WASHINGTON, May 13 (UPI) -- U.S. efforts to protect its farmers are hurting African nations, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni said Monday.
Agricultural subsidies are "very wrong," Museveni told reporters following a luncheon speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He pointed out that agricultural subsidies by the United States to protect domestic farmers is far greater than the total overseas development assistance the government provides worldwide.
"You must get rid of subsidies. You lose much more by them," Museveni said.
Earlier Monday, President Bush signed the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, which will increase government subsidies for wheat and other grains and re-institute subsidies for wool and honey. While most products covered by the farm bill do not compete directly with those from Uganda, Museveni nonetheless stressed that the recent U.S. trend to put up protectionist measures went against the global trade regime and ultimately hampered growth worldwide.
But while the Ugandan president was quick to point out that, while industrialized nations provided $300 billion in agricultural subsidies last year alone, their contribution to development assistance was only a sixth of that.
Yet, Museveni was equally critical about the effectiveness of development assistance.
"I don't believe in the effectiveness of foreign aid myself," Museveni replied, when questioned about U.S. Treasury Paul O'Neill's reluctance to provide more aid to developing countries. "I believe in aid in order to improve access to trade. But aid as an end in itself is very limited," he added.
In a continent that has been plagued by political unrest and dictatorial regimes, and more recently by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Uganda has been lauded by the international community as a sound example of what Africa at large can potentially become. Together with Botswana, financial agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have pointed to Uganda as a country that can make effective use of development assistance that has been streaming in since its independence in 1962.
In fact, Treasury's O'Neill will be traveling to Uganda next week accompanied by Irish rock band U2's lead vocalist Bono to see for himself just how successful the country has been in making financial assistance from the international community work for the people.
While Museveni himself seized power as a lieutenant general in 1986, he has turned around the country so that it now enjoys an average of a 7 percent growth rate in gross domestic product each year. As a result, he was elected to continue his second term in office in March, with over 70 percent of the vote.
The Ugandan president has been in Washington and New York for the past week largely to promote trade relations between the two countries. He emphasized Uganda's economic potential, most notably its inexpensive workforce and its abundance of agricultural products, particularly coffee and beef. Meanwhile, the Ugandan president pointed out that the size of Africa was larger than that of China, and potential business opportunities on the continent could match that of the East Asian giant.
"And by investing in the sub-Saharan region, more jobs are created for Africans, the tax base is raised, and the shame of begging (for development assistance) is gone," Museveni said. He added that what African states wanted most was not more money from the international community, but rather fair access to global markets.