Jorg Wiegratz, Neoliberal Moral Economy: capitalism, socio-cultural change and fraud in Uganda.
A Marxian understanding of capitalist accumulation acknowledges that conflictual and unequal processes are intrinsic to development and yet that such processes have to be justified--through coercion and by transforming the existing moral order--for capitalist accumulation to be sustained. In this book, Jorg Wiegratz examines the impacts that President Yoweri Museveni's government's embrace of neoliberalism has had on Uganda's moral order. Wiegratz argues that increasing acceptability of economic dishonesty or fraud is the product of the dominance of neoliberal policies across the world. He argues that liberalization and market-led reforms have reoriented Uganda's moral order towards more individualistic ideals that prioritize the maximization of one's wealth above all else. This transformation, he argues, has ruptured Uganda's preliberal order and plunged its society into a moral crisis.
Neoliberal Moral Economy criticizes the moral orders that have emerged as byproducts of the spread of neoliberalism. Uganda has a reputation for having adopted 'neoliberal reforms most extensively' (p. 3) among African countries, but the influence of neoliberalism is prevalent across most of Africa, suggesting a wider relevance for this book. Wiegratz provides detailed evidence of the detrimental effects of neoliberal policies, highlighting how inequitable power relationships in market exchanges have been governed by individual self-maximization and a tendency to cheat weaker and vulnerable members of society. Wiegratz's evidence emerges from research and consultancy work in Uganda since 2004 and is largely based on interviews with farmers, traders, brokers and elites through fieldwork in Kampala and Bugisu.
The introduction and Chapter 1 illustrate why morality and moral economics are useful subjects of global capitalism while Chapter 2 provides historical background to Uganda's political economy. From the very start, Wiegratz develops his argument that 'economic deception has become a structural feature of the global economy' (p. 2). He claims that 'neoliberalism is likely to undermine certain prosocial morals and replace them with pro-self-oriented morals', illustrating this point in subsequent chapters (p. 26). Chapter 3 describes changes in Uganda's political economy that have resulted in 'moral restructuring' across society. It points to the Museveni government's adoption of privatization programmes as a 'decisive moment in the process of changing the country's political- economic structure and moral fibre' (p. 102). Chapter 4 explores how liberalization affected market exchanges in the agricultural sector and describes increasing incidences of fraud. Chapter 5 describes the evolving relationships and normative underpinnings of fraud between international buyers, middlemen and traders. Chapters 6 and 7 detail the reactions of traders to the evolving political and moral economy of business in Uganda. References to fraud and economic trickery abound; one such example is the 'use of weighted scales to trick farmers' (p. 122). Chapter 8 describes how different respondents view the state's responsibility in these processes, particularly in relation to the injustices of economic exchanges. Chapter 9 provides an example of the Bugisu Cooperative Union as a possible source of resistance or 'de-neoliberalisation' (p. 299). The book concludes on a pessimistic note, highlighting the difficulty of resisting neoliberal moral economies in Uganda and elsewhere. Wiegratz argues that ruling elites find it difficult to 'govern the moral order and daily life of a market society' and are thus more concerned with 'keeping people busy and [keeping] the show (neoliberalism) on the road' (p. 343).
The book is persuasive in its 'two-fold argument: that neoliberalism has produced moral change and that moral change is fraud-conducive' (p. 333). Wiegratz demonstrates a strong understanding of Ugandan history and a familiarity with the agricultural sectors and locations he has studied. The details from interviews provide a wealth of information, yet it is rarely clear who has been interviewed. A clearer methodology section and better designations of respondents would have made the book more convincing. The book's strengths are also limited by the writing style and sometimes muddled messages. Many chapters are not clearly structured, quotes are sloppily presented and some sections could easily have been shortened. There is also a large amount of repetition. Wiegratz could have sharpened his argument by justifying why some perspectives were highlighted over others. The book could also have benefited from copyediting, as there are numerous grammatical mistakes.
Neoliberal Moral Economy makes the case that increasing economic dishonesty and fraud are by-products of neoliberal market societies across the world, specifically focusing on how such practices have spread across Ugandan rural society since the 1990s. As a full-length manuscript, it has taken on a fresh challenge in describing how neoliberalism has shaped contestations over existing moral orders in an African country. The span and scale of fieldwork conducted in Uganda make it a compelling read. Despite weaknesses related to methodology and presentation, students of Uganda will learn a great deal while those interested in the study of the political economy of capitalism--particularly in reference to how it may affect changes in moral orders--will enjoy it.
University of Manchester
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2019|
|Previous Article:||Lindsey B. Green-Simms, Postcolonial Automobility: car culture in West Africa.|
|Next Article:||Paul Higate and Mats Utas (editors), Private Security in Africa: from the global assemblage to the everyday.|