Early this Month, a contingent of African leaders went to attend the US-Africa Summit. Although there were widespread petitions by several local human rights activists protesting Ugandan President Museveni’s attendance, he managed to maneuver his way to the conference.
American President Joe Biden made a passionate plea to integrate Africa in the strategic plans of his country and enticed the leaders with a USD55Bn outlay to kick off the renewed friendship. This pledge shows that the American administration is willing to listen to good proposals from the African leaders but they are a bit arrogant not to take advantage of the goodwill.
For instance, the Americans delivered most of the vaccines for the Covid-19 pandemic. This shows that they can deliver on most of what we cannot produce. Our (I am talking about Africa) problem is that we have leaders who think they can challenge the western powers (remember Robert Mugabe, and Ghaddafi?). This arrogance has made Africa lose the opportunity to discus and present the real issues to the bigger western powers.
Ugandan President Museveni has tried to challenge and even openly dismiss the western powers and yet, his country largely depends on their resources to make things move to a more reasonable direction. The western powers have spent trillions to African economies in the sectors of health, education and even security. We should have encouraged the western powers to assist us build infrastructure like roads, railways, airports, ferries, power dams etc.
But because of arrogance African leaders try to impress by claiming that they don’t want aid but want to trade with the western powers, we lose track. Yet the reality is that most African countries may have the minerals and products that they can trade but there are issues that make it difficult to trade them on the international market. This shows why Museveni’s AGOA failed miserably.
It also explains why this time Museveni was silent about his old song of promoting the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) which had created a trade arrangement between Ugandan and the United States of America. AGOA was a trade arrangement which collapsed at its inception because Uganda couldn’t fulfill its production potential. Although the US market was open to Ugandan products, the East African country lacked the potential to produce those particular products at a competitive level.
There was the case of the cotton fabrics which Ugandan had intended to earmark as the first product to export to the US market but ended up as an embarrassment, when the Bugolobi factory closed before it could produce any cotton fabrics. This time Museveni has again driven in the same direction of agitating for trade even when he knows that he almost has nothing to sell to the American market. He came up with a very interesting acronym of ITTS (Investment, Trade, Tourism and Security) as the message he was trying to advance at this US-African leader’s summit.
When you look into his message, you will find that he was simply recycling the same arguments like those of AGOA. If you claim that you don’t want aid but you want trade, do you have any products that can impress the international market? Recent experience shows that the answer to that question is an affirmative NO. Although Uganda has got plenty of goods that can be put on the market, they need to be upgraded to fit the international market standards. For instance, we have very good pineapples here, but making them qualify to the standards, need a sophisticated value addition that can make them compete at the highest level. It’s true, we have cotton, but we don’t have the means to make it compete with the cotton from other countries because we have failed to add the necessary value that can advance its quality.
What does this mean?
This obviously means that Museveni should have first tried to convince the western powers to give us machines to set up industries that can add instant value to our cotton, coffee, pineapples, beef, fish, Chicken, eggs, tomatoes, hide and skins, etc. After setting up the industries and making sure that they can produce high quality products that can satisfy the local and regional market, he would then run to the western powers to grant us the market to sell these products.
But the problem is that he is putting the cart before the horse. In other words, he is busy pulling the cart and praying that a horse will show up from somewhere. That cannot happen. As a result of this helter-skelter way of doing things, we (Uganda) have even failed to match the standards on the regional market. Our brothers of Kenya who have a much bigger economy even slapped a ban on some of our Ugandan products because of their poor quality. The Kenyans rejected our maize because it had toxins. Now if your maize cannot even rise to the standards of Kenya, how do you expect it to penetrate the American market?
The way forward? Well, as stated earlier, we should have pushed the western powers to help us build powerful things like the railway line from Kampala to Cape Town, Kampala to Kinshasa and beyond. Build power dams, airports and ports etc. Otherwise, agitating for trade and tourism with the western is simply a waste of time because our products are too poor to compete in the international market.
- Fred Daka Kamwada is a seasoned journalist, blogger and political analyst for over a decade in Uganda
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