Historically branded the dark Continent and frequently categorized a basket case, war zone, disease infested and poverty ridden continent- we often forget that there indeed plenty of feel good stories in Africa. Mr. Andrew Rugasira in “A Good African Story” provides a glimpse into the untapped and unshared archives of successful and ground breaking ventures pioneered by Africans.
His vision for the company “Good African Coffee” had a foundation rooted in – recognizing coffee growers, customers, employees and shareholders; bringing the finest coffee to the market; transforming the stereotypical image of Africa and reinvesting the profits in the community. Fulfilling these goals as illustrated in this book required persistence, support from family and friends in addition to a heavy dose of perseverance.
Mr. Rugasira delivers a roadmap that can be followed by African entrepreneurs and challenges others who have successfully harvested honey from the beehive to share how they survived the bee stings. We need to focus on the good and what works to have a fighting chance he argues. The failure of successful Africans to pass down their experiences creates a knowledge deficit often exploited by western experts who have no firsthand knowledge and connection to the realities on the ground.
Though the efforts of NGOs and targeted aid are applauded, development models imposed on African nations by the Bretton Woods institutions have often failed to make a sustainable impact. Rugasira argues that Africa needs trade opportunities not aid handouts to create wealth and opportunities. Over a trillion dollars in aid have been provided to Africa but there is nothing to show for it.
One of the themes that stand out in this book is successful ‘brand’ creation- not only pertaining to the coffee product but also the ‘African continent brand’. Though many will reiterate that Africa is not a country, an entrepreneur attempting to penetrate the global markets has to account for the caricature of Africa constructed by the media and partly our own undoing.
The disreputable African brand comes to haunt Rugasira when he attempts to introduce his African produced Coffee on the shelves of Supermarkets in the U.K. Walls built over decades of African products characterized as – poor quality, lacking consistency, unreliable and uncertainty when it comes to supply are a glimpse of the barriers Rugasira needed a ladder to overcome. Rebranding the continent of Africa is a challenge we have to confront. Rugasira removes a brick from this wall by creating a successful brand of coffee while improving the livelihoods of coffee farmers in Uganda.
Another myth dispelled in this book is the notion that Africa needs more entrepreneurs. Rugasira argues that Africans do not lack the drive, talent and skillset to succeed. African businesses are prohibited by a distorted marketplace from extractive government policies and leaders whose modus operandi is ‘capture, accumulate and partially redistribute wealth’ to secure loyalty.
Our nations are still poor because ‘those in power have made choices that create poverty.’ He makes the case that even as the private sector should do the majority of the heavy lifting, responsible government intervention and leadership is critical in ‘creating capital’ through clear private-public partnerships. Rugasira defends this argument by highlighting the reverse of fortunes manifested by the Asian tigers – a road map African nations could follow.
Governments and policy makers should protect business ventures at the take off point like a child learning to walk, hold their hand until they can walk on their own. This is not a blind rejection of free market enterprise he argues – ‘but rather the appreciation that markets can fail and therefore need an interventionist mechanism in the early stages of economic development.’
Penetrating western markets continues to be a significant challenge for African entrepreneurs in spite of trade agreements signed over the years such as African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
Decades of systemic and historical distortions continue to undermine market access. These hurdles range from obtaining a travel visa to government policies that offer western entrepreneurs a safety net such as subsidies that sustain their competitive advantage. Rugasira had to go through the grueling experience simply to obtain a travel visa and indeed many African entrepreneurs are denied travel access to the west. If Rugasira’s paradigm shift of ‘trade’ as a better path to prosperity than ‘aid’ is to materialize, the doors of opportunity, a fair playing field and market access for African entrepreneurs ought to be opened.
African nations have the ability to reduce the bureaucratic burden and red tape by focusing on some of the issues highlighted that include – a short sighted bank culture stifling innovative projects and government failure to create capital for entrepreneurs.
While agriculture continues to account for a significant portion of revenues in many African nations, Rugasira highlights that our governments and private sector have done little to reinvest in our national breadwinners. Interventions such as financial literacy training, land consolidation, value added processing, access to modern farming equipment and technology will not only increase output and productivity but also transform the lives of African farmers. Andrew Rugasira through his commitment, selflessness and sacrifice was able to transform the socio-economic lives of many coffee farmers in Kasese (Uganda) while building a successful company- it is indeed a Good African Story.