museveni continued to argue: “Abundant and cheap electricity will also mean something else. It will mean the lowering of the costs of production in the Nile Valley, which will, in turn, mean the attraction of massive investments into the area.  That will enable us in tackle the third of the four problems stated above. This is the lack of industrialization in the Nile valley.”

He reminds us that “Lack of industrialization in the Nile valley means that too many people are still in primitive agriculture and fewer people are in industry, services, ICT and the public services.” Fronting the case of Uganda, he said “today Uganda’s agriculture accommodates 68.4% of the country’s labor force… the 40 million acres of arable land that Uganda has, do not need all these millions of people to produce efficiently. Much less numbers are needed to rationally optimize production. The crowding in agriculture is, therefore, part of what is called disguised unemployment. Too many people in primitive agriculture put a lot of pressure on the forests, the mountain ranges, the river banks and… the wetlands etc.”

They put pressure on these elements of the environment because the increasing population is ever in search of more and more land for agriculture. This is because the yield per acre is low compared to the potential.  ... More and more land for agriculture, but for low yields.

Museveni tells us that “The crowding of the population in agriculture is on account of the lack of alternatives. The other sectors: industry, services, ICT and the Public Services are under-developed.  If these sectors were developed, the population would shift from agriculture to those sectors. In the USA, the percentage of the population that is in agriculture is only 2%.  That is the same case with UK.”

Then he sent his message home, “With the electrification of the Nile Valley countries, industrialization is possible. With the industrialization, it is possible for the bulk of the population to migrate from agriculture to industry, services, ICT and the public services.”

Industrialization, the development of the services, ICT and public services sectors, would, therefore, lead to the issue raised on “IV,” i.e. ending of the reliance of a large portion of the population on primitive agriculture.

“Agriculture would, then, retain fewer people that would farm scientifically and produce much higher yields of food and raw-materials of which our potential is mind-boggling. The shift of the bulk of the population from agriculture to industry, services, ICT and Public Service would, now, address the fifth factor” -the problem of the environmental degradation.

Apart from the global warming caused by what he called “dirty factories,” in other parts of the world that increase the carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere, “locally there also the big damage to the environment that has gotten very serious implication for the Nile.”

What are those damages to the environment?

Museveni goes on saying: “The damages are many; but the ones with implications for the Nile are two: invading and destroying the wetlands and destroying the forests. There are also other damages, e.g. causing silting of the water bodies because of soil erosion, etc.  However, for now, let us concentrate on these two: destruction of wetlands and forest.”

“According to our scientists,” he said “40% of the rain Uganda receives comes from the local wetlands, water bodies and forests through evaporation and transpiration.  Evaporation is caused by plants sucking water from the soil or from the water bodies and throwing it into the atmosphere as moisture.  This is what gives us the 40% of our rainfall.”

Then he continues to give us clarity by contrast. He compared the annual rainfall of the West Nile and the Acholi regions with Karamoja region. The West Nile and the Acholi regions are found on the same latitude as Karamoja region. However, the Karamoja region only receives 25.50 inches (650mm) of rain on average while the other two receive 55.9 inches (1420mm) per year.

What is the cause of the difference?

Museveni tells us that the difference comes from the damages done to “the swamps in South Sudan and the forest in Congo and Western Uganda.” Hence, he argued, “the swamps in South Sudan and the forest in Congo and Western Uganda,” Put another way, the water courses that are erroneously called wetlands (entobazi, ebitoogo, ebisharara, etc.) are, in fact, tributaries of the Nile. “God covered these tributaries with massive mats of papyrus and other swamp grasses such as ebigugu (……….) in order to also manufacture the 40% of our rain.” Therefore, he concludes, destroying the swamps in South Sudan and the forest in Congo and Western Uganda means destroying the 40% of Uganda’s rain. 

“By working together and causing the socioeconomic metamorphosis in the Nile Valley, we can avoid all this as we work with our Paris Conference partners to deal with the other environmental challenges ─ the greenhouse gases, etc. All the Nile Valley countries should be First World countries to enjoy high income prosperity as we protect the Nile.”

Museveni called on the head of States the Nile basin countries address the issue of the Nile strategically. “If you start from a parochial strategic stand point of what Uganda alone should get from the Nile without remembering that Uganda’s prosperity can be greatly assisted by the prosperity of the other Nile countries, you may come to different conclusions than if you know that the prosperity of the other countries greatly assist your own.”

He then wraps up his poetry with the following “stanzas.”

“That brings me to my last question. In terms of one’s prosperity, what is more important, the natural resources or the human resources?  My own answer is unequivocal.  The human resource is even more important than the natural resources.  Do we need examples?  We have quite a few.  Japan, China and South Korea are countries without huge natural resources but with huge human resources.  Is it by accident that in terms of the size of the GDP, China is no. 2, Japan no. 3 and South Korea no. 11 globally?

“Have we sought of how to use the human resource of the Nile Basin of 550 million persons for mutual prosperity as we look at the natural resources God gave us?  Uganda is already benefitting a lot from selling exports to the brother countries of the EAC and Congo and also buying from them.  Yet, this is just the tip of the ice-berg.  The potential is much greater.”

We need some more, man!

Back to Front Page