'Fair trade is not the solution'.

Position:Uganda - Andrew Rugasira and Good African Coffee - Interview

For someone so softly spoken, Andrew Rugasira from Uganda (pictured right), made a lot of noise during his recent visit to the UK to promote his book. You could not find a newspaper that had not reviewed his book, nor a prominent radio programme he had not been on. But if there is a story which needs to be told, it is that of Rugasira and his Good African Coffee company. It encapsulates the challenges that businesses and entrepreneurs in Africa face, whilst also providing a template for aspiring entrepreneurs to learn from. New African met him to find out more.

THE CONVERSATION WAS SUPPOSED to be "off the record", but Andrew Rugasira insisted it should be on the record. "You should record it," he insisted on seeing the dictaphone on the table. "I was really surprised at the extent to which entrepreneurs on the continent don't publish their business experiences, yet everybody talks about the private sector being the engine for growth and no one ever visits the engine room and sees what's really going on", he added.

You can sense his frustration, especially when he talks about how far the rhetoric and theory by politicians are from the reality on the ground, both in Africa and also in terms of accessing export markets.

"The governments say they have removed all the tariff barriers, but what about the non-tariff barriers?" Rugasira asks. "How about access to market issues? How about the failure to raise capital? People talk about agriculture being the next big thing, they say Africa's growth is at 6% or 7%, but hang on a minute, I mean, I have visited 36 banks but none of these financial institutions wanted to lend me money, it wasn't just even me.

"In Uganda where I come from, only 4% of the total loans given by the banks goes to agriculture, whilst 64% of the population in Africa is engaged with agriculture, contributing 34% of GDP."

So what about the non-trade barriers he mentioned? "I went to school here in the UK," he replies, "so in theory it should be easy for me. I have some networks, I know the culture. But it took me two-and-a-half years to be able to sell my product. It took 14 trips back and forth. Imagine an SME [small and medium scale enterprise] in Africa without the inherent advantages I have. So with all the talk from the Commission of Africa, I said, no, I really have to document this stuff in a book."

He decided to write the book when he took a year "away" from the business (a business owner is never truly away from his...

To continue reading