A good African story?

by Simon Collings

A few weeks ago a parcel arrived for me at work from Amazon. It was a book – A Good African Story: how a small company built a global coffee brand – no note or letter with it. I had no idea where it had come from. It looked intriguing, but it took me a while to find time to read it.
The book is by the Ugandan entrepreneur Andrew Rugasira, and it tells the story of his eleven year’s of struggle to export roasted coffee from Uganda, thereby capturing value locally. The extra margin earned on the crop was to be shared with the growers, through the price paid for coffee beans, and though investment in improved productivity.
Rugasira’s battle with the international trading system is compelling reading. He’s particularly good on the kinds of ‘non-tariff’ barriers which confront African exporters, including the many practical obstacles to breaking into UK and US markets.  The story begins with some helpful scene setting, a succinct analysis of how the colonial legacy continues to shape present day African realities, and a trenchant critique of corrupt African elites.
Good African Coffee, the company  Rusagira and his team built, became the first African-owned roasted-coffee brand to make it onto UK supermarket shelves. If did not carry a ‘fair trade’ label because, as Rugasira explains in his book, it was ‘more than fair trade’. His vision went beyond paying farmers a little bit more for their crop, aspiring instead to invest in them,  transforming their lives.
Rugasira’s particular spin on the ‘trade not aid’ theme has gained him a degree of international prominence. It’s a story and a message to which we should pay more attention. His critique of the aid industry is hard to argue with. If you want to understand why so many Africans are trapped in poverty read this book, or listen to him here.
His book appeared in 2014. What’s happening right now at Good Africa Coffee is unclear. The company’s website doesn’t seem to have been updated for quite a while, and earlier this year the business was temporarily closed by the Uganda Revenue Authority over tax arrears. The coffee no longer seems to be available in the UK.