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Wednesday, 26 August 2009 10:59

Russians Strike Investment Deals With Ugandan President

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW, August 25 (Buziness Africa) - Even though Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni characterised his first historical visit to Russia as “private”, at least he and together with his delegation successfully held separate discussions with high-ranking Russian government officials and selected business directors with the aim of networking strategically to use Russian technology and investment capital in order to boost his country’s staggering economy.


Rosemary Ssenabulya, Executive Director of the Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE) told Buziness Africa from Kampala, the capital of Uganda, that Russians have the opportunity to get engaged in the country’s oil sector (both exploration and refining), develop the infrastructure, invest in tourism sphere, as well as finding the possibility in the mineral exploration and power/energy sectors, while improving the information technology and agriculture could also boost the national economy.


“The significance of investing in our economy cannot be undermined. For a country like Uganda, investing huge sums means more investment in our economy and therefore raise revenue, create jobs for local people and better living standards, which again translates into economic growth and development,” Ssenabulya told this correspondent in an email interview.


She pointed out that Uganda as an economy that is steadily moving away from donor dependency and needs to resuscitate the economy.


“As a result, we need other means of generating revenue to run our economy. This may explain why the president is breaking grounds for further investment opportunities through marketing Uganda’s vast investment potentials in Russia, to arouse business interests to invest or do business in Uganda, – a country gifted by resourceful nature and has a lot of potential for investment because of hospitable people, the climate, its strategic location in the region, the fertile soils for agriculture and agro processing(value addition), minerals, among others, and also the recent oil discovery where Russia could be seen as a good partner,” Ssenabulya explained.


Museveni became president of the republic of Uganda on January 29, 1986 after leading a successful five-year liberation struggle. After victory, he formed a broad-based government that helped to unite the country’s political groups.


In the last five years, Museveni has initiated dramatic programmes that are destined to transform the lives of Ugandans. Grassroot-based programmes in health, provision of safety water and mass education have replaced the shallow elite programmes of the past that did not address the needs of the majority of the country’s population. At the same time, Museveni has maintained hard-nosed macro-economic stabilisation policies that have controlled inflation below 10 percent for the last nine years.


Consequently, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Uganda has doubled over the 15 years that the government has been in power and absolute poverty has reduced from 56 percent to 44 percent. The population of Uganda stands at 30.9 million in 2007, according to research done by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).


Museveni has been travelling to strengthen diplomatic relations with many foreign countries. But, the president’s Moscow visit came only a few years of reopening the diplomatic relations with Russia after it closed its doors in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.


While in the country, Museveni held a few hours closed door working meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.


The two parties discussed discussed at length various aspect of the current evolving relations between Russia and Uganda, particularly in the the commercial and economic sphere, and expressed support to work for an increased interaction on the international arena.


The exchange of opinions that have taken place confirmed the positions of two countries on the majority of current key issues, including strengthening the role of the United Nations as the central mechanism in the collective resolution of the international problems.


Special attention was given to position on the African continent, and further emphasised the need for close collaboration of United Nations and African Union (AU) in regulating conflicts and talked about peace-keeping in Africa.


On his second working day in Moscow, the Ugandan delegation also held an expanded business discussions with the head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Yevgeny Primakov, together with potential Russian investors and industry directors to discuss energy, oil and gas exploration, agro-processing industry, transportation, tourism and education, Chamber of Commerce officials assertively told Buziness Africa magazine.


During the business meeting, Museveni unreservedly told the Russian entrepreneurs and industrialists to come and invest in Uganda, especially in adding value to the country’s raw materials for the export market and that will considerably help to reverse the old traditional and colonial approach of exporting raw materials.


According to a State House press release, the president told the members of the chamber, under the chairmanship of Yevgeny Primakov, that besides investing in agro-processing, they could participate in energy and petroleum exploitation, especially in building oil refinery facilities in Uganda.


He also strongly reminded them of Uganda’s rich tourism industry and appealed to them to develop the sector. Uganda plans to offer Russian investors and businessmen preferential terms of trade in the East African market, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and other international tariff free and quota free arrangements in place with the American, European and Chinese markets, the president stressed in his comments.


Contributing to the discussions, Primakov explained that Russians were willing to join in the growing of Uganda’s economy, knowing that Uganda plays a big role in regional trade and commerce in East and Central Africa.


At the end of the business meeting, a memorandum of understanding between the two National Chambers of Commerce and Industry was signed by the Vice-Chairman of Uganda Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sam Engola and the Vice-President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, Georgy Petrov.


Shrouded in complete secrecy at first, however an official statement issued from State House in Kampala confirmed the Moscow trip, but did not offer detailed information about the President’s visit.


The New Vision, a widely circulated daily newspaper in Uganda, however said earlier that during his visit, President Museveni was expected to hold talks with the Russian President, Dmitriy Medvedev, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Both the Russian government and the Kremlin sources contacted declined to comment on President Museveni’s visit and agenda.


An independent expert on African foreign policy, who declined that his name should be mentioned, told Buziness Africa that “perhaps he (president) has also come to stitch up some scheme on how to set up the share structure of the company which is going to exploit the recently discovered crude oil in one of the lakes in Uganda, bordering Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Russians are masters in extracting oil.”


Under normal circumstances Museveni should have headed to the West. For a long time his twisted spin on the northern Uganda situation sold well with his masters in London and Washington. But lately, the Washington connection does not seem to be working well, the expert explained further.


“Now, Russia is a curious choice, especially for a ‘private visit’. The president of a country is not a private man as long as he remains president, and how can he come to an economically powerful and greatly respectable country without being accorded with full presidential cerenomy,” the academic expert concluded in his comments.



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