Why insist on giving our coffee to Pinneti?

During his state of the nation address, President Museveni said he was the one who interested Italian investor Enrica Pinneti in getting involved in the coffee business in Uganda, although she is neither interested or knowledgeable about the industry.

His comment followed a resolution in parliament to nullify the agreement between the government and Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Ltd.

The resolution follows an investigation by the House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee, of which I am a member, which uncovered glaring irregularities in the deal, making it illegal but also unfair to Ugandans.

To begin with, coffee was Uganda’s main cash crop after independence, alongside tobacco, tea and cotton. Coffee cultivation was widely promoted by cooperatives of farmers throughout the country who oversaw the entire coffee value chain from planting, harvesting, post-harvest, value addition/processing and commercialization. These included Mengo Growers Co-operative Union Limited, Banyankole Kweterana Co-operative Union, Bugisu Co-operative Union, Masaka Co-operative Union Ltd, Kigezi Co-operative Union Society among others.

It is common knowledge that the money from these cooperatives was used to help the war that brought the NRM to power, but instead of strengthening them so that they could continue to help farmers, the NRM instead chose to destroy them!

If these cooperatives were able to process coffee 40 years ago, where would Uganda be today if they had been supported? So, after 36 years of sleep, President Museveni comes with Pinneti as a savior to resuscitate this industry, what a mistake!

How can Pinneti, who is not only ignorant but also uninterested in coffee, be the indispensable savior of the industry? If farmers, traders, people through their MPs, cultural leaders have rejected Pinneti, why should President Museveni impose him on Ugandans? Does he love the coffee growers more than themselves? Why didn’t he interest Pinneti in the dairy industry since he is a cattle rancher? Does he have even an acre of coffee that he guarantees Pinneti or is he undermining Ugandans’ ability to know what they want?

Why didn’t he consult the farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture, the UCDA, the Parliament before signing the agreement? Why make this agreement a closely guarded secret between him and Pinneti? What a coincidence that Pinneti even signed as a witness rather than the investor and yet the real investor didn’t sign? Who could be this invisible hand that did not sign the agreement?

The most intriguing question is the credibility of Pinneti, having wasted an estimated Shs.400 billion in the Lubowa Specialty Hospital scandal.

The same investor is entrusted with the livelihoods of 12 million Ugandans who depend on coffee, what a reckless decision! After getting free land in Namanve, which was a swamp, Pinneti received another Shs7b from the government to get it back.

Mrs. Pinneti mortgaged the same land to borrow money contrary to the law since she had not developed this land at 60% of the planned investment. Isn’t this enough to prove that Pinneti is not an investor but rather someone’s intermediary? Isn’t it embarrassing that Uganda is the one pouring money into investors instead of the other way around?

With all this glaring evidence exposing Pinneti as a bogus investor, why is the president still defending her? Is someone cheating on him?

All in all, the ball goes to the Ugandans; they have no minerals, the oil is not theirs, they have been driven from the lakes, their lands have been grabbed, they have been driven from the streets, their taxes have been wasted. The only thing left is coffee, they have to fight to the last drop of their blood. Uganda is now a jungle where the lion has to run fast to eat and an antelope has to run fast to survive death.

Mr. Francis Mwijukye is an MP and Shadow Minister for Trade and Industry

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