Of Kenya, Uganda, Sugar and Brookside…

sug

Sorry I could not come up with a better title. This one appeals to me best; the tale of two countries, sugar, and a dairy processing giant in East Africa! To top it all, the politicking surrounding this entire issue having created a buzz that just refuses to go down. The big question here however is, does any of the political factions have the farmers interests at heart?

First, this is not the first time that Sugar has dominated the Kenyan political scene. The decline of Mumias Sugar Factory has been in the limelight for quite sometime now. Just recently, the Kenyan Government released Kshs. 1 Billion to help salvage the dying industry. Whether or not the mission is on its way to fruition is not public knowledge. At least not until it is realized that just like there is always an inlet to pour in ‘rescue funds’ in the name of the farmers, there is also an outlet that is very keen on siphoning every last penny off the sugar millers coffers. This angle however remains unaddressed.

The quantity of sugar consumed locally stands at 720,000 metric tonnes. This against a meager 520,000 metric tonnes produced by the local sugar millers. This therefore implies that we have a deficit of around 200,000 metric tonnes, the exact value for which COMESA had allowed for importation into Kenya, in accordance to the agreed on tonnes. What faces us now is the opening of the floodgates that would in turn see the influx of sugar into the country and a massive reduction in the purchasing cost of the same. The flip-side however will be massive losses by the local companies and maybe even their closure if they are unable to keep up.

 

Is it time we interrogated the level of technology of our local industries vis-a-vis the quantity and quality of sugar produced? If Malawi’s sugar production costs are 4 times lower that Kenya’s, doesn’t that point at something that could be done to improve on our current sugar woes?

It is common knowledge that we shall not always be protected from the market forces. Our industries have to keep up or risk losing out. Kenya needs to keep up pace with the rest of the world if at all we expect to compete effectively, not just where we have strengths but weaknesses too. If the sugar industry is so hot a task to manage then we really should consider privatizing it. That way, not only will efficiency be improved and bureaucracy eliminated, the farmers will be in safer hands. As things stand today, the government is perfecting the art of failing. And no matter the step they take, the ghosts of misappropriation of funds are not going away soon.

 

The opposition has a role in keeping the government in check. However, would they have approached the issue any different from the way government has? The Uganda deal aside, the Kenyan market was set to be opened to sugar products from the COMESA region anyway! So, is the calls for mass action just because Uganda was mentioned somewhere, or is it also in protest of Kenya’s trade agreements within the 19 countries in the COMESA region?

The opposition has not only to be realistic but thorough at approaching the whole issue. The elephant in the room is the high costs of sugar production. If they were lower, then maybe even the threat posed by COMESA would have been of no consequence. If we want to sell we must also buy. And that rule of trade will catch up with us one of these fine days, no matter what the opposition thinks.

Lastly, The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy has threatened to rally its supporters to boycott the products of the Brookside Dairy Company that is affiliated with the President Uhuru Kenyatta. My opinion is that this is a low jab. It is time we stopped personalizing national issues and actually sought to address the real problems affecting Kenyans. How will the boycotting of Brookside products reduce the cost of producing sugar in the country? Singling out companies associated with personality in the name of fighting for the well good of the entire nation is trivial. Does sabotaging one company that also provides jobs and revenues to the country necessarily contribute to national growth?

The opposition needs to get its act together if indeed they are keen on steering this nation one day. Otherwise, they will remain the whining dog that watches another dog gnaw at a bone they so much wish was theirs.

 

Ooko Victor.

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