Magazine article Management Today

Books: Grounds for Hope in Africa

Magazine article Management Today

Books: Grounds for Hope in Africa

Article excerpt

Trade not aid is the cry of a Ugandan coffee grower in a vivid, personal critique of the barriers to growth in his continent. Harriet Lamb applauds his vision.

A Good African Story: How a small company built a global coffee brand
Andrew Rugasira
Bodley Head, pounds 18.99

He is angry about the distortions of aid, which have, he says, stifled the continent's entrepreneurs, creating a 'chronic dependency' rather than stimulating sustainable economic growth. Powerful donors have demanded concessions and pushed Africa's leaders to be more accountable to them than to their own people.

He is angry at how Africa's leaders have failed their people, outlining how weak political institutions undermine entrepreneurs, who have to struggle with poor infrastructure, poor governance, and the poor delivery of the services that they need. He rails against the colonialism that left structural inequalities and in particular promoted the exploitation of labour through the export of primary commodities such as cotton and coffee.

And, while believing passionately in the brand's tagline, Trade not Aid, he is angry about the inequities bedevilling trade. With sharp analysis and hard facts, he outlines the structural imbalances surrounding trade from Africa, including the tariff and non-tariff barriers. For example, only 18.6% of Africa's exports are manufactured or value-added products, meaning 80% are in raw form. Yet 65% of the continent's imports are manufactured. It is his refrain that 'we are producers of what we do not consume and consumers of what we do not produce'.

That's what he sets out to change. In Uganda, some one million households grow coffee. Yet for years, as he says: 'Uganda, which is the world's fifth largest exporter of coffee, didn't process any of its coffee beans but instead imported finished products.' As a result, he calculates that less than 0.5% of the value of processed coffee sold in a cafe is retained by farmers.

Turning his anger to positive effect, he sets out, as he proudly claims, to be the first African-owned coffee brand to be listed in UK supermarkets and finally opens a coffee-roasting plant in Kampala.

The book is best when he tells his own stories - from the terrifying childhood scenes when the army arrests his father through to meetings with sceptical farmers. He relates how they complained of delayed payments, exploitative middlemen, low prices and a neglect of agronomy These he sets out to correct through three main interventions: knowledge transfer (agronomy training), technology provision (hand pulpers and new varieties) and institutional capacity building (saving schemes). …

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