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COMMENT: Mwenda’s pragmatism and mivumba

Used clothes bale. Courtesy Photo
Used clothes bale.


COMMENT: By Rajab Kakyama

Second-hand clothes – Mwenda shouldn’t be in hurry to displace workers in this sector to become beggars on the fringes of great cities

Refer to: “America’s harmful threats” (The Independent Aug.26). Unfortunately, I do agree with Mwenda on principle but disagree with his method of activism and radicalism. Mwenda is predicting saturnalia, the moment Africa is left alone.

At this rate, he needs to be at a sanatorium because of his obduracy. His fixation on a droop idea that Africa can stand on its own has enabled him recreate “Africa” on a completely new earth. But he knows far too well, that his accusations towards the United States are wrongly premised.

As an international figure, Mwenda should know that international relations are built on the doctrine of reciprocity. If the U.S. provided a platform for Sub-Saharan African countries to market their products under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), it would only be befitting that Africa returned the favour. However, AGOA was formed on a nonreciprocal basis. That is, Africa is free to enjoy the American market without paying in return.

There are two key provisions under the AGOA which are of topical interest. Under the provision of ‘Technical assistance and Capacity Building’, the intention was to encourage African governments liberalise trade.

In this effort, for the FY 2013, the United Sates provided approximately U.S$209 million up from US$109 million in 2012. It should be noted that out of the total exports of the 39 member countries of AGOA, only US$4 billion was realised in 2015. Under the ‘African Competitiveness and Trade Expansion’, the United States Administration took on two initiatives- first, it applied a tariff of 3.5% on AGOA products compared to the average 11.4% charged on products from developed economies.

Secondly, the U.S Administration appropriated up to US$30 million annually to help potential exporters become globally competitive. Other than lamenting that the U.S wants to hold Africa in perpetual poverty, how far have the African governments gone in alleviating this poverty? Through corruption (which Mwenda fervently defends)?

The African leaders do not only abuse and misuse public funds/grants, they also lack the appreciation of the basic concepts regarding development.

I will stick to AGOA to illustrate my frustrations. In 2007, President Yoweri Museveni introduced a gentleman called Velupillai Kanananthan to run a joint venture between the government of Uganda and Tri-star Apparels Sri-Lanka to advance AGOA objectives.

The government renovated the former Coffee Marketing Board (CMB) headquarters at Bugolobi for the purpose and advanced US$ 11 million in form of subsidies, loan guarantees, and incentives to Kananathan.

After one year in operation, President Museveni ordered for the arrest of Kananathan.

After two years, the plant had come to a halt. A Libyan company bought majority shares and a force of 2,000 factory workers was reduced to just below 300.  Meanwhile the 300 workers that were retained continued to draw their meals and allowances from State House. What is the investment return on such a business? Am I yet again making a moral argument?

The case you make here for Africa was done for India in what the late American political sociologist Barrington Moore pointed out as the “revolutions from above”, in which the bureaucracies of the agrarian ruling class made alliances with weak commercial classes. We cannot just start talking about industrialisation; we have to start from somewhere.

The problem with India was that, although the construction of a rail network was an important moment in the modernisation of the society, it was never a result of an indigenous industrial revolution. Just like it happened in India and Brazil, the displaced workers (dealers in second hand clothes) in Uganda will become beggars on the fringes of great cities.

The point is that the Europeans had the time to “evolve” their steel industry out of blacksmith shops, iron production, small-scale steel and then, after a century of development and job generation, came to a huge steel factory. When Mwenda talks of “short-term” he’s ignoring such facts and in turn, because of the “borrowed” technology, we shall only be building enclaves of modernity in a largely backward society.

Mwenda seems to be in a hurry but sometimes life restricts us to a small strip of survival- where we have to juggle between prudence and pragmatism. The life of dealers in second hand clothes matters too.


Rajab Kakyama is a social political analysist


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