By Candia Emmanuel
I came across an article on social-media today, which was published by the Monitor Newspaper on 22nd April 2021, wherein the Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Hon. Hilary Onek is said to have responded to Ms. Rosa Malango the United Nations Resident Coordinator that “United Nations must buy food from Ugandan farmers to feed refugees or relocate them to countries supplying the food”.
This came against the backdrop and pronouncement by the UN Representative that “World Food Program was unable to purchase food locally because of ‘poor quality’ of Ugandan foodstuffs.”
The Minister’s upfront response and assertive demeanor seems the most righteous indignation a Pan-African nationalist, people-centered statesman of his caliber should have in the face of such skewed and ill-framed stereo-typing and condescension.
Uganda, through its open door policy is one of the world’s leading and most hospitable destinations for refugees whose forceful immigration is occasioned by civil wars in the neighboring countries.
The policy has seen millions of refugees peacefully and comfortably dwell in Uganda and at times enjoying more dignified and privileged lives than their host communities.
These realities have begged the question of what tangible benefits beyond promises of donor funding, (much of which doesn’t materialize), does Uganda gain? To answer this, outbursts and political statements will not suffice.
Though this was close to a year ago, two thoughts came clear to mind that can still be considered for action given the refugees are still here.
First, the allegations of Ms. Rosa are not baseless. There are farmers and generally tradesmen and women who pay little or no attention to the quality of their products. It is not strange to find farmers in local markets selling raw or rotting fruits to raise whatever cash in our cash-driven economy.
The Uganda National Bureau of Standards has outed reports of more than half of products in Ugandan markets being substandard or counterfeit. Not long ago, Kenya blocked maize exports from Uganda on the altar of aflatoxins.
There has, however, been little commitment towards improving and enforcement of the standards’ regulations in Uganda.
Quality of standards has discouraged growth of some sectors in the country including the agriculture sector. So as the powers that be continue to engage, emphasis should be made on enlisting Ugandans generally and farmers to embrace basic standards and qualities as they engage in trade.
The various standards’ regulations should be aggressively enforced and where they are lacking, UNBS should develop them. As the parish model is rolled out, government should devise mechanisms for effective post-harvest handling of farmers’ products and negotiate for a quota to be supplied by Ugandan farmers.
Secondly, Uganda needs to rise to the place of asserting its sovereign priorities anchored on the laws, policies, the National Development Plans, and Vision 2040 among others.
Strategic National Policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries, industry and trade concessions should be reviewed and renegotiated with a more people-centered focus than playing to the internationally designed positions that have for decades entrenched the socio-economic devastation rather than development across Africa.
The deconstruction of the narratives that generically ring-fence particular businesses for international interests without due regard to the local commitments and contexts they play in is ripe.
The diplomatic and economic arrogance brewed through institutionalized and organized frameworks must be dealt with by a renewed African spirit of unity and strategic engagement.
Through concerted block negotiations under the ACFTA and other regional economic organizations, governments in Africa should take trade and development negotiations as a key area to invest in through research, institution building, technical skill and professional development as opposed to dealing with it only politically.
To effectively achieve these, a proper Pan-African, patriotic, people-centered, ideological orientation coupled with a crop of anti-corruption crusading African leadership, will deliver the much need benefits.
The writer, Candia Emmanuel, is a Lawyer