On Uganda’s Textile Sector

This is from The Economist:

Uganda’s main advantages, for the moment, are cheap cotton and labour, and preferential access to American and European markets. When exporting to the rich world “Africa has an 18-35% duty advantage over any other continent”, says Nick Earlham, a shareholder in WUCC and in Fine Spinners. “It’s very competitive.”Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 1.13.26 PM

Textile workers in Kampala earn about $85 a month, compared with $150 in Kenya and $108 in Vietnam, never mind up to $700 in China. But these savings are offset by problems in almost every other sphere. Power cuts keep plunging the factory into darkness, and an erratic supply of steam to the dyeing machines makes it hard to ensure that each batch of fabric looks alike.

Textiles appear to be a low hanging fruit as far as creating mass employment in African states is concerned. And, at least for now, they will remain immune from the threat of mechanization:

Robots are not yet much good at fiddly sewing jobs on floppy fabric; less than 0.1% of the world’s industrial robots are in the clothing trade.

More on this here.

Lastly, while production levels have not increased significantly over the last decade, FAO data (see below) do suggest a non-trivial increase in productivity (yield/ha) in Uganda’s cotton sector. This outcome could be a result of a myriad causes, but it is in line with recent research by Bates and Block (2013) showing increased agricultural productivity in African states that experienced real exposure to competitive electoral politics.

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A Ugandan journalist and a politician respond to Kony 2012

Angelo Izama, Ugandan journalist (and a good friend of yours truly) has a thoughtful op-ed piece in the Times. He makes the case that:

Campaigns like “Kony 2012” aspire to frame the debate about these criminals and inspire action to stop them. Instead, they simply conscript our outrage to advance a specific political agenda — in this case, increased military action.

African leaders, after all, are adept at pursuing their own agendas by using the resources that foreign players inject and the narratives that they prefer — whether the post-9/11 war on terror or the anti-Kony crusade. And these campaigns succeed by abducting our anger and holding it hostage. Often they replace the fanaticism of evil men with our own arrogance, and, worse, ignorance. Moreover, they blind us by focusing on the agents of evil and not their principals.

At the same time over at FP Nobert Mao, politician from northern Uganda and former presidential candidate, has the following to say:

It’s clear that the aim of the video [Kony 2012] was never intellectual stimulation. I don’t think the founders of Invisible Children are the foremost analysts of the complicated political, historical and security dynamics in our troubled part of Africa. They certainly wouldn’t earn high marks in African Studies. But I will go to my grave convinced that they have the most beautiful trait on earth — compassion.

Such sentiments matter, even today.  There are those who say the war is over in Northern Uganda. I say the guns are silent but the war is not over. The sky is overcast with an explosive mix of dubious oil deals, land grabs, arms proliferation, neglected ex-combatants, and a volatile neighborhood full of regimes determined to fish in troubled waters. What we have is a tentative peace. Our region is pregnant with the seeds of conflict. The military action in the jungles of Congo may capture Kony, but we need to do more to plant the seeds of peace founded on democracy, equitable development, and justice. Like peace, war too has its mothers, fathers, midwives, babysitters, and patrons. Perhaps Kony 2012 will help sort out the actors. The video has certainly shaken the fence, making fence-sitting very uncomfortable, indeed.

The two may disagree on the usefulness of tactics such as those that made the now famous video, but they certainly agree on the need to acknowledge agency of local actors in all these problems that require outside intervention.

My two cents on this is that there is definitely room for Africans to shape the narrative and tactics of advocacy in Western capitals (or elsewhere). Emotionally charged  mobilization tactics, like Kony 2012, are definitely a distraction from the real issues. But they also present an opportunity for African actors to leverage international attention and support against their own leaders who refuse to deal with problems that affect their daily lives. I am glad that in the case of Kony 2012 Ugandans have stepped in to provide perspective on the narrative and, hopefully, influence the eventual response by the relevant policymakers in DC.

african presidents and the “elites” around them

This is the first of many installments on African presidents. I am currently researching the nature of presidential power in Africa.

First on the list is Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Mr. Museveni has been in power since 1986 and is pretty much convinced that he is God’s gift to Uganda has just won another 5-year term in office. The picture below is a screen shot from a recent tour of an area of Kampala to launch a cooperative society.

More Village Chief than President

Notice the state and size of the presidential “red carpet.” Also, everyone but the president has to make do with plastic chairs. This picture, in many ways, is a metaphor for most African societies. In many countries only the “Big Man” gets to sit on the “carpet” while everyone else has to languish in the dust, including elites around the president.

This state of affairs creates perverse incentives that are inimical to economic growth. If I am an elite – even one who is close to the president – why should I invest in creating a carpet of my own if I know that the president will take it away? The result is poverty and material want that extends to the heart of power and elite-dom.

In a way EVEN the political elite in Uganda are poor. They may have some wealth stashed abroad but their realized standard of living within Uganda is not elite. If they get sick they have to fly to Kenya, South Africa [who’s elites have done slightly better at local accumulation] or further afield for treatment. Oftentimes even their 4X4 vehicles get stuck on the non-existent roads that they have refused to build and maintain. A mastery of the art of surviving [living day by day] is not restricted to the hoi polloi. Even the elite lack the requisite stability to escape the surviving mentality, even though they may not necessarily be surviving materially.

This is the reality for most of the Continent.

Next time, something on the false largesse of the likes of the late Omar Bongo Ondimba (the very short guy in the middle of the crowd in this video)

economic hardship in uganda

Strongman Yoweri Museveni might be nearing the end of the road. For 25 years he has ruled Uganda as the country recovered from Idi Amin’s disastrous rule and a brutal civil war. To add to the stability brought about by his regime, Uganda has also been one of the fastest growing in Africa since the mid 1990s.

But recent inflationary pressures on the prices of fuel and other essential commodities are increasing pressure on the strongman. The last two days have seen running battles in Kampala and Gulu, with at least two reported dead. Opposition leader Kizza Besigye was reportedly shot in the hand by a rubber bullet on Thursday.

Museveni’s game plan in reaction to all this still remains unclear. Whatever the eventual strategy, it is gonna be hard to keep the rallies against his regime bloodless if the people keep coming out to protest. Most people tend to forget that Museveni has never really stopped being a military ruler.

History shows that the most frequent way through which military rulers are ousted, at least on the continent, is through coups.

Those who enter power by the gun also tend to exit by the gun.

Overall, African autocrats with the longest tenures include: Obiang’ of Equatorial Guinea (32 years); Edwardo dos Santos of Angola (32); Biya of Cameroon (29); Compraore of Burkina Faso (25); Mswati of Lesotho (25); Museveni of Uganda (25).

Other autocrats fast approaching the league of lifetime rulers include Omar al-Bashir of (Northern) Sudan, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia (who is planning on crowning himself King), Idris Deby of Chad, and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

museveni is on the ropes

With 72 cabinet ministers Uganda reeks of instability. Leonardo Arriola, a Political Scientist at Berkeley, has made argued that African presidents create bloated cabinets to buy off opponents when they feel insecure in power. Uganda’s Museveni might be doing just that. In office since 1986, Mr. Museveni just won another 5-year term in office with 68% of the vote, or so the Ugandan electoral commission would like us to believe.

The opposition parallel vote tallying system was sabotaged by security forces in cahoots with cell phone companies (these companies should be fined in other countries in which they operate…). The main challenger, Mr. Kizza Besigye, claims that the last count he got showed Museveni at 50.8% with him second at 42.5%. The final official tally gave Mr. Museveni a landslide win of more than 40 points.

It is now quite possible that a majority of Ugandans do not want Museveni in power. Given his long tenure and the recent terror events that could have boosted him with a “rally around the flag” effect, his poor performance at the polls should be cause for concern for stability in Uganda. Too bad he will soon have oil money to create even bigger cabinets and buy more tanks and anti-riot gear, if he so wishes.

Ugandans may have to wait for quite a while before they experience their first ever peaceful transfer of power.

The democratic republic of congo

Just in case you forgot, the Kivus are still on fire. Thousands of people remain displaced. Dozens routinely get killed and raped by both government and rebel forces, and sometimes even by UN peacekeepers. Things are crazy bad out there.

Meanwhile, Kabila and his cabal in Kinshasa remain as ineffectual as ever with no apparent strategy or plan, not just for the Kivus, but for the whole country.

The ICG has this nice report on the Congo. People may not agree on the priorities and approaches of resolving the conflict in the Kivu’s, but this report provides a good background for those who are new to the conflict.

Also check out this Report on the Congo from the Congressional Research Office.

the lra menace

That Joseph Kony and his top lieutenants are still alive and well is testament to the ineptitude of the Ugandan and Congolese armies. The Ugandan rebel leader continues to roam the forests in the border regions of Chad, the DRC, Uganda and Southern Sudan, killing villagers with abandon. The BBC reports that late last year the Lord’s Resistance Army massacred more than 300 people.

The LRA has morphed into a thuggish movement with loads of ideological deficit. They stand no chance of reaching Kampala and so roam in the forests of the great lakes region killing villagers and abducting children. This is yet another textbook case on the Continent of a rebellion that festers on for no other reason than because of state incapacity.