Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tobacco control in Africa and the challenge of a colonial political economy

Public health advocates scarcely appreciate how entrenched the tobacco industry is in Africa given its colonial political economy. An analysis of the leading tobacco companies in Africa will reveal a colonial hang over. The leading tobacco company in most of Anglophone Africa is actually British American Tobacco (BAT) and the leading Tobacco companies in Franco phone Africa are actually French. In Kenya,Uganda, South Africa,Zambia and Zimbabwe, for instance, BAT has dominant market leadership. In Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal, the leading tobacco companies have French-ties. Using economic history lenses we would need to appreciate that the tobacco crop is actually not native to Africa. In Uganda, for instance, it was introduced in the 1920s by the British. The British were majorly interested in a colonial empire in Africa partly because they wanted a base for raw materials for their budgeoning industries and here cash crops like coffee, cotton, etc come to mind. Public health advocates need to appreciate how deeply entrenched the colonial political economy in Africa in many respects is still intact. BAT of course is no longer wholly British-owned, indigenous Ugandans for example can freely buy shares on the stock exchange in Kampala reflecting the hybridization of the colonial economy by marrying it with narrow elite African interests. The Board Chairmen of BAT Uganda have in the past ten years been very carefully selected representing the most foremost indigenous Ugandans even when all they do is really serve as fronts for complex multinational interests. By offering Ugandans shares in BAT Uganda, multinational commercial interests are diversified by co-opting a narrow African middle class thereby spreading the risk of regulatory oversight in African markets. In Uganda, UMEME, the local power company was bought by a British consortium. After getting market intelligence that the Ugandan state was growing weary of its efficiency standards and protracted grambling over a badly negotiated sale, UMEME about two years hastily sold some shares to native Ugandans. Recently, the Ugandan government threatened to reverse its power deal with UMEME which has wisely pre-empted this by hastily selling its shares to Ugandans. Today the Energy Minister announced Government will not go ahead with its threat.

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