One of the outcomes of the 3-day official visit of President Uhuru Kenyatta to Uganda, the signing of a deal to open up the Kenyan market for Ugandan sugar, has created a storm in the Kenyan tea cup.
The reaction of the skeptical Kenyan public is predominantly being associated with the state of the Kenyan sugar industry, but even more poignantly, the personal role of President Uhuru Kenyatta as the deal maker.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Kenya’s sugar story has become one bitter-sweet story going back to over 20 years, during which farmers gave up and uprooted their cane, farms were left fallow and occasional shortage was mitigated and, yes, those who mitigated it were well connected political business players also known as tendereneurs.
In a statement, the Coalition for Restoration of Democracy -Cord – says, “The President of the Republic of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, has questioned our commitment to our region and our country because we have questioned the deal he signed with his Uganda counterpart, President Yoweri Museveni.
“We wish to make it clear that we love the East Africa Community and we want it to succeed. But we love honesty more. We treasure transparency and accountability in the conduct of national affairs.
We love and respect our constitution which, at Article 35 (3), says; “The State shall publish and publicize any important information affecting the nation.”
And when the choice is between our people and our region, the choice should be easy and clear – it is our people first. We appeal to the President and his administration to join us in this patriotic duty.
Our position remains that the deal allowing Uganda to sell its sugar in Kenya is at odds with the desires and aspirations of our people.
It is unpatriotic and a betrayal of a hardworking people who have long relied on sugarcane to develop their nation and their counties.
And this matter must not be trivialized and ethicized as the Jubilee regime is trying to. It is not a Luhya or Western Kenya issue. It affects livelihoods in the sugar cane growing counties of Bungoma, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Busia, Kisumu, Migori, Narok and Kwale. This is as national as any issue can be.
We are talking about the impact of this deal on Mumias Sugar, Nzoia Sugar, West Kenya Sugar and Butali Sugar in Western. We are talking about Ramisi Sugar in Kwale, Sony Sugar in Migori, Transmara Sugar in Narok, Muhoroni sugar, Chemelil Sugar and Kibos Sugar in Kisumu and Sukari industries in Homa Bay County.
In all these counties, mature cane is either rotting in farms or farmers have not been paid for their cane because the factories are making losses.
The factories are making losses because cheap imported sugar have filled warehouses and flooded the market. And yet in all these areas, sugarcane farming, struggling as it is, has helped millions of families educate their children and put food on the table. An already bad situation is set to get worse with the Uganda deal.
Instead of protecting families and jobs in these counties, this agreement will, on the contrary, lead to the total destruction of the Kenya sugar industry.
With his signature, the president has turned the sugar industry into a lottery for Kenya farmers. It opens doors for crooked business and government officials who have the money and the connections to import sugar from anywhere, give it a Uganda label, and dump it here. We wish to make it clear that Uganda has no surplus sugar which it can sell to Kenya. The figures being floated are just part of the conspiracy and dishonesty that we must resist.
As at December 2014, Uganda’s total sugar consumption projection stood at 420,966 metric tonnes. The total production capacity, on the other hand, was projected to be 438,400 metric tonnes distributed as follows:
Kakira …………………………..180,000 metric tonnes……………41.06% Kinyara Sugar Works……..120,360.metric tonnes……………27.45% Sugar Corporation……………73,500 metric tonnes…………..16.77% Sugar and Allied………………29,000 metric tonnes…………….6.73% Others…………………………….35,000 metric tonnes…………….7.98% Total………………………….438,400 metric tonnes………….100.00%.
Writing in Uganda’s Daily Monitor on August 12, 2015, Nicholas Kalungi said the following: “Unless local (Uganda’s) sugar production capacity is increased, consumers will continue paying high prices for the commodity.
This comes after the operational sugar companies such as Lugazi, Kakira and Kinyara – among others – failed to meet the 2012 sugar production forecast.”
In the 2011/2012 period, Uganda was hit by the worst sugar shortage in its recent history. A kilo of sugar retailed at Uganda shillings 15,000 (Kshs.430).
So, Mr President, where is Uganda suddenly getting this sugar to sell cheaply to Kenya in the name of the East African Community?
The answer is simple. Ugandan businessmen, together with business cartels in Kenya, among them government officials, will source sugar from other parts of the world, route it to Uganda and return it to Kenya as Uganda sugar. They will make a killing for themselves while killing our factories and our farmers.
Sugar cane farmers have long struggled with the problem of smuggling and dumping of cheap sugar.
The deal with Uganda is an attempt to make dumping and smuggling easy. Our farmers will lose the battle. It is a gamble we cannot afford and must not accept.
Mr President, join us in rejecting the deal. This deal is one-sided. It is neither fair nor just. The president must explain to Kenyans what, in his view, the impact of the unchecked and unlimited sugar imports from Uganda will be on the already ailing Kenyan sugar industry. How does this deal help Kenya’s sugar belt?
What safeguards are in place to stop sugar from the rest of world coming into Kenya via Uganda (including by Kenyan sugar barons who can use Uganda as a base)? We are aware that the EAC partner states who are also members of COMESA received a final extension of the sugar industry protection.
This period was supposed to allow each country to revamp its industry and make the necessary changes and investments in their sugar industries ready to compete in COMESA when the final extension runs out. How does this deal help our industries prepare for the end of COMESA protection period?
Why did the national government ignore the governments of sugarcane growing counties knowing well that under the 2010 constitution Agriculture is a devolved function?
We believe the sugar-cane farmers have been sacrificed by a government pandering to narrow corporate and personal interests. Our vital national interests are threatened by this deal.
We call on President Kenyatta to join us in defending the nation and protecting our farmers.
The columnist, a media consultant and researcher, is a regular commentator on East African issues with interest in media development in the region.