Museveni and Otafiire perpetrate a ruthless scam on the sugar sector
By Moses Kamya Ssentamu
After messing up the real estate sector through distortion of the market thanks to money stolen from the public coffers, sugarcane out-growers are the latest victims of President Museveni’s economic manipulations, thanks to his insatiable greed for money.
Reliable information emerging is that Museveni and his cronies are behind an engineered crisis in the sugar sector that has thrown millions of growers into panic and distress. In recent months, the price of cane has fallen from Ushs 170,000 per ton to just Ushs 110,000, throwing many growers into ruin. Some are already committing suicide, according to alarming reports from regions like Kakira.
Growers who had attempted “vertical integration” of their business by buying their own trucks to deliver cane to the millers are unable to service bank loans. “It is a terrible situation. Besides paying peanuts, the factories are not taking regular deliveries, leading to the bulk of the crop going into waste un-harvested,” revealed one of the growers affected by the sudden turn of events.
According to industry sources however, the prices have collapsed not because of a bumper harvest or other unavoidable factors. Their suffering is completely “man made”. Museveni and his close buddies – most notably Justice Minister Lt. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire whose name is never far from ruinous scandals – have chosen to import cheap sugar from Brazil and the Far East at the expense of local growers.
Museveni and Otafiire, whom he cannot sack because their scandals are so closely intertwined, are linked to the sugar importation racket that has enveloped local millers who have been blackmailed into repackaging imported sugar (Brazilian and Far Eastern) and presenting it as their own product, pretending it is “made in Uganda’.
The scheme however has not escaped the keen eyes of regional intelligence services that have now advised their governments not to allow Uganda-branded sugar into their markets.
Although they worry about the long terms consequences for the supply of cane if farmers abandon the crop, local millers who have been incentivized to act as proxies in Museveni and Otafiire’s scam are for now happy with the windfall profits. They are however suffering a backlash after regional neighbours, acting on solid intelligence blocked so called Ugandan sugar from their markets.
Museveni and his justice minister’s scam has been blown out of the water, but it is Ugandan sugar growers paying the price. The prevailing odd situation in Uganda is that despite a glut of sugar on the market, retail prices for it remain high, while growers are getting peanuts for their effort.
The sugar racket has become so profitable for Museveni and his cronies that he has been pushing for the expansion of cane growing from the traditional regions in the south, to northern Uganda. There, large swathes of land remain thanks to the devastation wrecked by Museveni’s army during the two-decade insurgency that displaced many people from their homes and fields.
Museveni’s proxy in northern Uganda is the Somalia born Amina Hirsi who has set up Atiak Sugar Factory which Museveni bankrolled by buying a so called government stake in the venture without any formal documentation or parliamentary approval. The real purpose of Atiak sugar is to give Museveni cover in the expanding market.
What has surprised many observers however is that the growers are not allowed to explore alternative markets across the border in Kenya, whose millers suffer a perennial shortage of cane. Recently the army was deployed in eastern Uganda to stop growers from the Busoga region to deliver cane under contract to Kenya.
Sugarcane has displaced other cash crops in the Busoga region and has now become the economic mainstay of nearly 2 million people. Now all these people face economic ruin of spectacular proportions.
All this does not matter to Museveni however, who is determined to confine them in economic and political servitude to him. Museveni’s political support has been rapidly decaying in many parts of the country, something he attributes to the emerging economic independence especially in Busoga. His calculation is that an impoverished populace will become more beholden to his opportunistic handouts.
Museveni has another reason for killing the out-growers. They are the force behind a multiplicity of small millers that are eating into the market share that was previously almost been exclusively enjoyed by his anointed millers. Forcing the out-growers to abandon cane would remove the pressure from his proxies who in any case own huge core plantations.
The tragedy is that Museveni’s big fish would survive any subsequent shortage in cane supplies, yet he still chooses to ruin the small Ugandan families.
This is not the first time the president is targeting a sector with a view to causing economic devastation for the weaker member of the community. Over the past decade, he has allowed stolen public money to find its way into the real estate sector where it had made land unaffordable for honest folk, while it is also fueling land grabbing at a galloping rate.
People are quite frightened for the future with this ruler still at the helm.