Frederick Kawuma wants IACO's revolution on track before becoming Africa's coffee Ambassador
It is a race against time... At the end of this year, Frederick S.M. Kawuma is finishing his second and final term as Secretary General of the Inter-African Coffee Organisation (IACO) and he wants to leave with the major reforms he launched on their way as he steps into his next role of Africa's Coffee Ambassador. These major reforms will bring a turn-about of the Organisation with a new Agreement to implement, consumer countries and private sector coming onboard, ensuring financial sustainability with a totally new approach of its headquarters (cf. Frederick Kawuma : new headquarters, new Fund, new coffee mission for IACO ) and becoming an Agency of the African Union (AU).
An exclusive interview of Frederick S.M. Kawuma to CommodAfrica.
This year is probably quite unusual for you : IACO is heading towards big changes but you will be leaving your position at the end of this year, and in the meantime the COVID-19 probably froze many ongoing projects. How do you see all of this ? Do you find this situation awkward ?
No. According to the IACO Agreement as revised in 1998, the Secretary General has two terms of office of four years each. My second term is coming to an end in December 2020. In December last year, the Organisation had its 59th Annual General Assembly and we approved an announcement to recruit a new Secretary-General. We are currently in that process and, hopefully, by the next General Assembly which will be held in Accra, Ghana, in November, we will have a new Secretary-General and then I can hand over to my successor and proceed to doing other things.You know, I am so passionate about IACO, I would like to do everything for it to succeed. So I want to support whichever Secretary General is hired so as to work together to see how we can achieve even greater things for the Organisation. This is why I am committed as Africa's coffee Ambassador so that we can make sure that we put African coffee on a higher level that it has ever been before. It is exciting ! I turned 60 at the beginning of this year and I thought it would be good to have a younger person on board, with a new energy. I can support this person.
Do you already have good candidates to succeed you ?
Yes, five candidates applied of which two have excellent credentials. But at the board meeting in April, we decided to let the candidacies open a bit more so that when we will have the Extraordinary Assembly in July, we will even have more candidates to choose from. But even now, any one of these two candidates would do a great job.
Currently, many reforms are ongoing at IACO of which getting the private sector on board. Can you tell us where you are at ?
When I came in IACO, I said : "Let's see how we can transform this organisation." Since its formation in 1960, it has been a government-driven entity, an institution that focused on policy issues and still is. It did not provide room for private sector engagement, given that at inception public institutions dominated the operation of the sector in all the Member States. And yet, today, the industry is driven by the private sector : the producers, the processors, the exporters. So why should governments be setting all the rules ?
So when I came in, I said that we are going to give room to the private sector in IACO. So I introduced what is called the African Coffee Symposium, inviting the private sector people to come and make their presentations, bring up policy issues. Every General Assembly, we have had an African Coffee Symposium and it has been growing : last year, we had more than 500 people who came and they stayed to the very end. This makes all the difference when you have the private sector...In view of the global liberalisation and the significant role of the private sector, the Members are currently focusing on concluding a new Agreement which is expected to be adopted during the 60th Annual General Assembly that will be part of IACO’s 2020 Annual Meetings that will be hosted by the Republic of Ghana in November 2020. This new Agreement will give more room to private sector participation in the Organisation. There is great potential for domestic coffee consumption, driven by private sector innovations that are taking advantage of the market opportunities in Africa. Of great significance too is the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) opening up greater opportunities for intra-Africa trade, where the African coffee value chain is expected to have significant transformation. Thus, the new Agreement is also cognizant of this fact.
When I leave IACO at the end of this year, my new role as the African Coffee Ambassador will be to continue working on consolidating the gains that the industry has made and to consolidate as well as support the development of partnerships for the transformation of the African coffee value chain.
You also want to focus on African consumption...
Indeed, IACO historically focused on promoting the export of green coffee. In more recent years, there has been a growing interest in the development of internal markets for coffee and the promotion of domestic consumption is now a high priority. It is for this reason that IACO launched a programme in 2019 to promote domestic consumption in the IACO Member States. The issues to do with domestic consumption are addressed in the new Agreement.
When you look at the ICO statistics, Africa consumes more coffee than it exports. So the consumption is higher than what we export. This means that we could take advantage of the African market and now with the new African Free Trade agreement we can actually develop the value chain in Africa and this will create many opportunities. I have discussed this with the African Union and the Commissioners of Agriculture and of Trade and we think this could be greatly beneficial to Africa.
How is the linkage with the African Union coming along ?
I initiated discussion with the Africa Union to have IACO become an agency of the AU. I first of all asked whether coffee could be one of the commodities that AU focuses on and I was told that currently it was not and that this issue was not on the AU’s agenda. So I asked how we could make it an agenda and they said it is a political issue so it must be presented to the Summit because the AU is governed by the Summit. So, since our organisation is intergovernmental, I had to bring the motion to our General Assembly who voted to have us present this motion. This happened at the 55th Annual General Assembly that was held in Angola in November 2015. When this was done, the Foreign Minister of Angola wrote to the chairperson of the AU in early 2016 to present the Luanda Declaration that outlined the two resolutions: coffee as part of the AU agricultural agenda and IACO as the AU’s specialised agency on coffee matters..
Mrs Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko is the Rural Economy and Agricultural Commissioner at the AU and she headed IACO for 13 years before you...Yes ! I have been working with her on this issue of putting coffee on the agenda of the AU and she is extremely helpful. Of course now we have now been held back because of the coronavirus. But we have truly brought coffee into the limelight of the African Union. And this is exciting.
What about the project of a new building for IACO ?
When I came to office, I talked to the Ivorian government and we said the best way to ensure sustainability of this organisation would be to set up a building that would generate revenue for the Organisation. President Ouattara liked the idea and they allocated us land. Sometimes in Africa, things take a long time but what encouraged me is that we had a letter of attestation from the Presidency stating that the Government had given us the land. So we continued our discussions with partners and so forth for the financing of it, until we got to a stage when we realized that we cannot raise funds on the basis of this letter but we needed to have the certificate of title. We didn't have it. These processes can take a long time. When we got the certificate in the middle of last year, our partners told us that we had taken a long time and had to start the whole process again.
We are at that stage now. We had hoped that the ground-breaking would take place in the first half of this year and then the coronavirus came up. So, now we are waiting for our partners to be able to come over and we finalise everything. But I would like to leave the organisation when we will have commissioned the construction and thereafter my successor will see that through.
Financial sustainability is key for an organisation such as ours because we don’t have the money to keep things running and Member States do not have that much money they can put in as we have so many PanAfrican institutions. And member States of IACO are already also paying contributions to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO).Once we will have our partners put up the building and we will share part of the rent that they collect, this will help address the running cost of the institution. And the agreement we have is that after 20 years, the building will revert to the organisation. This will sustain the organisation perpetually.
Are there other means to strengthen IACO ?
Yes, another thing is to get a person from a high level to support the Organisation. We contacted President Obassanjo who, first said yes but then declined later as he was too engaged and could not commit time as our patron. It was recommended that we contact other heads of State. So we contacted the Ethiopian president and the Ethiopian Government nominated the former Prime Minister His Excellency Hailemariam Desalegn as our patron. He came to our last General Assembly and made a very good keynote address, giving us a lot of advices on how to move forward. So we can continue working with this patron to upraise issues because we need a person like that who knows the politics of Africa.
If IACO becomes an agency of the AU, financially this will have an impact...
Yes, it would but the African Union has challenges of its own financing itself. So our presentation to the African Union was to say that we are not looking at the AU to finance IACO but to be a partner. This is very critical because IACO can then get funds from the AU to implement projects and so forth but the AU will not be burdened by IACO in terms of administrative costs. This is the strategy I am looking at.
If we can have resources that allow us to cover our administrative costs (salaries, etc.) , then in terms of programs, interventions in Member States, projects that need to be done across the continent, then this type of funding can come from the AU through partnerships and programs that the AU has. It becomes a win-win strategy. So we will be an agency of the AU but not financially sustained by the AU. After all, IACO will get a lot of financial leverage from being an Agency of the AU.
The fact that the private sector is coming in IACO, does that mean that a Secretary General could come from the private sector ?
Whoever heads the organisation will come from Member States and when the Member State nominates somebody, that person could be from the government or the private sector. It does not need to be a civil servant. Myself, I was a civil servant, than I left to join the private sector -I am the one who started EAFCA [East African Fine Coffee Association] which later became a private sector association. Afterwards the government called me and said you have done a good job in coffee and we want to ask your to come back and serve in government to nominate you to IACO. Madame Sacko was from government : she was working with the Ministry of Agriculture. So, as you can see from my experience, it is possible in the future to have more people from the private sector to come in to IACO.
What about the African Coffee Facility ?
It is a program that we worked on first with AfDB and moved to the Afreximbank. And the Afreximbank already concluded that we could launch the Facility in July this year. The Bank had already committed US$ 500 million. But with the COVID-19 coming in, the priority has shifted to COVID-related interventions. So now we are working on emergency actions to address the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, in terms of the interventions that we would like to put forth urgently in the sector.
But the African Coffee Facility will be part of what IACO will be implementing in the near future. And this will bring much value to the industry.
Also, in the early 1990s, IACO created the African Coffee Research Network (ACRN) as a separate institution but now we have its role defined in the new Agreement. It will serve as an advisory body in terms of research and development in the coffee sector. It will also have a key role under the Africa Coffee Facility.
So these are the changes we are looking at to bring on board and we believe that IACO will be able to move forward as a very formidable institution in Africa. I am so glad to have been part of the process to address the issues of IACO and now let somebody else run the race and and continue the transformation work at IACO.