On Wednesday September 20, Michiel de Haas of the Rural and Environmental History group defended his thesis Rural livelihoods and agricultural commercialization in colonial Uganda. The reading committee unanimously decided to award the thesis and the defence with distinction. Michiel’s supervisors, Prof. Ewout Frankema and Dr. Niek Koning lauded his work for its profound intellectual engagement with the topic of rural development in Uganda, its lucid writing style and its application of a wide range of historical research methods to an impressively broad range of primary sources.
By reconstructing income developments of Ugandan farmers, by mapping large scale rural labour migration from Rwanda, by tracing the diffusion of education and by exploring the rise of Uganda’s cotton economy, Michiel has been able to demonstrate that the rural population of Uganda and neighbouring territories was highly responsive to the opportunities of agricultural commercialization. These opportunities widened after the completion of the Uganda Railway in 1901, which drew the colonial economy in the orbit of global trade. At the same time, he concludes that the complacent and divisive nature of colonial rule capped the potential for sustained rural development, which prevented the Ugandan economy to further diversify in the post-colonial era.