By Lisa Labath, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.
Ambassador of Uganda to Germany, Canon Francis K. Butagira, attended the International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy in Africa in 2011 as keynote speaker. He discussed Uganda, its relationship to East African integration and the African Union.
With a surface of only 241 square kilometres and a population of 33 million, Uganda is a small country. Uganda houses the highest mountain in Africa, and is often lovingly called “the perpetual garden”, due to its vast ever green areas and wildlife. Next to the high amounts of minerals the country endows, Uganda has recently discovered the presence of commercial quantities of oil.
Since the coming in power of the present government in 1986, Uganda has undergone rapid transformation. In fact, the ruling National Resistance Movement Party has been continuingly re-elected every five years in free and fair elections. Butagira defends the government with an enumeration of achievements, including sound macroeconomic policies resulting in a steady 7% growth of GDP in the past decades. Next to that inflation has been held in check. In 2011, the IMF praised Uganda for maintaining macroeconomic policy and alleviating constraints to growth. Thanks to its relatively strong industry, Uganda is listed among the ten most attractive countries for foreign investment, according the African Bussiness Confidence Report. The economy is mainly private sector driven, and FDI is estimated 1.5 billion dollar in the year 2011, mainly thanks to the oil industry.
Butagira stresses the importance of a sound and stable regime to ensure the necessary development. “The country now enjoys political stability on a continent which has often seen a lot of conflict”, says the ambassador. In the last couple of years the government has prioritised certain areas for development, such as roads, railways, energy, ICT, agro-processing, water and sanitation, education and health. “We have set 2015 as a goal to move to a middle income country and we believe this is achievable”, claims Butagira.
Uganda puts a lot of effort in attracting investors, both public and private. In 1996, 58% of the population was poor. By 2010, that rate has dropped 23 %. Uganda has free primary and secondary education and over 23 universities. Human resources development is therefore the key to development, however many challenges still remain. Many rural areas still don’t have access to clean water and sanitation. Only 12% of the population has access to electricity, and only 10 million people have now mobile phones. However, telephone operators are coming on the scene and use of mobile phones for business is increasing. Uganda still suffers from a high infant mortality rate, and a lot has to be done to reduce poverty levels. One way the government currently addresses these problems is by mechanisms inspired by microfinance institutions.
On a regional level, Uganda is an active member of the East African community. Butagira stresses the importance of the region, which comprises Burundi, Kenia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. These countries are working hard to advertise themselves as a highly interesting market with a combined population of 130 million people, and a GDP of about 100 billion dollar. A customs union is already in place, and a common market as well as a common currency is envisaged for the future. “We shall actually take a step higher than the EU, we are aiming at a political federation, and I believe we will achieve that”, Butagira mentions.
At the continental level Uganda also plays an important role, especially within the framework of the African Union. One of the current burning issues is the situation in Somalia. Efforts are made to stabilise the country and free it from the grip of terrorism, which is a threat not only to the region, but to the whole world. The African Union is working together with the UN Security Council, and already embraced principals now known as the Responsibility to Protect in the cases of genocide, crime against humanity and ethnic cleansing, before the UN did. States can no longer hide under the cloak of sovereignty, to cover up these crimes, Butagira says. Next to that, the African Union has established a peer review mechanism to improve governance. States voluntarily submit themselves to be reviewed on a governance record. Based on these evolutions, Uganda aims at playing an active role in the peace and stability on the continent and the whole world.
Butagira ends with a quote from the Financial Times of May 2011: “International companies from Europe, US, Asia and Latin America have been trying to increase their profile in the key African nations such as Kenia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia in the aftermath of the financial crisis. “Come therefore, and be part of this global movement of investing in Uganda”, concludes the ambassador.