Uganda’s High Commissioner to the UK, Julius Peter Moto, discusses the long-lasting friendship between the two countries, his expectations for the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the emerging ways that Britain and Uganda can work closer together in a post-Brexit era. From knowledge exchange to investment and trading as equal partners, Uganda offers British investors win-win opportunities in fields including oil and gas tourism, finance, health, and humanitarianism
How do you assess the current bilateral relationship between Uganda and the UK?
Uganda and the UK enjoy a very cordial bilateral relationship, which started a long time ago when Uganda was a protectorate and when it started to become politically independent in 1962. We enjoy cooperation in the fields of security, education, social services, agriculture, arts, culture and tourism, as well as investments. This cooperation has shaped our identity as a country. The most notable event in recent memory is the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which was hosted by Uganda and went beyond our expectations. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II personally told me that it was one of the best-organised CHOGMs ever. Ma’am also said that our president was the first to confirm his attendance at the 2018 CHOGM.
What are the main intersections of interest between the two countries?
As Britain leaves the European Union, we would like to cooperate more with it in terms of trade and investment. A very large business delegation has just returned from Uganda. It was led by Lord Dolar Popat, the prime minister’s trade envoy to Uganda and Rwanda, who informed me that 22 companies participated. The technological advancements in the UK can help us exploit our natural resources. Uganda recently discovered oil and gas in the Albertine region, and a leading UK group led by Tullow Oil is working in partnership with the government of Uganda in exploring, producing and possibly commercialising it. A UK company has also won the contract to construct the new Kabaale International Airport in the Hoima district of Western Uganda. You can see the amount of knowhow and value being transferred to Kabaale, which was previously an underdeveloped township. A lot of value, employment generation and economic activities can spring up through trade and commerce.
With Brexit and the renewed energising of Commonwealth ties, what other new opportunities do you see emerging for Uganda and Britain to work together?
Europe has been a big source market for Ugandan tourism, and the UK in particular. Most UK travellers will want to visit Uganda to experience the source of the Nile and Lake Victoria. We have five huge national game parks. The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park contain three-quarters of the remaining primate population in the world. We have other unique attractions, such as the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains – another destination that makes Uganda unforgettable.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she would like to “reenergise and revitalise” the Commonwealth for the 21st century. What expectations do you have for the 2018 CHOGM meeting in London? What changes and improvements would you like to see?
We would like the Commonwealth to be proactive in sharing experiences in member countries that are cost-effective and easy to adapt in, health, education, culture and business. This way we’ll be leveraging the efforts of one another. Uganda is a centre of excellence for fighting HIV/AIDS, and we want member countries of the Commonwealth to come and learn from us. It goes without saying that what has been developed and tested in one member country and found to work can work in another part of the world.
What sets Uganda apart as an investment destination?
Certainly, the opportunities in oil and gas and tourism. We also need investors in the mining sector. Uganda has minerals, we have mapped them and now we need investors with technology to help us to use them to create more jobs, add value to the minerals and generate much-needed foreign exchange. We have gold, diamonds, lithium, copper, tin, silver and almost everything you can think of. We just need to exploit them in a win-win situation in which both British companies and Uganda can benefit.
What was the feedback from the UK trade mission to Uganda?
Lord Dolar Popat says that the companies were excited to discover Uganda as a new investment destination. There’s a lot of confidence. There are over 60 British companies trading and investing in Uganda. Local chambers of commerce and the British High Commission in Kampala can help inform other British companies interested in doing business there.
What opportunities do you see for UK cooperation in Uganda’s emerging oil and gas sector?
Throughout the entire supply chain in oil and gas, there are lots of businesses that can be stimulated. In upstream there is exploration, production and refining, the supplying of goods and services, logistics, waste management, accommodation, food, cleaning, welding and scaffolding. The Uganda-Tanzania-Rwanda pipeline (there’s another arm going into Kigali) can stimulate a lot of supply businesses – industrial welding and maintenance for example. Once this pipeline is completed, millions of jobs will be sustained. It will also help develop Tanga in Tanzania as an alternative deep-sea port that will facilitate trade into the interior of Africa
Uganda is also leading the way in the region in terms of renewable energy. You have already developed the 10-megawatt Soroti solar power station and there is huge untapped potential. How do you view the importance of renewables in improving Uganda’s power generation output? How can the UK get involved with this?
We have a lot of potential in renewable energy. We have geothermal locations in the southwest of the country, which is another investment opportunity. You can locate a solar farm anywhere in Uganda. The law allows individuals to generate power and the country has standard rates that are very attractive for investors to generate and supply power to the national grid, thus getting their investment back. Uganda has become very industrialised and therefore our energy needs have gone up tremendously. We are building two mega-dams – the Karuma Hydroelectric Power Station, which is poised to generate 600 megawatts, and the Isimba dam, which will generate 180 megawatts. So when you bring in the green energy – solar, wind, geothermal – the advantage is enormous. We shall have energy export potential to countries such as Rwanda, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, because we may not be able to use all the energy we generate. The local market is 41 million consumers, but the entire East African region is about 172 million consumers. And the broader market in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is about 330 million consumers, hungry for goods and services. If British companies are interested in investing in Uganda, the market is there. But we want to trade with Britain as equal partners. We want the value to be added in Uganda to create more opportunities in Uganda before it is exported. We also will stress the use and creation of local content in all aspects of trade.
With London being the world’s most important financial hub, how would you like to see Ugandan finance companies benefit from the expertise in the UK?
Ugandan banks can partner with British banks to make loanable funds available for businesses in Uganda and outward-looking businesses that are seeking to export their products to the COMESA region, the UK and the world. There are financing products available in the UK and Ugandan banks. We want these to increase. UK export finance mainly supports British companies going into Africa. We would like a product that could support Ugandan companies exporting to the rest of the world. Ugandan banks can learn a lot from UK export finance.
Uganda’s strategic location bordering Kenya, Tanzania, DR Congo, Rwanda and South Sudan and its close access to the millions of people in the COMESA free trade area make it an important regional hub. What benefits can Uganda offer to UK exporters?
This is a large market destination. More than 60 per cent of Uganda’s population is between the ages of 20 and 35. The goods and services that investors will be producing should target this young population. It is very easy to train Ugandans; they are eager to learn new things, they are fast and they are driven by new technology. Give them jobs, give them the expertise they need, retool them, and they will produce goods for the company so everyone will benefit. Uganda will benefit as a country, the young people will benefit in terms of decent jobs, and the revenue chains produced by the companies will be unstoppable.
Uganda has been praised around the world for its humane response to the South Sudan refugee crisis. What role do you think the UK and the Commonwealth might be able to play in helping solve the crisis?
Over 1.3 million refugees, mainly from South Sudan, are being hosted in Uganda. We thank the host communities in northern Uganda for accepting our brothers from South Sudan. The land plots that our government and the host community have allocated to them – 50 by 50 metres – are not enough. The sustainable solution would be dialogue. The political parties in South Sudan should look to the future. The UK, Uganda and neighbouring countries under the auspices of the Inter Governmental Authority on Development should facilitate the process of peaceful and democratic transition for stability in South Sudan so that all these people can go back. What we need now is assistance in terms of roads, schools, health centres, emergency medicine and food. The resources we have are not enough. We have received less than $38 million of more than $300 million that was pledged when we hosted a refugee summit in Uganda in June 2017.
You’ve talked about Uganda as a centre of excellence for HIV/AIDS. What are your plans going forward and do you see a role for the Commonwealth in taking this to the next level?
The prevalence rate has dropped from a very high level to about six or seven per cent, which is a big achievement that came with a lot of commitment. This is an opportunity for Commonwealth countries to know that we produce our own antiretroviral drugs that are affordable and we can export. We also have the capacity to train staffers who are handling HIV/AIDS. We thank the international community for helping us fight this disease: the US Agency for International Development, the Department for International Development and the UK government have been very helpful, as well as the European Union and all the other partners. Once capacity exists somewhere it can be shared with others.
What message would you like to send to investors? Why come and invest in Uganda?
Uganda is a growing market destination. The middle class is growing. There’s a big market in East and Central Africa for your products. Uganda is politically stable and there are investment incentives that we offer to British and other investors. When we invest and trade together, our relationship becomes even stronger.