(Buy it HERE.)
As an American who travels a lot, I’ve learned not to be surprised by finding random brands from my homeland, but I am still startled by what I sometimes find. (Randy’s Donuts in Korea? Hubba Bubba in Indonesia? Ok then…) I live in an Asian country obsessed with foreign brands despite itself, and this leads me to wonder how certain brands become globalized. In A Good African Story, written by Uganda-born, Oxford-trained CEO Andrew Rugasira, we get a crash course in that process. ⠀
Good African Coffee, founded in 2003, was the first African-owned, grown and processed coffee brand to be sold in US and UK supermarkets. The company achieved this against great odds, keeping the slogan “trade, not aid” at the front of all of their dealings and decisions. ⠀
If you’re looking for a light-hearted, warm and fuzzy memoir of friendly farmers, lofty bankers and the little businessman that could…this is not it. A Good African Story is kind of a Frankenbook; part Ugandan economics textbook, part case-study, part global economic policy critique, part business development retrospective, with few anecdotes about the actual people involved. It’s crisp, dry, and exceedingly well-researched. The critiques(notably of Fairtrade and ongoing capital access problems in Uganda) are thoughtfully laid out and packed with proof. Rugasira is an economist and it shows–much of the book is spent describing various financial concepts and illustrating how they play out, first in Ugandan business, then in Africa at large. ⠀
The sheer amount of information shared turns out to be a weakness. The book is so focused on outlining economic principles that it left me with tons of questions about other things only briefly mentioned. The role of Ugandan Asians in economic disparities, the daily workings of coffee farmer collectives, why the brand failed in South Africa, and the life of Rugasira himself are skimmed over but have a huge influence on the company’s genesis. Also, despite the hard work, the Good African story seems to be one of endless cash flow problems and systemic frustrations. It’s spoken of candidly but not very proactively. Tellingly, the company seems to have dropped off the radar entirely around 2013, and I wasn’t able to find out what’s happened to it since. Friends of the UK who were fans of the brand tell me they haven’t seen it in quite a while.
It’s very informative but it really only hints at the heart of the matters it broaches, despite its wonderfully optimistic premise. 3 stars and an interest-free loan to A Good African Story.
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