A powerful minister’s wife has maintained her grip on the AGOA trade deal, refusing to submit to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC) which is supposed to supervise her and her team, and costing hundreds of companies and products a chance to access the US market as a result of lack of leadership and accountability structures.
On Sunday, November 05, President Museveni issued a statement on a decision by Joe Biden’s US administration to remove Uganda from the list of African countries benefiting from the AGOA trade deal.
Museveni made it clear that Uganda can do without AGOA. He also accused the US and other Western World actors of overestimating their role in Uganda.
“I need to advise you not to be over-concerned by the recent actions by the American Government in discouraging their companies from investing in Uganda and on removing Uganda from the AGOA list. Some of these actors in the Western World overestimate themselves and underestimate the freedom fighters of Africa. On account of some of the freedom fighters making mistakes of philosophy, ideology and strategy, some of the foreign actors, erroneously think that African Countries cannot move forward without their support,” Museveni wrote.
“Certainly, as far as Uganda is concerned, we have the capacity to achieve our growth and transformation targets, even if some of the actors do not support us.”
While the US is looking at AGOA as a bait to force Kampala to legalize homosexuality in the country, back home, officials at the trade ministry, Parliament of Uganda, Office of the President (and State House) know that there are structural and accountability challenges that have made it impossible for the trade deal to produce its intended benefits.
About a decade ago, Uganda’s Parliament declined to approve a Shs482m budget meant for the operations of a team charged with ensuring that exports from the impoverished East African nation benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). In preparation for the FY 2012-2013 budget, AGOA had asked for this money for its operations. But Parliament faulted those running the trade opportunity arrangement in Uganda for failing to produce performance and accountability reports for the previous years.
In May 2012, then Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde told Parliament’s Committee on Tourism, Trade and Industry that AGOA had suffered serious leadership challenges that had affected its performance. As MPs on the Committee demanded an explanation of the Susan Muhwezi-led AGOA team and how it was positioning Uganda to benefit from the program, Kyambadde dragged President Museveni in the matter.
“They feel they fall under the President’s Office and that they are answerable only to the President,” Kyambadde said.
That same month, Kyambadde and Muhwezi, who is married to now Security Minister Maj Gen (Rtd) Jim Muhwezi, clashed before the parliamentary committee as both sought to pull AGOA away to their side. Muhwezi wanted the trade program to continue to run and directly supervised under the President’s Office while Kyambadde wanted the deal to be managed and supervised by her trade ministry.
Minister Kyambadde argued: “I am trying to save AGOA. There are very many good presidential initiatives but the challenge is structures. We need a law, governance and funding for these initiatives. We would not be complaining if these were catered for.
Directly addressing Muhwezi in that May 2012 heated debate in the committee, Kyambadde openly told Minister Muhwezi’s wife that while other beneficiary countries were reaping big, Ugandan exporters had not benefited much. Accusing Muhwezi and her team of demanding for their budgetary share by force, She further probed: “What is Uganda doing about the initiative? Where is the law protecting AGOA? Suzan, we should not personalize these issues. We should all work together.”
In response, Muhwezi explained that AGOA was largely dysfunctional when it was hosted under the trade ministry. She went on to insist that the team should continue to be hosted by the President’s Office and paid by the same institution. She also called for the channeling of AGOA’s budget to State House.
As of 2017-2018 when AGOA’s budget was Shs1.042bn, it had only three staff. In the 2023-2024 Financial Year, the AGOA team would stare at a huge budget cut to the tune of 90 per cent. The team was allocated Shs100m.
In its reports on AGOA, Parliament has recommended mainstreaming into the Ministry of Trade but Muhwezi has stuck to her guns, insisting the program should remain under State House. These disagreements have made Uganda lose out ‘big time.’ While the US allowed Uganda to export 5,000 items to its market, Kampala has only been able to export about 30 items.
Meanwhile, in some kind of ‘MUJOOGA’ response, Museveni has told off US President Biden and Other ‘Joogoists’ Trying to Force Homosexuality on Uganda Through Sanctions. (Read Story Here).
Meanwhile, President Biden’s trade envoy made it clear to Uganda’s trade minister that Museveni must delete the Anti-Homosexuality Act if he still wants his country to benefit from the AGOA trade deal. (See Details Here).