Uganda’s coffee sector has undergone several ups and downs over the last three decades.
In the 1990s, the sector enjoyed some relative vibrancy after liberalization of the coffee export from the monopoly of the defunct Coffee Marketing Board (CMB).
The first years of local coffee, exports after liberalisation of coffee export was fantastic. A lot of money was made by local traders and exporters.
The emerging of dollar millionaires in Uganda brought more exporters on board. However, over the years the coffee export sector has been taken away from locals.
The locals who dominated the export sector are now no more. But how did we end up here?
It all started with the introduction of the stabilization tax.
I have never known what this tax was all about. I tried to investigate these taxes but ended up more confused.
One official at the finance ministry confessed to me that it was introduced by International Monetory Fund, but he still referred me to Bank of Uganda Governor Tumusime Mutebile (RIP).
Over the years, I tried to get answers from Mutebile but it was a subject he was not ready to discuss socially.
Recently after the passing on of Mutebile, I sent a message to my good friend Andrew Mwenda, hoping that with his knowledge in economics, he would give me an answer.
He called me for a few minutes and promised to get back to me. It has been weeks and I’m still waiting.
Within 2-3 years of introduction of the stabilization tax, all local coffee exporters were wiped out. Their entities were taken over by international or foreign organizations. It was such a painful situation after such a hard fight.
As of today, all founder members of private coffee export are on the sidelines watching. The coffee export business is in hands of foreign interests. We must mobilize for a second revolution to liberate the coffee industry.
The more shocking moment came in 2007, when the global cartel International Coffee Organization (ICO) was formed and Uganda Coffee traders/ regulators and entire government of Uganda was hoodwinked to be part of this cartel, not knowing it was formed to regulate coffee prices and production.
The reason I’m concerned about the current state of the sector is because of the efforts together with other patriotic Ugandans put in to liberate the sector in the 90s.
It all started sometime in the 1990s, when a friend Gen. Peter Karim invited me to his home area in Paidha, Pakwach district. He wanted my advice on farming and putting up a commercial building in Paidha town.
The week I spent in Paidha changed my life forever. First of all, it is when I had my first encounter with a type of coffee known as Arabic parchment.
The coffee I had seen in Buganda and Ankole was more of Kiboko and unshelled coffee.
I come from Kashari, Mbarara district and in the entire area of Kashari coffee farming was unheard of.
But I had textbook knowledge on coffee and knew that coffee was the number one cash crop in the country. While in Phaida, I met a coffee farmer and trader who was stuck with coffee stock for almost 2 years.
As he narrated the story to Peter Kerim, I was listening attentively. The story was very sad. The man was stuck and frustrated with Coffee Marketing Board (CMB).
CMB was very thin on the ground at the time. Many other traders/farmers were in the same situation. All they needed was a rescue plan from Kerim, the son of the soil who was a senior government official.
Kerim promised them to do whatever it takes to rescue them.
This particular incident motivated me to do something. I had an extensive chat with Kerim about the coffee challenges and how to help the poor traders who were stuck with coffee.
I told the young man who was stuck with coffee that my name is Taremwa which in my language means one who can’t fail. I told him I had ideas on how to deal with the coffee issue. I told Kerim that since he was privileged and in government, he could push CMB officials to rescue these people.
The second option was that each district should have a zonal office with enough resources to handle farmers. My third option was that CMB should be replaced with private exporters and processors. We discussed all the options extensively but failed to conclude all the issues.
I promised Kerim that I would do research and come up with reasonable answers.
In the world of coffee then, I knew four people who loved coffee trade passionately. They include Steven Banya, Arnest Kakwana and Sir John Bagire.
When I returned to Kampala, I looked for Steven Banya. He had always taken me as a young brother. Every time we met, he would have something nice to say about the coffee industry and coffee trade in general.
One afternoon I sat down with Banya at Nile Grill, Uganda House. I asked Banya, why CMB was failing on handling the ever-growing coffee industry in Uganda and why it was not well funded, but more so lacked people with technical knowledge of coffee sector.
Later, I followed up the conversation with another mentor and friend Sir John Bageire at Nile Grill over a drink.
I reminded him of the time he left me in his Room at Hilton hotel, Nairobi for three months where I lived like a millionaire. We had a good laugh about it.
I asked him why CMB was failing coffee farmers and traders. His answer was precise.
“My son government can’t manage coffee business. We had a lengthy chat and after I was convinced we could liberate the coffee sector by handing over the parastatal to people who could match the capacity to serve the high demand at global level.
Next, I headed to CMB to look for market for the Paidha traders. Supplying CMB then was not a walk in the park-you needed contacts. I got in touch with a man called Kato (Zigoti) and Paul Mugambwa (Kyagulanyi coffee). Through these two I managed to deliver 90 metric tonnes from Paidha to CMB.
Delivering the 90 metric tones was a lifetime experience. It was the first step of the journey to liberate the coffee industry.
The head of CMB then was Ernest Kakwano who I had known from our exile days in the 80s. He is my friend and mentor. I didn’t know how to approach him on the subject matter of the parastatal where he was the head.
I was totally conflicted but I had already informed my great friend and brother-in law-the late Norman Kayonga-about my new coffee trade.
We discussed at length and resolved to go together to Kakwano and seek his guidance. We later had a meeting with Ernest.
In our meeting, he was honest as ever. He agreed with us and guided us, how to handle the issues of this massive parastatal.
We also needed a number of legislators to influence National Resistance Council to change the policy. We needed the minister of industries and coffee suppliers. Ernest gave us the names of top 5 suppliers to CMB. (1-Kyagaranyi, 2-Zigoti, 3-Kaliro, 4-Nsamba 5-one cooperative , I was later part of Nsamba group) We moved fast to bring these on board and a number of NRC members.
One afternoon, Norman Kayonga called me to go with him and meet the minister of industries, Hon. Richard Kaijuka. Sir Rich as he is known is elegant and his style of dressing is a class apart.
Norman reminded me that I had to put on a suit or formal attire for the meeting with Sir Rich. Norman and Sir Rich were ever dressed to kill. However, I’m not a man of suits. I turned up for the meeting not in a suit. With the two men dressed smartly in suits, I apologized for turning up in casual wear. I gave them an excuse that I didn’t have suits in my wardrobe.
To break the ice, I joked that there was a rumor that I might be the next Prime minister and that’s when I would put on a suit. Sir Rich laughed at my statement and with tongue in chick asked if I was planning a coup.
Back to coffee business, after the meeting, I was told to write a two-page document which I did the following day. I went back to Norman and begged him to have input to expedite the process.
Norman brought on board a friend called Sam Kavuma. Kavuma is now a General in Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) today. I can only describe him as an officer and gentleman of all Seasons.
He is a revolutionary soldier, passionate farmer, and a very respective citizen-but above all a good listener.
If it was not for Kavuma’s input, privatization of coffee export would not have happened or would have taken many years to take off. I am glad Gen. Kavuma is now at the level where he can make a difference not only in coffee but the entire agriculture sector. All these efforts were not in vain but we need a second revolution to liberate the coffee sector again.
The Writer is the Chairman Rainbow Ranchers Group