We do not have a master list of all these Ugandan teas, even though Uganda is Africa’s third largest producer of tea.
By Simon Kaheru
“The economy is doing badly,” a medic friend of mine told me over the weekend, over tea and eats at his verandah overlooking a colourful sunset over Lake Victoria and some lush hills in Wakiso district.
This particular medic, I always joke, gives Ugandan medical professionals a bad name because he appears far more comfortable than the legend of their profession in this country tells us.
But I personally know firsthand how the appearance of comfort and the reality of being comfortable are not always the same, so I cut him some slack. He and his wife, who is also a medical doctor, built a beautiful home in a neat, organised neighbourhood in Wakiso through hard work, diligence and many hours of sweat doing numerous jobs at the same time.
Many people read the appearance of their home, their possession of two cars and the bright disposition of their children to be a sign of serious affluence. Sitting at their meal tables would cement the idea further, as they tend to have collections of condiments, teas and coffees swept off supermarket shelves by way of a garden rake.
Which is why his statement “The Economy is doing badly” could not go past me unpackaged. My frenetic response made use of the tray of teas that sat before us, looking more colourful in the light of the sunset. Arranging all the imported teas to one side, I was left with one packet of tea made in Uganda, unbranded and in a ziplock bag and two packs of coffee, branded. “This,” I explained, “is a major part of why the economy is doing badly!”
And I then waded into a very lay explanation of the flow of money out of the economy that occurs when we buy foreign teas grown by farmers in Ceylon and India and Brazil, using hoes and tractors made in China, South Korea and America, with fertilisers made in Saudi Arabia, Germany and Russia. These foreign teas are then packaged in Europe, America and Asia, with materials made in those very same countries or those close to them, if not the usual suspect (China), which consume electricity that is generated in those countries using their waterways, their fuels or even the sunshine above them.
The electricity generation plants are built with materials that are also manufactured in those countries - so well that even the generation plants we have here make use of materials imported from those countries rather than the steel and cement that we have over here.
Then the teas are designed in a tasteful and colourful manner and given attractive names that make them sound tasty and flavourful, above loquacious definitions of the experience you enjoy when you pour hot water over the tea bags and wait a few minutes for it to react in a manner that will make imbibing the tea worth the drive through the heavy Entebbe or Hoima Road traffic all the way to a beautiful home in Wakiso to catch the sun set.
I fear that in most cases, those names and definitions printed onto the packets of tea are conjured up by teams of marketing design creatives sitting in New York and Manila and London and Johannesburg; not any of the towns from Adjumani to Zombo.
All this, I argued, is money being spent outside of Uganda every time my good doctor friends use their hard earned money to buy foreign teas off our supermarket shelves - even if a minuscule percentage of the money spent goes to the owners of the supermarket in profit margins and some of the cost is sent to the logistics people that bring the tea over from its foreign source.
But to the credit of my medic friend, because we had had similar discussions many times before, he and his wife had been to supermarkets specifically to stock up on Ugandan products in anticipation of my tirade, but “We failed to find Igara Tea!”
Which is why I got in touch with the Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB), to get a complete list of additional Ugandan teas available in our supermarkets, so that I could share it with my medic friends and help them contribute to changing the situation re: “The economy is doing badly”. Sadly, the good people at UEPB did not have a list handy, but sent me a list of the 18 members of the Uganda Tea Growers Association in 2015 and a contact there who might have a list of our brands of Ugandan tea. He did not, but he did share a list of six members, rather than the 18 the UEPB had listed last year, together with their contact details but no single brand name to aid the sales of their tea to people like my medic friends. I went over to the Uganda Tea Association website (www.utasso.com - according to their letterhead) but it was non-functional. The additional realities of why “The economy is doing badly” began to rankle, even though the people at the tea association said that only a small quantity of the teas produced are actually packaged and then sold in Uganda.
Persisting in my quest, I went to the Uganda Tea Development Agency and found that they had a website with a section listing “Our brands”.
Joy filled my heart and I poured another cup of tea (Mukwano Tea, with mujaaja) as I waited for the page to load. It loaded very quickly and I realised that this was because it only listed two brands — Kayonza Tea and Igara Tea. Why? Because the Uganda Tea Development Agency is a private company that runs both those tea factories.
So, in reality, we do not have a master list of all these Ugandan teas, even though Uganda is Africa’s third largest producer of tea. Which is why I could not complete my mission for my medic friends and for now, “The economy is doing badly.”
The writer is the Lead Analyst with the Media Analyst