Kenyan Minister’s Visit Sparks Off Fresh Uganda Milk Trade Debate

A Kenyan senior politician has again raised the storm over the Uganda-Kenya trade with fresh attacks on the government of William Ruto over Ugandan milk. 

Narok County Senator, Ledama Olekina accused the government of attempting to punish former president, Uhuru Kenyatta’s dairy business and instead hurting Kenyan farmers, in comments that drew the attention of Uganda’s Agriculture Minister, Frank Tumwebaze.

“By flooding the market with cheap milk from Uganda, Williams Ruto thinks (sic) the action punishes the Uhuru Family!,” he wrote on his microblog Twitter account last week. He said the Ruto government is missing the target because after all the dairy company “Brookside is owned by a French company called Denone!” 

Official records show that the Kenyatta family owns 50 percent shares in Brookside, while Denone holds a 40 percent stake, with the other 10 belonging to the Abraaj Group. Brookside is also one of the top two dairy processors in Uganda, having acquired the government-owned Dairy Corporation in 2015. 

“You are punishing small farmers from Mt Kenya who will soon sell milk at 20bob,” Olekina asserted. His claims have drawn reactions from a cross-section of people in both Uganda and Kenya, accusing him of trying to frustrate the East African Community integration agenda. 

“I love East Africa but we must take care of our local market first,” he retorted, praising Kenyatta’s restrictions on Ugandan products in Kenya during his 10-year reign. During the Kenyatta regime, dairy, poultry, apiary, and sugar exports to Kenya, all faced huddles, with impromptu blockades and confiscations.

The several trade missions to ascertain the truth about standards and production capacity never yielded anything with the incidents continuing. Milk exports were allowed in December 2021 after Uganda, through the Minister for East African Community Affairs Rebecca Kadaga, threatened to retaliate. 

“Uhuru Kenyatta was wise to limit the amount of Milk that floods our market. Ruto has destroyed the milk market for local farmers -soon big milk processing companies will buy milk at 20 bobs a liter from farmers,” the politician said. Olekina owns Ekanasa dairy farm in Narok and processes and sells milk both in Kenya and in other countries like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

This is not the first time he is raising the issue. In October last year, he opposed President Ruto’s reason that Kenyans could consume cheap Ugandan milk but process the Kenyan milk for the regional market. His view then, however, was the need to lower the cost of production for Kenya’s dairy industry. 

“No, we don’t need cheap milk from Uganda. What we need to do is to reduce the taxes on animal feed and make Kenyan milk competitive. Value addition with expensive raw milk won’t matter, ” he said. Uganda’s Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Frank Tumwebaze urged the Southwestern Kenya politician to think more about regional trade and how the countries can benefit from each other. 

“If Ugandan farmers are able to produce milk cheaply, why don’t you allow Kenyans to buy it and also in turn have the same Kenyans to sell to Ugandans other products (as is the case now) they have a competitive advantage in?” he wondered. He said it was only logical that “Protectionism can’t help our economies.”

The latest statements from an aggrieved Kenyan barely a week after president Ruto sent a message to his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni, stressing the need for closer regional economic cooperation. 

Ruto’s envoy, the Minister (Cabinet Secretary) of Trade and Industry, Moses Kuria said that Uganda and Kenya would walk together to achieve cross-border, regional, and continental trade goals. Kuria said Kenya and Uganda would set up a joint mechanism to conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis of the two countries’ agricultural, manufacturing, and service potential with a view to planning a joint supply chain. 

“I think Excellency Ruto is for a win-win and it’s what our farmers on both sides need!,” said Tumwebaze, noting how Ugandan  dairy farmers buy most of their dairy animals as well as chocks from Kenya “without any policy regulatory limitations from the government.”

Ugandan dairy farmer and veterinarian, Tuhumwire Julius urged the government to pick lessons from the outbursts by a section of Kenyans over cheap products from Uganda.

“If you have been to Kenya’s countryside, farmers there are not different from us. In Uganda, middlemen steal from farmers by offering cheap prices.  Ugandans are slaves of Indian processors,” said Tuhumwire.

Minister Tumwebaze said that alleged exploitation by middlemen is the reason to discourage protectionism and aggressively look for regional, continental and international markets. ”No country can win with protectionism! Flooding is the wrong word. So how come we don’t talk of Kenya’s chicks flooding the market?” 

He continued to root for comparative advantage.

“Mutual trade should be guided by what each party can produce competitively.  If it’s milk for Uganda let it be and Kenya can pick on what it produces easily better than us.”

Earlier this month, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Ramathan Ggoobi visited his Kenyan counterpart, Chris Kiptoo and the two agreed to remove all trade barriers between Uganda and Kenya. 

“We agreed to focus our nations on doing industrial policy at the regional level as opposed to engaging in unnecessary and costly competition. No more NTBs on our exports to Kenya. We are going to do joint investments,” he vowed. 

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