Tell us more about the trade relations?
Our vision is to become Uganda’s preferred trade and investment partner, promoting increased trade and investment volumes between the UK and Uganda to deliver jobs, growth and mutual prosperity. Ugandan exporters are eligible for duty free, quota free access to the UK, but despite this, bilateral trade between our countries is not as big as we would like – only £219 million in 2020. Uganda’s main exports to the UK are agricultural produce and services, with UK imports largely coming from the service sector, as well as vehicles, and machinery. We are taking the steps to improve investment and trade, focusing on stimulating agricultural productivity and addressing infrastructure gaps, ensuring viable economic activities that can withstand the COVID-19 shock and support longer-term recovery with job-creating growth to meet the demographic challenges. In the coming months, we have an exciting announcement on a coffee competition to get more of Uganda’s coffee to UK consumers.
What prompted the UK to organise the UK-Africa Investment Summit at the beginning of last year?
The UK has always viewed Africa as a strategic partner and the UK-Africa Investment Summit was a response to calls from both sides for a forum that brings the whole of Africa and the UK into one room to discuss and plan for their mutual interests. The UK was already one of the biggest investors in Africa even before the UK-Africa Investment Summit. However, the event was used to lay the foundation for new partnerships between the UK and African nations based on trade, investment, shared values and mutual interest. Our long standing, historical relationship with Uganda is a perfect fit for improved trade and investment which will benefit both our countries.
There has been speculation about how the UK might survive in the post-Brexit era. One option, analysts have suggested, is for Britain to trade a little more with its former colonies. Was the U.K-Africa Investment Summit the first of many initiatives for you to win back Africa?
First and foremost, the UK has never left Africa. We have always been present trading and supporting growth on the continent. As a member of the EU, the UK contributed to Africa’s growth through the various EU-funded programmes. However, following the exit from the EU, the UK is now able to forge stronger bilateral relationships with different African countries such as Uganda. The UK is well placed to walk this journey with Uganda and will continue to invest in the country’s future. Some of the highlights of UK investment in recent years include supporting agribusiness development in northern Uganda which is expected to raise incomes for 800,000 individuals, support to 200,000 individuals to increase their climate resilience and generate an additional £64 million of agribusiness sales. Our investment in renewable energy has contributed to 10% of Uganda’s total grid electricity supply; the UK’s Private Infrastructure Development Group has committed over US$150 million to projects in Uganda and is predicted to give over 3.5million people improved access to infrastructure and create nearly 3,000 jobs. The UK Government-owned CDC group also has a portfolio worth US$150 million in Uganda which directly supports nearly 6,000 jobs. The UK is also the biggest contributor to the World Bank in Uganda and we will continue to support Uganda’s journey.
What would you say to some commentators who argue that since your competitors like China, the U.S. and even France have made several inroads into the continent; the UK might struggle to find investment opportunities?
I would tell them that they need to look at the facts. The UK remains the largest investor on the continent and the Foreign Secretary has identified East Africa as a key growth market for UK investment. And we have a very clear offer – that we will be more liberal on free trade than the EU, do business with greater integrity than the Chinese or Russians and that we’re committed to serve as a force for good in the communities in which we invest. We will do this by combining our trade, our aid and our values to ensure ours is a win-win partnership with Uganda. Additionally, the UK has always been active in Africa and has been making in-roads in the trade and investment space as evidenced by some of the investments we have made in Uganda, such as the construction of Kabaale International Airport (in Hoima) and the development of Namanve Industrial Park. It is not about extending geopolitical influence or creating lopsided dependent relationships, it is about the UK seeking to work more closely with Uganda to deliver our shared prosperity.
How would you respond to some observers who have also noted that given the tight competition among the foreign powers on the continent today; the U.K could find itself sidestepping some of its long-held democratic principles and responsibilities and begin acting blindly like its competitors who are strictly here for business?
The UK remains a steadfast supporter of Ugandan democracy which we see as essential for Uganda’s long term stability, its international reputation and ability to attract investment. And if you look at our record we have not shied away from raising concerns whether here in Uganda or elsewhere. Human rights are central to any democracy and we continue to urge Uganda to strive to meet its own human rights commitments under international law, including respecting the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and upholding a free media. Part of our commitment to furthering human rights is by funding training to parts of the security forces on issues like human rights and international humanitarian law. Alongside this human rights-focused training, we also offer support to improve the UPDF’s ability to tackle shared threats like Al-Shabaab in Somalia and to fight the harmful impact of the illegal wildlife trade.
Lastly, the UK has been providing expertise to help Uganda develop ambitious climate change plans to build resilience among the country’s vulnerable population. What informs this policy decision?
Despite the global pandemic, climate change remains the biggest challenge facing the world. The UK has recognised this and has stated it as our number one priority in the recent UK Government Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign policy. To tackle climate change effectively, we need to reduce harmful emissions worldwide, but we also need to support the most vulnerable countries, like Uganda, to build resilience to the impacts of climate change, protect lives and livelihoods from floods, landslides and drought. The UK is hosting the UN climate change conference, COP26 in Glasgow in November where we hope the world will come together to agree ambitious commitments to protect the environment and avoid further warming. We are working closely with Uganda on this agenda.