Suzan Muhwezi Vs Govt: Who owns AGOA?

07 Nov 2023

KAMPALA: Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Sunday night criticised the United States over the country’s recent decision to remove Uganda from a major trade pact and issue trade advice warning about the risks of doing business in the East African nation.

Following the enactment of a controversial anti-LGBTQ law, the Ugandan government was accused by Washington of violating human rights.

Last week, the United States announced it was removing Uganda, along with the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Niger, from its African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). AGOA offers duty-free access to the United States for sub-Saharan African countries.

Museveni responded on Sunday evening, assuring Ugandans that the country can move forward without support from the Western world.

“I need to advise you not to be overly concerned about the recent actions taken by the American government to discourage their companies from investing in Uganda and removing Uganda from the AGOA list,” Museveni said on X, formerly Twitter.

“Some of these actors in the Western world overestimate themselves and underestimate the freedom fighters of Africa,” the president added.

However, critics have jumped in to criticize the local managers of the project, citing inefficiency and selfishness.

Locally, AGOA is managed by Suzan Muhwezi, wife of Security Minister Jim Muhwezi. Muhwezi is accused of running AGOA like a private entity after refusing to hand it over to the line ministry of trade.

Documents indicate that AGOA has been performing below capacity compared to the benefits reaped by other African countries.

In FY 2012/2013, for instance, Parliament declined to pass AGOA budget of sh482M because AGOA had not produced performance reports or accountability for the previous 10 years.

Critics of Muhwezi also argue that in the subsequent years, the AGOA budget reduced from sh1.042b in 2017/2018 to sh100m in 2023/2024 (over 90% cut). This happened because AGOA was underperforming, the critics say.

Earlier media reports indicated that Finance Minister Amelia Kyambadde then warned that personalizing AGOA would render it useless.

“She said that other countries had benefitted from AGOA unlike Uganda because of personalising the programme. You know who has personalised it. [The “owner” of AGOA doesn’t want it mainstreamed in trade ministry because she is avoiding accountability],” a critic wrote on X.

In fact, Kyambadde made it to the front page after clashing with Suzan Muhwezi over the mismanagement.

“I am trying to save AGOA. There are very many good presidential initiatives but the challenge is structures. We need a law, governance and funding for these initiatives. We would not be complaining if these were catered for,” Kyambadde told parliamentarians in 2012.

“What is Uganda doing about this initiative? Where is the law protecting AGOA? Suzan, we should not personalize these offices. We should all work together,” Kyambadde added in the presence of Muhwezi.

The final nail came when it was revealed that a desk in charge of AGOA at the trade ministry was basically useless at the time.

Legislators at the time recommended revival, recapitalization and staffing of AGOA after it was found out that such a big venture had only three staff members who shared millions of shillings amongst themselves.

“AGOA is currently run by three members of staff and as such it would need revival if its objectives are to be achieved,” the MPs noted.

In backing AGOA, Museveni said it is a misconception for some foreign actors to think that Africa cannot progress without their support. The President could be right, judging by the number of beneficiaries in Uganda.

“Certainly, as far as Uganda is concerned, we have the capacity to achieve our growth and transformation targets, even if some of these actors do not support us,” he said.

According to U.S. government statistics, in 2022, the United States exported 167 million U.S. dollars worth of goods to Uganda and imported 174 million dollars worth of goods from there. Of the goods imported to the US, less than $10m falls under the AGOA.

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