By Jonah Ruhima
Recently, America announced the removal of Uganda from the list of countries benefiting from AGOA. This has generated panic and mixed reactions from a section of our society, especially the elites. America has attributed this action to concerns regarding human rights violations, especially the recently passed LGBTQ law, as the reason for this cancellation.
This is laughable considering America and its allies have been in the spotlight over human rights abuses. Currently, America is sponsoring Israel's war in Gaza, which many have come out to criticize as a genocide where hundreds of kids and civilians have been killed and schools, hospitals, and refugee camps have been attacked.
Some states in America today have never recognised same-sex marriages, and others have enacted laws against homosexuality. Many of the USA's allies in the Middle East have similar laws against the LGBTQ community, but the USA continues to trade with them. On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident journalist, was killed by agents of the Saudi government at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. As the whole world was mourning and calling on the USA to hold its ally to account, the Trump administration approved two nuclear technology transfers to Saudi Arabia.
For years now, Julian Assange, an Australian editor, publisher, and activist who founded WikiLeaks in 2006, which leaked footage showing the USA's war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and other criminal acts of the American government, is currently being held at Belmarsh, a high-security prison in the UK, on the basis of a US extradition request. The America that is doing all this with its allies can't be the same, claiming to be concerned about the human rights in Uganda and, most importantly, being against the law enacted by our democratically elected leaders and having the support of the majority of the citizens.
It's also fundamentally wrong for America or anyone else to assume or create the impression that by trading with Uganda, America is doing us a favour or that this is an act of charity or aid, while this trade brings more benefits to the USA. Back in 2000, AGOA was intended to bring growth and opportunities to Africa, but what we have had from the USA is a trade agreement that has given the USA preferential access to Africa's valuable commodities, such as oil and other minerals. That's why the extractive industry contributes 90% of America's trade with Africa, and the companies that extract these minerals for export to America are American companies that export raw minerals, taking away revenue and employment opportunities for our people.
America has also been using AGOA as a negotiation tool to bully African countries that benefit from this agreement into bowing to America's interests. In 2015 before the renewal of the agreement America refused to renew South Africa's agreement because South Africa had blocked America's chicken products from accessing their market in a move to protect their farmers. South Africa also accused American producers of dumping substandard chicken products on their market. After America insisting it will not renew the AGOA agreement with South Africa, the South African leadership had to withdraw the ban on American chicken products and they were given the AGOA trade agreement.
However much our trade with America is important, it shouldn't come at the cost of undermining our sovereign integrity and national interests. Trade should be based on mutual benefit and respect. It's also important as they make those arrogant demands and directives to remind them that there are only 50 Ugandan companies that have been benefiting from AGOA, and with time, Uganda has built a very big market for our products both in the region and abroad with reliable and respectful genuine partners.
Take an example: in 2022, Uganda's total exports were $5.47 billion, but goods exported under AGOA were worth just 10.6 million. Under the wise leadership of President Museveni, Uganda has taken deliberate measures to diversify our trade relations, join different trade blocs, and build good diplomatic relationships with many trade partners, some of whom are members of AGOA. Therefore, while the exclusion from AGOA is a notable event, it won't have much impact on our economy as Uganda has many reliable partners that will fill in that gap.
It is important that these Western nations revise their historical perspective of Africa, dating back to the colonial era when the continent was primarily seen as a source of valuable minerals and agricultural products for the benefit of foreign industries and development. Instead, we should strive for trade agreements that promote technology transfer, skill development, and the establishment of American industries within Africa. These Western countries should also increase their investment in infrastructure development projects, including roads, electricity generation, schools, and hospitals, which are critical for production and development.
The government's commitment now should be to foster our local industrial sector so that it can create market for local farmers and producing competitive goods in terms of price and quality for the international market. To fellow compatriots who share these concerns, our focus should be on value addition and providing our farmers with the necessary information to produce high-quality products.
The writer is a concerned citizen