Uganda is at a cross roads with respect to the sort of foreign investor it should attract. Uganda has historical ties with Europe and Britain in particular has as such a natural choice as an investment partner. The question is, is Britain and or Europe sufficiently interested in Uganda as an investment destination?
China, the new kid on the block, has substantial cash reserves, is ready to splash out on shiny new buildings and roads in Africa in return for rights to Africa’s resources. Moreover China doesn’t ask those awkward questions about human rights and corruption in the same way that the west does. But I understand that something about the Chinese is making Museveni nervous. I suspect that, it is probably the “unknown quantity” that is the Chinese agenda.
With that in mind, word is Museveni is keen to attract the Ugandan Asian diaspora back to Uganda. They are sons and daughters of Uganda who should have sufficient interest in the economic growth and development of their country.
One such Ugandan Asian diaspora is Lord Sheikh whom I had the opportunity to meet on 5 June 2013 at the invitation of Willy Mutenza, Chairman of Ugandan Convention in the UK. Willy had just returned from Uganda and whilst in Uganda he was tasked with hand delivering a message to Lord Sheikh about investment opportunities in Uganda.
We met Lord and Lady Sheikh at the House of Lords and spoke over cream tea. Lord and Lady Sheikh are impeccable hosts with fond memories of Uganda and still speak fluent Swahili after several years in the diaspora. Lord Sheikh was born in Mbale a point he was quick to point out as well as the beauty of Sipi falls.
The conversation centered on a question on investment in Uganda, precisely that
What should Uganda do in order to attract British based companies to invest in Uganda including those owned by Ugandan Asians?
By way of a response Lord Sheikh, acknowledged the work Museveni has done to stabilize Uganda and in particular, he praised Museveni for dealing with the HIV epidemic in an open manner that allowed the country to reduce the incidence of HIV and AIDS where Uganda’s peers had failed.
He further cited the high literacy levels in Uganda, the fact that English is widely spoken and that there is a good range of qualified managers as attractive qualities to would be investors. Lord Sheikh added that, this commonality of language with Britain is a big asset, however Uganda needs to “sell it” to potential investors.
He however lamented the fact that Uganda is not doing enough to promote itself. He cited Uganda’s tourism as an example, saying that it has the potential to attract investment and generate jobs for local people, however that Uganda is not capitalizing on this.
He advised that Uganda should organize a regular trade mission from the UK to Uganda to show potential investors what Uganda has to offer. In addition to regular publications that provide information and or statistics on tourism, infrastructure, energy sector and the precise sectors that offer investment opportunities as well as areas of growth.
Then there is Uganda’s agriculture; Lord Sheikh is concerned that Arab countries in particular are not investing in Uganda’s agriculture and yet there are ample opportunities for them to do so.
On agriculture generally, Lord Sheikh expressed concern that very little Ugandan tea, coffee and flowers do not make it to Arab and European markets in sufficient quantities.
Other points of concern that Uganda must address include;
- Guarantees that investors would get their money out of Uganda
- Uganda’s image as a country that oppresses homosexual people
- Political stability
Does Uganda have what it takes to rise up and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there?
Whose job is it ensure that Uganda capitalises on its advantages?