The story of Tri-Star in Uganda is basically the same story of exploitation and destruction of nascent indigenous industries, plunder of abundant human and material resources and another example of how African governments have squandered the peoples´ resources in order to curry favour with Washington. Lowery Museveni´s Ugandan government promoted Tri-Star in order to cash in on AGOA. During its operation, Tri Star imported fabric from Asia and then made finished clothing products for US markets, even though there is ample cotton in Uganda. Instead of investing Uganda´s resources on establishing milling factories, the Government of Uganda chose instead to do what was the quickest and best option for US importers.
By Sophia Tesfamariam
On 25 August 2009, the sad news about the death of Senator Edward Kennedy was everywhere; it seemed everyone wanted to say something about the man who had done so much in his lifetime. He was a man of integrity and great honesty, a man who will be remembered for his courage, humanity, and passion for life. He stood tall for justice and equality and most of all, he stood for the dignity of all mankind. His colleagues will remember him for his great skill and political dexterity, his is a life any American youth can recite and remember with great pride. When my friend called me that morning, I assumed he was calling to ask me if I had read the news about Kennedy… I told him that I had and that it was a sad day for America. He quickly realized that we were talking about two different news items.
He was calling about the shoddy 25 August 2009 Wall Street Journal article “Four Way to Help Africa” authored by Jendayi E. Frazer, the former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. I could tell he was angry and thought I better read it for myself and see what had him so incensed. After I read it, I understood why he was reacting the way that he did. My mind wondered back to Kennedy, who he was and what he stood for, and wondered how two Americans, both supposedly working for the interests of America and the American people, could be so different. While Kennedy fulfilled his political ambitions and served his nation without condoning and facilitating the death and destruction of others, Frazer´s abrasive character, incompetence and total lack of diplomatic acumen on the other hand, leaves behind trails of bloody footprints all over the African continent where thousands of people have been killed and displaced and their homes and villages pulverized in conflicts she fueled and instigated.
Let us take a closer look at what she proposed in her childish 25 August 2009 article. Her very first recommendation gave away her true motives. It was a call to put Eritrea on the list of countries that sponsor terror, and this is the incoherent explanation she offered:
“…Al Shabaab recruits young Americans to become suicide bombers. It also has turned Somalia into a haven for mujahedeen fighters from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The al Qaeda East Africa cell is based in Somalia and was responsible for the bombing of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Mrs. Clinton laid a wreath in Kenya to commemorate the embassy bombing. She can help prevent a future attack on our diplomatic missions and citizens in the Horn and East Africa by taking direct action against Eritrea today…”
Everyone, including Frazer knows that there is absolutely no proof that the individuals responsible for the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania are in any way related to the Al Shabbab or the Union of Islamic Courts. That is pure fiction-Frazer´s fiction concocted to justify her illegal interference in Somalia. It is a deliberate attempt to mislead Americans once again. It should be recalled that Frazer had tried to prevent the US media from writing about the US-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. At first Ethiopia claimed it was facing “imminent threat” from the UIC, then the story changed and Ethiopia claimed it was “invited” by Abdulahi Yusuf and Ali Mohammed Ghedi to invade Somalia, and then came the outlandish unsubstantiated story about an “Islamic caliphate” taking over the Horn.
Ethiopia´s two-year occupation of Somalia resulted in the greatest humanitarian disaster in that country since the fall of the Siad Barre government. Over 20,000 innocent Somali civilians have been slaughtered, Somalia´s infrastructures are in shambles, Ethiopian forces have tortured and raped Somali women, destroyed their markets etc. etc. Blaming Eritrea for her own incompetence, miscalculations, personal mistakes and blunders will not advance US interests in Africa and in no way help Africa or the people of the Horn. Instead of admitting her mistakes and apologizing to the Somali people, she wants to now come up with another lie to cover up her crimes in that country.
It is unfortunate that she has chosen to become a mouthpiece for Meles Zenawi. Putting Eritrea on the list of countries that sponsor terror is Meles Zenawi´s dream and wish. He believes, as Frazer obviously does, that they, as the instigators, planners and executioners of the illegal Ethiopian invasion and occupation of Somalia, would be absolved of the international crimes committed in Somalia, if Eritrea were to take the blame. Frazer and Zenawi should be held personally accountable for the deaths of thousands of innocent Somalis that were labeled “extremists”, “jihadists”, “fundamentalists”, “insurgents” etc. etc. “hunted down” by Meles Zenawi´s mercenary forces and extra judicially massacred.
Frazer wants to put Eritrea on the list of countries that sponsor terror because the Government of Eritrea disagreed with the US-backed Ethiopian invasion and occupation of Somalia and the installment of various Transitional Federal Governments (TFG) in Somalia against the wishes and aspirations of the Somali people. Eritrea believes that the only rational solution to the crisis in Somalia is political, not military, and has consistently called for external non-interference in Somalia. If we follow Frazer´s reasoning we would have to put Edward Kennedy on the list for his views on Iraq. He too disagreed with the Bush Administration, he did not want war, and he opted for a political solution to Iraq.
Her second proposal was to “oppose congressional legislation to extend the trade preferences in the African Growth and Opportunity Act to all developing countries”. She offers very little explanation for her argument and I bet she is trying to appease her dictator friends and of course the predatory transnational corporations and US retailers who have benefited the most from AGOA. Here is what she wrote as she shamelessly touted AGOA´s success:
“…Thanks to this legislation 40,000 jobs were created in Lesotho alone, mostly for women in the textile sector …extending the same trade preferences to hypercompetitive Cambodia and Bangladesh—each of which individually exports more apparel to the U.S. than all of sub-Saharan Africa combined—will undermine the program’s success in Africa…”
What success is she talking about? Any honest analyst will tell you that AGOA has been a total failure. Frazer wants us to believe that she is concerned about Africa´s access to US markets and that Cambodia and Bangladesh are somehow to blame for Africa´s inability to take advantage of the “opportunities” under AGOA. The trick is not to punish Cambodia and Bangladesh for developing their industries and competing in the world market, it is to help Africans to do the same…
Almost 10 years since the introduction of AGOA by the Clinton Administration, oil imports to the US from Nigeria, Angola and Gabon still make up over 94% of Africa´s export to the US under AGOA. So who benefited? As we shall see later, the much touted “success” in the textile sectors were a gross exaggeration and in some cases actually reversed development of these sectors and destroyed nascent industries. Many African economists and analysts had reservations about AGOA and I, as a longtime Africa observer, had strong reservations about it and said so. I was actually happy when Eritrea was unceremoniously removed from the list…it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
I was not alone in my suspicions of AGOA; here are some of the voices that were just as skeptical and critical of AGOA from the very beginning, voices that were ignored and gagged by the likes of Frazer:
“…African countries are pressured to adopt WTO-like, and even WTO-plus, provisions relating to intellectual property rights protection, investment and financial liberalisation, and labour ¬ all in exchange for some illusory benefits. The AGOA is a US law enacted by the US for the purpose of securing opportunities for US businesses, to the detriment of African economies. It offers no benefits for African economies. The AGOA is a Trojan horse used to trap African governments into giving up their legitimate rights under the WTO…”-(Dakar Manifesto 2001)
“… we reject on principle the “conditionality” approach, which tramples on the sovereignty of African nations and the democratic rights of its people to shape national policy…”-(Letter signed by 35 Africa based NGOs)
“…This is a matter over which we have serious reservations… To us this is not acceptable…”- (Former South African President Nelson Mandela )
AGOA is the “Africa Recolonization Act”-(Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.)
“…the only groups targeted for assistance are the multinationals who largely control Africa’s trade and access to rich markets…”-(The Association of Concerned African Scholars)
“…To argue that AGOA will be the means by which we can penetrate the US market is a delusion. The main effect of AGOA is to link aid to economic reform, [such as] the dismantling of a states regulatory environment. There are no benefits, and the costs include clear manifestations of deepening structural adjustment and deregulation. AGOA is simply another way of undermining Africa´s ability to mobilize domestic resources for development…”-
(Charles Abugre, director of the Integrated Social Development Center in Ghana)
There are several conditions that have to be met to become eligible for AGOA, including one that says that the country has to have a “market-based economy” and has to “eliminate all barriers to US trade and investment”. There is also a provision of AGOA that is not listed amongst the formal conditions for eligibility and is not often mentioned by Frazer and her cohorts. It is the one that says that unlimited duty-free exports of textiles and apparels are allowed only if they are produced with American raw materials. In addition, the President has the authority to suspend duty free apparel if they “cause serious damage, or threat thereof” to the domestic US industry. So Africa, with its unlimited raw materials had to sell in the world market at lower than cost to others who then turn around and sell finished products to Africans who then make the apparel to send to the US. It is actually mind boggling that African leaders actually agreed to do it, essentially destroying their own farmers.
Since Frazer mentioned Lesotho´s textile sector, let us take a look at Lesotho and three other countries, Madagascar, Namibia, and Uganda to appreciate the effects of AGOA on nascent African textile industries.
Imagine my shock when I found out that there were over 50 Taiwanese-owned clothing factories in Lesotho, a very small country (the size of Maryland) that is completely surrounded by South Africa. The way Frazer talks about Lesotho, you are led to believe that the people of Lesotho owned the factories that were producing these AGOA eligible products. The Taiwanese sought to take advantage of AGOA and Lesotho´s proximity to South Africa´s good roads, highways and ports to ship million of jeans, T-shirts and other apparel to American stores such as the GAP, K-Mart, J.C Penney at low cost. As for the thousands of new jobs for women, Frazer forgets to tell her readers that the job migration to the capital was a result of the collapse in rural farming which used to be entirely run by women. The men in Lesotho used to earn a good living by going to mine in South Africa, but they have lost their mining jobs because South Africa stopped importing foreign workers, and decided to use mechanized mining, leaving the men in Lesotho without any livelihood. That is how the women of Lesotho became the breadwinners.
So there was no real increase in overall employment and because only women were being hired at these plants to sew and thread etc. the men were left unemployed and desperate. The situation did not create wealth for the people of Lesotho. Corporate America benefited from cheap labor and transportation costs. As a matter of fact, despite what Frazer wants us to believe about Lesotho, the textile industry in Lesotho was well underway before AGOA ever came into the picture and AGOA may have actually irreversibly stunted its growth and development. The real and serious challenge to Lesotho is what happens to it in 2015 when the initiative ends and Lesotho made products no longer have privilege to enter the United States market.
AGOA was a nightmare for the people of Namibia, they became victims of the predatory transnational corporations like Ramatex Textile & Garment Factory, a Malaysian company moved to Namibia in 2001 to take advantage of AGOA. The plant turned cotton (imported duty free from West Africa) into textiles for the US market. Herbert Jauch, head of research and education for the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI) in a 26 March 2008 Report stated that:
“…A study carried out by LaRRI in 2003 found widespread abuses of workers rights, including included forced pregnancy tests for women who applied for jobs; non-payment for workers on sick leave; very low wages and no benefits; insufficient health and safety measures; no compensation in case of accidents; abuse by supervisors; and open hostility towards trade unions etc…Ramatex used a significant number of Asian migrant workers, mostly from China, the Philippines and Bangladesh. Although the company claimed that they were brought in as trainers, most of them were employed as mere production workers with basic salaries of around U$ 300 – 400 per month which were higher than their Namibian counterparts…”
In the end, Ramatex, the only beneficiary under AGOA in Namibia, closed its factory leaving hundreds and thousands of Namibians unemployed. Rauch writes:
“…Ramatex represents a typical example of a transnational corporation playing the globalisation game. Its operations in Namibia have been characterised by controversies, unresolved conflicts and tensions…Worst affected were the thousands of young, mostly female workers who had to endure highly exploitative working conditions for years and in the end were literally dumped in the streets without any significant compensation…Ramatex had shown the same disregard for workers when it closed its subsidiary Rhino Garments in Namibia in 2005…”
On 19 November 2007 the Namibian paper quoted President Pohamba as saying:
“…AGOA has not yielded the desired results as far as American investment is concerned despite the incentives provided by African governments to potential investments…”
The story of Tri-Star in Uganda is basically the same story of exploitation and destruction of nascent indigenous industries, plunder of abundant human and material resources and another example of how African governments have squandered the peoples´ resources in order to curry favour with Washington. Lowery Museveni´s Ugandan government promoted Tri-Star in order to cash in on AGOA. During its operation, Tri Star imported fabric from Asia and then made finished clothing products for US markets, even though there is ample cotton in Uganda. Instead of investing Uganda´s resources on establishing milling factories, the Government of Uganda chose instead to do what was the quickest and best option for US importers. The expectations were high. According to a report published by the BBC in 2004:
“…The Tri-Star apparel factory in the Kampala suburb of Bugolobi is bright and clean. Large motivational signs urge staff to build the nation. Banners on the wall read “Made in Uganda, sold in USA”…Tri-Star supplies clothes to a range of US companies…There are more than 2,000 workers at the site, stitching clothes to sell to American companies such as Wal-Mart, JC Penney and Target…”
Judy Auma, a Uganda based Staff Writer for African Executive wrote the following about Tri Star, in a January 2007 article:
“…The factory, which was launched 5 years ago, received high government support and was viewed as an opportunity for Uganda to exploit USA´s tariff and quota free market. Ugandans were made to believe the establishment would not only nurture a rich and stable market for Uganda´s struggling cotton farmers, but also become a reliable source of employment…Since its inception, the factory has neither bought a single bail of Uganda´s local cotton nor exported a stitch from locally produced fabric. Worse still, it has promoted nearly zero growth in terms of employment and the development of the cotton sector…”
The company left the country without repaying any of its debts, leaving behind a destitute workforce and an industry struggling to remain afloat.
What about Madagascar, the other nation that Frazer and company tell us benefited from AGOA? It too has not fared well. A segment of the population, again, only women, may have benefited from its textile sector, but all that is at risk today, not because of anything of their doing but because of political problems in that country that may disqualify Madagascar from the AGOA list. As for AGOA benefiting the Malagasy people, let us take a look at the statistics. A 29 March 2009 Africa Rising report says:
“…the promised AGOA benefits have not translated to a better life for Madagascar´s people. Madagascar ranks at 143 out of 179 countries measured by the United Nations´ Human Development Index Despite its economic progress on paper, the country ranks 164th in terms of gross domestic product per capital…”
Reports surfaced in June 2009 about Washington threatening to pull the plug on Madagascar´s AGOA certification. These reports said:
“…Madagascar could be removed from eligibility for trade preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act due to a recent change in government that the U.S. has determined was “undemocratic and contrary to the rule of law… the State Department has classified the change in government as a coup d´etat and is therefore moving to suspend assistance to the government of Madagascar…”
Madagascar is a good example of the US State Departments hypocrisy and duplicity. Everyone knows that Ethiopia is by no means a democratic country and that the minority regime has:
Violated international law and the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commissions´ final and binding delimitation decisions and numerous Security Council resolutions on Eritrea and Ethiopia, it has also violated both the African Union and the United Nations Charters by invading and occupying sovereign Eritrean and Somali territories
Committed international crimes in Somalia including rape, murder and wanton destruction.
Violated and continues to violate the human rights of the Ethiopian people by detaining thousands across the country for voting against the regime in the 2005 elections. Thousands more are being held on trumped up charges, including Birtukan Medeksa, a prominent Ethiopian opposition leader and a judge. It should be noted here that Ethiopia is one of the countries used by the Bush Administration in its extraordinary rendition program where prisoners are taken to places like Ethiopia where in secret CIA run prisons they are interrogated and tortured.
Committed genocides in the Gambela, Ogaden and Oromia regions of Ethiopia. Genocide Watch and other rights groups are seeking a ICC indictment against the regime.
Yet, the US State Department that is threatening to remove Madagascar from the list for violating one of the AGOA conditions today, has refused to take any punitive actions against Meles Zenawi´s regime that has committed even graver crimes.
I am in no way suggesting that Ethiopian textile workers pay for the crimes committed by Meles Zenawi and his regime by having their AGOA status revoked, I am however suggesting that the US State Department, if it wants to salvage its fledgling credibility, can “look the other way” and don´t punish the Malagasy textile sector workers for the “coup” in Madagascar, for which they had no part. By the way, Madagascar may turn out to be the only “success” story on AGOA.
Today, the US State Department´s own Inspector General in his August 2009 agrees with this author and others who were skeptical of AGOA from the get-go. Here is what he said in his scathing Report about Frazer´s Bureau of African Affairs and AGOA:
“…the economic impact of AGOA has been limited even though most of sub-Saharan Africa is now in AGOA… Many African countries have yet to benefit substantially from AGOA preferences. Poorly developed infrastructure, a lack of affordable credit, weak merchandising, and an inability to meet U.S. phytosanitary regulations are among the many factors that thus far have limited the intended trade promotion and diversification effects of AGOA… The bulk of AGOA exports result from petroleum and other extractive industries. When U.S. imports of African petroleum products are excluded, the sum of trade for which AGOA can make some boast for promoting is relatively small…”
Johnnie Carson, the new US Secretary of State for African Affairs ought to take a closer look at AGOA and make realistic and non-parasitic recommendations to the Obama Administration.
Frazer´s 3rd recommendation was something about having a summit in the White House for her favorite dictators from Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Why would Obama want to associate himself with these leaders and shake their blood soaked hands? I used to think the Congo Holocaust was the one that took place during the colonial era under King Leopold. I thought wrong…there have been more deaths in the Congo since independence than in Congo´s entire history…the last 10 years being the most deadly. In 2001-2008, over 6 million Congolese lost their lives in the resource conflicts instigated and financed by US and UK allies Lowery Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda. A U.N. report describes Frazer´s favorite dictators, Kagame and Museveni, whose mercenary regimes are responsible for the carnage in the Congo as “the mafia dons of Congo´s exploitation”…What does that make her?
From the CIA planned murder of Patrice Lumumba until today, the United States has played a major role (with the United Nations) in the stifling of the democratic aspirations of the Congolese people. The United States backed the 1996 and 1998 invasions of the Congo by its allies, Rwanda and Uganda. Despite Frazer´s vocal denials, Rwanda again in 2008 occupied sovereign Congolese territories. A recent UN report on the Congo has some damning information that France, Washington and the UK would like to see swept under the rug. The Congo saga is too long to be addressed in one sitting.
Contrary to what Frazer eludes in her piece, Clinton didn´t go to Goma in Eastern Congo where the United Nations has recorded at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence against girls and women in the region since 1996 because she managed to get “clearance”; she went there because, unlike Frazer who has never been to any refugee or camps for the Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur, Somalia, or the Congo, Clinton, a mother and a woman herself, cared enough about the suffering of the women there. I just hope that Hilary Clinton having seen the horror with her own eyes can find the compassion in her heart to say ENOUGH. I hope she can convince the Obama Administration to change course in Africa and stop propping up dictators and murderers and stand up for the suffering people of Africa.
The Obama Administration, if it is serious about bringing change to Africa, should listen to all African leaders, especially those that have differing views on certain issues. Just dealing with, and appeasing regimes that lap up to Washington is not in the best interest of their people or the United States. Three is nothing inherently superior about America´s leaders, they are human and fallible. They too can learn from other leaders with distinct experiences and knowledge. Contrary to what Frazer and junior diplomats like her think, Africa is not so desperate to have relations with the United States, especially a predatory one. Africa is seeking partnership, not patronage and certainly not re-colonization.
Frazer´s final recommendation was to move AFRICOM to Liberia, another US client state, which is the only country in Africa that wants AFRICOM in its territory. African governments and their people have rejected the establishment of AFRICOM anywhere in Africa. If Frazer is suggesting that AFRICOM gets established against the wishes of the people of Africa, then she obviously has not learnt any lessons there. Africans will not allow the re-colonization of Africa-no matter what pretext is used.
Frazer and her ilk mistake power for prestige, mistake “fear” for respect, and forget that it takes immense courage to make peace and instigating wars and conflicts are the work of cowards. As a matter of fact, they have become sad examples of how little they have learned despite their educational credentials. Frazer is typical of what is desperately wrong with Washington. Her corrupt and vindictive demeanor coupled with her total lack of knowledge about Africa and its people has cost Africans plenty. I have long called for regime change at the US State Department´s Bureau of African Affairs and felt vindicated when the Report released in August 2009 by the Department’s Office of the Inspector General cited Frazer´s incompetence and mismanagement as one of the many problems that has plagued that office.
Frazer can do us all a favor and go back into hibernation for a long, long, long time. The Obama Administration can do just fine without her self serving idiotic recommendations.
The rule of law must prevail over the law of the jungle!