‘Commodifying’ or ‘commodification of something’ means to convert it from a public good, which is or was a socially, culturally, communally and publicly-owned good and a public right, to a tradable commodity or economic good.
It is traded and exchanged between those entities engaged in the trade. Commodification is the process of commodifying something so that it becomes a tradable or economic good. Whenever possible, I will use Uganda in the article to discuss what appears to be a complex, controversial and sensitive topic. Complexity, controversy and sensitivity are all necessary resources in critical thinking and analysis intended to enhance our knowledge, wisdom and insights necessary to understand human affairs.
In Uganda, commodification of anything in post-colonial period started with President Yoweri Museveni when he exhibited the political will and decision to commodify the food crops of the country to maximise money income from them. This was perhaps to be one of the fundamental changed he envisaged for the country when he swore in for the first time as President on 26th January 1986, following his capture of the instruments of power by force of arms on January 25 1986. He was anxious to use barter trade, an ancient method of exchange of tradable goods, as an alternative to the capitalist economy, which uses money as a medium of exchange. The capitalist economy is wheeled mainly by the International Financial Institutions -IFIs of the United Nations – UN, also called the Bretton Wood institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – IMF. The United Stated Dollar is the principal money medium of exchange, which President Museveni wanted to evade because he regarded it as a medium of exploitation and domination.
The President, who has since become the beginning and end of everything in Uganda, reasoned that every cultivated crop of Uganda was a cash crop, just like coffee, and could be traded on world markets as such through barter trade, which does not involve money but tradable goods, in the case of Uganda crops. He, therefore, preferred that Uganda would offer not only Coffee, which was the major cash crop of Uganda then, but also food crops, such as beans and maize, as cash crops.
We had hitherto known, and taught generations of our children, and grandchildren, that cash crops and food crops were not the same as food crops. Unfortunately, Uganda failed to satisfy the identified markets in Libya, Middle East and Cuba with barter tradable goods, including beans and maize, and at other times they were attacked by molds and spoilt before they reached their destinations. The Barter Trade Scheme failed and the country relapsed back in the cobweb of the IFI’s economic blueprints and loans.
Today Uganda is firmly in the armpit of the IFIs, although China has also extended its ecological footprint through loans and projects, and the country’s debt which was in billions of shillings by the time Idi Amin was toppled from power by combined Obote and Museveni forces, is now over 80 trillion shillings after 37 years of President Museveni’s rule, accompanied by untold impoverishment of once prosperous indigenous communities. Apparently, President Museveni is emerged as the most forthright advocate of the money economy preferred by the IFIs to dominate the global economic space perpetually. He has influenced a shift of the national economy and the national budget towards drawing every Ugandan into the global money economy. Therefore, calling himself a revolutionary is misleading because he has made a turnabout to serve the sterile culture of money. He has been doing frantic business with the IFIs, which invest money in form of loans to make more money. While proliferating the lie that they are helping to reduce poverty. The newfound friendship of President Museveni with the IFI has pushed Uganda’s international debt to unprecedented levels (more than 80 trillion Shillings currently) amidst a rising sea of poverty (economic, political, social, financial, ecological, environmental, intellectual, ethical, moral, etc).
One school of thought argues that the programmes President Museveni has initiated to combat poverty, such as Bonna Baggagawale, Operation Wealth Creation, Myooga and Parish Development Model, and based on giving money bonanzas to a select few usually partisan, ethnic and familial, are instead impoverishing indigenous Ugandan communities, which are not targeted at all. Ultimately, they are serving to recreate the country as a labour reserve, which it was during the British colonial era, and to connect it to the rising and proliferating global modern slavery. There are claims that, just as traditional chiefs served as agents in the orthodox slave trade, many regime agents are participating in the modern slave trade as the sources of the slaves. Meanwhile the President is using the programmes of Bonna Baggagawale, Operation Wealth Creation, Myooga and Parish Development Model as tools for sowing the seeds the money economy by committing to suck an increasing number of Ugandans into it although, by not targeting whole communities, he is leaving the majority out, preferring to have them as reserves of cheap labour.
The President also sees his money bonanza-based schemes as tools with which he can combat poverty in Uganda. Of late he has been traversing the country, sopped only by Covid-19 doing political work based on eliminating poverty using the Parish Development Model, which he believed is the latest means to build a money economy in Uganda. However, as indicated above money economy is what the developed world and its IFI has used to impoverish humanity all over the world, confounded by China’s free-wheeling loans of late. It remains to be seen how money economy will work differently in President Museveni’s Uganda.
There is no doubt that that the 21st century is the century of commodification of water and recommodification of humanity, including the commodification of human body organs.
We were there at the beginning of the 2nd Millennium when the developed world and its IFIs and corporations plotted to commodify water. This happened at the World Water Forum II and World Water Forum III. I travelled to Kyoto, Japan, for World Water Forum III in late March 2003 together with three government Ministers (Ruhakana Rugunda, then Minister of Internal Affairs, Daudi Migereko, then Minister of Energy, and the late Maria Mutagamba, then Minister of Water). Several leaders of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Uganda, including the Executive Director of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), Frank Muramuzi, also travelled to Kyoto. The then Executive Director of the intergovernmental regional organisation for 9 countries called Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), Patrick Kahangire, was also there. It was during that forum that concrete resolutions were taken in favour of commodifying water, thereby effectively dissocialising, de-culturalising and decommunalising it, thereby denying many indigenous communities of the world their right to the sacredness of fresh water while also eroding their rights of resistance to commodification of a previously free public good – Fresh Water. What this meant was that global corporate, national and regional economic and political interests could access and displace local and indigenous peoples from the fresh waters of the globe and pursue their interests with no restraint and constraints. We are today witnessing the political and economic interests of the rulers of Uganda threatening the Fresh waters of Western Uganda with exploitation of oil.
I want this article now to dwell on the recommodification of humanity to service the mushrooming modern slave trade as well as the commodification of human body organs to drive the lucrative organ trade nationally and globally. It is difficult to separate the two because many young men, women and children who are healthy could as well end up being sources of organs to renew the lives of the sick rich in the Middle East and elsewhere. The two processes thrive on the poverty of nations, and in a way are aspects of the on-going commercialization of poverty.
Let me start with recommodification of humanity. I have variously touched on this evil in other articles. I call it recommodification of humanity because several decades ago, our African people were commodified and carried away to distant lands to power the rising economies of white settlers in the Americas and the neighbouring small islands, Australia and New Zealand. Arabs were the slave hunters who also participated centrally in the slave export trade. Although the slave trade was stopped later on, slave labour did not immediately stop. It persisted in a subtle form. Indeed, it resurfaced in the USA to service its policy and practice of segregation (actually Apartheid) against its Black population. Around 1948, it reared its head in South Africa as Apartheid (separate development), where it was a political philosophy and a practical undertaking, resulting in the Bantustanisation of the country into entities called Bantustans, which the racist rulers granted sham independence so that they could pursue their own development separate from that of the racists. Slave labour from the Bantustans supported the white supremacist economy.
Following the collapse of Apartheid in South Africa, it has been resurfacing in Uganda where “Apartheid-like” governance is detectable, with many Ugandans living lives of slaves as of old, and a small ethnic group with biological, cultural and ecological roots elsewhere has captured everything and the whole country for itself. The Indigenous Ugandans are dehumanized with no right to a minimum wage and by being paid peanuts for their labour, which may be discharged without rest in enterprises of aliens. They have been locally commodified and their poverty has been commercialized.
It is, however, the commodified Ugandan that cross borders with their poverty that should concern us here. One writer put it that of the 1.7 billion migratory women, men and children living in slavery in the Arab world by 2021, 50 million were in modern slavery, according to a 10th September 2022 report of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Some of these are Ugandan modern slaves. According to the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Services in Kampala, the number of these modern slaves rose from 24,086 between 2016-2021 to 84, 961 in 2023.
The publication ZAWYA of 14 March 2023 says that at least 77, 414 Ugandan modern slaves went to Saudi Arabia, and of these 55, 643 were housemaids. It seems modern slaves have become a major export for Uganda. ZAWYA says that Uganda is earning $600 (Ugx2.2Trn) annually from the modern slaves in the Middle East. To government what the slaves are doing is legitimate employment and it is proud of it because the Ugandans in the Arab world are enjoying their right to work, which is better than staying in Uganda with no work and no earning at all. Other regime apologists participating in exporting slave labour to the Arab World argue that it part of international labour movement okayed by ILO.
The lucrative modern slavery reflects on-going impoverishment and economic failure, including diminishing employment of the youth in the country. The youth population is 80% of the country’s total population, and indeed government has no capacity to plan for such a youthful population mainly because its priorities seem to lie elsewhere. Someone working in the Middle East whispered to me that some of the modern slaves have both undergraduate degrees and Masters degrees, which they hide so that they can qualify to be shipped or flown out of Uganda as cheap modern slave labour. For each job, according to Daily Monitor, secured for a Ugandan worker in te middle East, the Uganda government gets $30 dollars. Unscrupulous people engaged in the evil trade can sell a Ugandan to a labour agency in the Middle East for as high as $2000 dollars (UGX 7.4m) and the labour agency can sell the modern slave at $3500 dollars (UGX 13m), according to the Daily Monitor. According to the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS), 89% of Uganda’s modern slaves are subject to human trafficking the same way illicit drugs are trafficked. The two are lucrative commodities.
Although the trade in human beings is a degrading, dehumanizing and deplorable business, reminiscent of orthodox slavery, a government minister was heard some time back boasting about the revenue accruing to Government from the trade, and how it is also helping government to resolve the unemployment crisis in the country. In fact, the same Minister travelled to Saudi Arabia to reach an agreement regarding Uganda’s modern slaves, perhaps including accepting more of the slaves, which reflected government’s monetary motive. One may assert over and over again
the export of humans to the Middle East has emerged as one of the few commodity exports of Uganda doing very well today. The other one might turn out to be the associated organ trade, but illicit export of drugs is said to be booming. All these together, perhaps with the illicit export of minerals such as gold, constitute Uganda’s illicit economy. This has overtaken the licit economy by far.
It should, however, be of interest to Ugandans that in May 2023, almost one day after the President of Uganda signed the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 into law, the Uganda Human Organ Donation and Transplant Bill 2021 was also signed into the Organ Donation and Transplant Law 2023.
It is true that the organ trade is the unseen form of the Human Trafficking Trade. The World Health Organisation – WHO estimated that 10,000 kidneys are traded on the black market worldwide; more than one every hour. The human body has 100 organs, and virtually every organ is tradable as a commodity and is being traded globally.
According to ACAMS TODAY, The Magazine for Career-Minded Professionals in the Anti-Money Laundering Field of June August 2018, citing Bloody Harvest Matas and Kilgour (2007), gives data on the financial gains from the trade in 5 organs, namely: corneas, lungs, heart, liver and kidney (see the Table 1 below):
Corneas from $ 30,000
Lungs from $ 150,000
Heart from $ 130,000
Liver from $ 98,000
Kidney from $ 62,000
That was 16 years ago! The cost must be up several folds for each organ.
The Uganda Organ Donation and Transplant Law 2023 prohibit commercial dealings in human organs and tissues and provides for harsh punishment and heavy fines. However, it is important that students of law get interested in critically thinking about this law and unearthing whatever hidden leeway may be in it that may be exploited by unscrupulous health personnel to continue with what has been a stealthy illegal trade in body organs.
The organ trade is already scaring many Ugandans, especially the poor, away from government, and even private hospitals, fearing that their organs, or those of their people, will be stolen from them to renew the health of the rich in Uganda and abroad. They have heard that some big people are involved in the bloody trade, and may be in league with some health personnel to steal their organs.
Government should reassure the poor that they are safe in government hospitals and that no one will terminate their lives or the lives of their relatives, to criminally resource organs from them for the rich. Of course, when the poor citizens shun government or private hospitals, they become easy prey to people pretending to be traditional doctors yet there is a money motive behind their work.
Health security matters should not be left to quacks because of the growing threat of human organ theft. It is a health security measure of health workers are remunerated adequately as doing so will reduce the probability their being attracted to the evil human organ trade.
A lot of money is being wasted in political schemes such as expanding the legislature, overcapitalizing State House, over militarization and buying political support, all intended for power retention. Money committed to such schemed should be redirected into development of the human resource and country. Besides, our youth should be protected by law and other means so that they are just shipped or flowed off to modern slavery markets or other places where they may be used as guinea pigs in scientific research or as sources of organs for the rich who have spoiled their organs through stupid lifestyles.
One thing is true. Commodification of humanity and the body organs is unethical, immoral and anti-God.
For God and My Country.