Your Excellency Vice President Ssekandi; Honourable Madame Speaker Kadaga; my Lords; Ministers; your Excellences and distinguished guests. It is a privilege and honour, to have been invited to speak to such an eminent, and influential group, at today’s 4th Ugandan Convention.
Before I start, let me say a few things about myself. I was born in Uganda in the town of Busolwe in Butaleja District, and brought up in the town of Tororo. I fondly remember my early years there; it was — and is — a country of great beauty. It was a country with friendly communities and a great sense of optimism.
Sadly, my time there was cut short by the rise of Idi Amin, and I left the country for the UK at the age of 17, with just £10 in my pocket. I will forever be grateful to the United Kingdom for offering me and 28 thousand of my fellow Ugandan Asians a warm-welcome and a home.
But, it wasn’t just a home; Britain gave us opportunities. The UK allows anyone, with a good idea and determination, the chance to succeed; to run their own business or excel in their chosen profession, irrespective of background, gender or race. You are protected by the rule of law, and empowered by the safety net that democracy provides.
In 2012, the Prime Minister David Cameron, said the East African immigrants in the UK have been amongst the most successful groups of immigrants, anywhere in the world. It is hard to disagree. Many of my fellow Ugandan Asians have excelled in the City of London, or in the professions as accountants, doctors and lawyers, and —as in my case- as business owners. Some have even succeeded in politics, and it is my honour to be addressing you today as a Government Whip, and a Lord-in-Waiting, in Her Majesty’s Household. So Uganda’s loss, has been the United Kingdom’s gain.
Fortunately, because of the UKs environment as a place to do business and its encouragement of enterprise, I have a little more than £10 in my pocket today! And I believe that many of the reasons why I’ve loved living in Britain are now spreading across Uganda.
Despite the many years which have passed, I have always remained close to Uganda. I keep in contact with many friends there, and some of the prominent Ugandan Asian families who were expelled in the seventies, such as the Madhvani’s and Mehta’s, have returned to Uganda and are once again contributing to Uganda’s society and economy.
I visited Kampala in 2012 as part of a delegation of 8 British Parliamentarians to the IPU Assembly. During the Assembly, I was privileged to meet senior Government Ministers, and His Excellency President Museveni himself. When I went around Uganda, I was amazed at the transformation that has taken place in recent years. Since independence in 1962, Uganda has certainly been on a rollercoaster ride; a socialist Government, a brutal dictator in Idi Amin and a civil war; and now, finally, freedom and democracy under the leadership of His Excellency President Museveni. The President deserves great praise, for the way he has encouraged outside investment, and how he has used private sector growth to power the Ugandan economy. To have come through such a challenging history and now boast annual growth figures of some 6.5% -a figure that would be the envy of most countries in the world-is a very fine achievement, and Uganda still has so much potential for future growth.
Uganda continues to be a leading light in East Africa, with a vibrant economy, and a young and well educated workforce, and a business environment primed for international investment. Uganda has also been at the forefront of finding a solution to the problems in Somalia, through its leadership of the African Union Mission in Somalia. I know that when President Museveni visited London in May 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron thanked Uganda for supporting Somalia’s transition to a federal Government, and I’d like to echo those thanks here.
Uganda and the UK enjoy a wide ranging and close relationship, in areas such as security; politics; development; education and commercial activity.
And as I speak, the Lord Mayor of the City of London — Alderman Fiona Woolf – is making her first visit to Uganda, with a delegation of UK companies in financial and legal services and the energy sectors. This underlines the priority the UK places, on the importance of the Ugandan market and its future and significant potential.
In addition, representatives from 20 energy companies participated in the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, jointly with the London Chamber of Commerce annual trade mission to Uganda from 26 to 28 March this year. The two Chambers are regular visitors to the region, and they teamed up again to follow up on last year’s visit. The mission was led by my good friend and fellow Ugandan-Asian Subhash Thakrar, Deputy President of the London Chamber, who is also with the Lord Mayor in Uganda at the moment and Julien Masse, of the Aberdeen Chamber, and the mission participants had a range of objectives including looking for local representatives; qualified distributors, agents and clients with some companies researching the Ugandan market for the first time, and others building on existing contacts.
The British Government works closely to support the Uganda’s development and economic growth. This year the Department for International Development (DFID) is providing more than £90 million to support Uganda’s efforts in critical areas such as health and family planning, private sector development, and tackling corruption. Between 2011 and 2015, the UK will have enabled more than 400,000 people to access family planning, distributed 5 million bed nets to prevent malaria, and helped 300,000 people to cope with the effects of climate change in Karamoja — the poorest area of Uganda.
One of the programmes supported by DFID is Trademark East Africa, which is boosting growth and job opportunities by cutting the cost and time it takes to move goods in and out of customs and building vital infrastructure across eastern Africa. Key achievements in this programme will include:
- Building paved road on a vital trade corridor between Uganda and Rwanda.
- Constructing a ‘one stop’ border post between Uganda and South Sudan to cut time wasted in customs.
- Cutting the time it takes to move a container across Uganda by 21 hours — a reduction of 40 per cent.
- Cutting waiting times at Ugandan customs by a day and a half regulation. All these initiatives are designed to increase East Africa’s competitiveness, by reducing transit time along the East African Community corridors.
The Trademark East Africa initiative is an excellent example, of East African countries working together, to boost trade and economic growth in the region, by encouraging business growth; catalysing innovation, and gathering evidence and raising awareness on the benefits of regional integration so as to build momentum for policy and institutional change. The UK government is proud to be associated with Trademark East Africa.
But whatever Government programmes are put in place, the lifeblood of any economy is small businesses.
As some of you may be aware, I am very much an advocate and supporter for the development of Small and Medium sized businesses; we need more of them in Britain to export and to invest abroad; to work with countries like Uganda to further build our economic relationship.
I instigated the setting up of a House of Lords ad hoc Committee during 2012 and 13 to review the progress and development of SMEs in the UK.
The ad hoc Lords committee came up with 23 recommendations, and I am pleased to say that a number of the Committee’s recommendations are being implemented. For example, UK Trade and Investment have made a commitment to reach 100,000 extra SMEs to assist them to export and UK Export Finance are now targeting more SME customers.
In addition to the UK Trade and Investment’s ambitious target of reaching 100,000 more SMEs, it has also committed to an even more ambitious target of working with the UKs business community to secure one trillion pounds of exports per year by 2020, doubling the figure from 2012 which was £480 billion. Copies of my speech are available today and contain a link to a website should delegates wish to read the House of Lords SME Committee report.
And within the UK, we can point to many successful SMEs, many family owned, operated by the UKs Ugandan community.
I know from a speech delivered last year by Amelia Kyambadde, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives that Uganda also places great importance in supporting its SMEs which are the cornerstone of industrial development, accounting for some 90% of Uganda’s private sector and some 50 to 60% of the country’s total employment.
And in terms of investing in the Ugandan economy, Britain, with its investments of over £2 billion in Uganda, remains the country’s largest cumulative investor. As the then Foreign Office Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds said at a UK/Uganda Business Forum at Lancaster House in May, during the high level Ugandan delegation led by President Museveni. This position — of being the world’s largest investor in Uganda — is one that the UK wants to retain and build upon. We are a country open for business; happy to invest and work with countries like Uganda.
The President’s visit to the UK on 6 and 7 May this year was a great success and very high profile. The delegation included seven Ugandan Ministers and approximately 40 senior officials from a range of Uganda Ministries and reflecting the importance of the Ugandan market, the Forum was also attended by over 100 key UK businesses including Barclays; Tullow Oil, and Standard Chartered.
Total trade between Uganda and the UK has risen by over 9% annually, mainly due to the increasing trade in services and the discovery of approximately 6.5 billion barrels of oil in Uganda with an 88% exploration success rate. With a number of major oil related projects currently under development, Uganda is an attractive market for oil related companies. The UK of course is at the forefront of these exciting developments in Uganda and we look forward to working with Uganda as these oil related projects lead to commercialisation and further enhance Uganda’s development.
I hope that I’ve demonstrated that British/Ugandan relations are strong and developing, but, speaking as a businessman and as someone who is very fond of Uganda; this is no time to be complacent. There is still more to do to make Uganda the business powerhouse it should and wants to be. For example Uganda is rated 132 on the ease of doing business in the latest World Bank figures, with infrastructure and power still a challenge and the cost of doing business relatively high. By comparison the UK is ranked tenth. I am aware of several British Businesses who have looked to invest substantial sums in Uganda, often reaching discussions at Ministerial level, and yet the deals have died due to a lack of execution. The reasons why these deals didn’t happen may vary, but it is important that this inactivity is overcome.
There are also other things to consider. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the number of tourists visiting Uganda in 2011 fell to 76,000 from 149,000 in 2010, although records for 2012 indicate that there were some 42,000 British tourists. Tourism is Britain’s fourth largest export earner, and given Uganda’s advantages —including direct flights to Entebbe from Heathrow and elsewhere, a beautiful country and friendly people — it is important to give careful consideration to what factor are keeping tourists away. If you can unlock the tourism market, Uganda’s economy will reach even higher heights.
We know that Uganda has the tools it needs to succeed; you have people who, like me thirty years ago, have good ideas and determination. People like Ms Jennifer Musisi, the Executive Director of Kampala City, who was a guest speaker at the Commonwealth games British Business Event on Growth of African Cities and met UK companies interested in projects in Kampala City. And people like Amina Hersi Moghe, of Khadhar Investment, who was presented with the The New Economy award for Businesswoman of the Year, Africa — 2014 at the London Stock Exchange in June. Great people who are flying the flag for Uganda on the world stage. Who are helping to shape the Pearl of Africa into the business heartland of East Africa.
My friends and honoured guests, the UK Government attaches the highest priority to working with expanding African markets. We stand with you in your desire to build an economy that brings prosperity to all Ugandans and we have prioritised our work to target economic growth.
- The British High Commission in Kampala works to boost the UK’s reputation as a business partner of choice, to broker commercial partnerships to increase UK trade and investment in Uganda.
- We work closely with the Ugandan government to improve our business links.
- We assist individual UK firms on specific market access issues,
- And through UK Trade and Investment — which has recently expanded its operations in Kampala — we provide companies with the tools they require to be competitive on the world stage.
Improving trade between Uganda and the UK, and by supporting the country by for example funding the Trademark East Africa initiative, can only be to the benefit of both countries. We share a common goal; and we must work together towards it.
I thank you all for the opportunity to address you today and I look forward to taking part in the rest of the Convention this afternoon. Thank you.