Fake capitalism? The dynamics of neoliberal moral restructuring and pseudo-development: the case of Uganda

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Uganda is regarded as the African country that has adopted the neoliberal reform package most extensively. Notably, neoliberal reforms have targeted the reshaping not only of the economy but also of the society and culture. The reforms aim to create a ‘market society’, which includes a corresponding set of moral norms and behaviour. Reforms, therefore, have to undermine, overwrite and displace pre-existing non-neoliberal norms, values, orientations and practices among the population; they also have to foster norms, values, orientations and practices that are in line with neoliberal ideology. This article looks at the process of neoliberal moral restructuring in Uganda since 1986. Extensive interviews in Kampala and eastern Uganda reveal that the cultural dimension of rapid neoliberal reform has negatively affected the relationships and trade practices between smallholder farmers and traders in rural markets. Since the onset of liberal economic reforms, face-to-face rural trade practices have been characterised by higher levels of ‘malpractice’ and a change in their form. Neoliberal Uganda is furthermore characterised by a spread of destructive norms and practices in other economic sectors and sections of society that have been ‘modernised’ according to neoliberal prescriptions. Many respondents invoked ideas such as ‘moral degeneration’, ‘moral decay’, a ‘rotten society’ and ‘kiwaani’ (the title of a popular song, used interchangeably with deceit, tricking, or fake to describe behaviours and objects) and were worried about the future of moral norms and business practices in the country. The changes and trends described in this paper seem difficult but not impossible to reverse