As the Ugandan community in the United Kingdom (UK) prepares to get together for the annual Uganda Convention-UK in September this year, Sebidde Kiryowa speaks to Willy Mutenza, the chairman and founder of the Convention about the expectations, benefits for Uganda, challenges and way forward for the convention that is now in its fourth year.
What is the Uganda-UK Convention?
The primary objective of the Convention was to create a platform for the Ugandans in the Diaspora, the government, various kingdoms, and the private sector to open doors on opportunities, and also to meet, network and build mutually beneficial business relations with each other.
The secondary objective is to harness the tremendous skills and expertise, as well as the financial, socio-political and cultural capital of the Ugandan Diaspora with a view to promote economic and infrastructural development back in Uganda.
The Uganda UK Convention provides the ideal avenue to exchange views and network amongst Ugandans in the Diaspora on matters of common interest and concern to them.
The Convention also helps the Government of Uganda to better understand and appreciate the expectations of the Ugandan Diaspora community and more importantly, acknowledge the key role they play in Uganda’s efforts to acquire its rightful place in the community of nations. It also promotes Uganda and East Africa as a favoured investment destination in Africa.
How and when did the convention come about?
The idea to organise a convention was initiated in 2005 after a few of us in the UK expressed our concerns on the animosity, unpatriotic views and disenchantment that was too often expressed in the Ugandan community in the UK by people who mostly convened to discuss non-development politics.
We thought that something needed to be done to help Ugandans in the Diaspora to be more inclusive in the development of the country rather than being passive politicians.
Following these thoughts, the convention has now become a platform to offer participants - private individuals and business leaders, the opportunity to access vast investment and business opportunities presented on the day by experts from Uganda and abroad.
Where is the current convention going to take place and what is the theme? Who is organizing it?
The fourth Uganda Convention will take place on the 13th Sept 2014 at the Troxy Arena.
Why should I attend the Uganda-UK 4th Investment Summit?
The Convention offers participants - private individuals and business leaders, the opportunity to access vast investment and business opportunities presented on the day by experts from Uganda and abroad.
Key note guests will share with delegates opportunities in the sectors of Energy, Finance, Oil & Gas, Tourism, Telecoms, Agriculture, Banking and Finance, Education, Infrastructure Development, Housing, IT, Transport, Pharmaceuticals and Consumer Sectors.
How many people do you expect to attend this convention on average?
The Uganda-UK Convention is now the largest Ugandan gathering in Europe. It attracts over 2,000 delegates from all over the world and this year we expect over 2000 delegates because we have invited some key high profile speakers from the private sector like Lord Verjee, Lord Popat, Mr. Amos Nzeyi and many others.
What criterion was used to pick the individuals who are going to talk at the convention?
Every year, we have a theme and focus on particular sectors. This guides us on whom to invite as our speakers. Africans in the Diaspora are still failing to realise their dreams in the West and we know that major among the reasons why is lack of unity, inspiration and role models.
This year, we managed to get some of the wealthiest Ugandan Asians in the UK to share some of their success stories to inspire delegates and also share tips on how to invest in profitable and bankable projects.
We are promoting intra-trade, giving Ugandans in the Diaspora information on opportunities in the East African Community market and the COMESA region. This year, we have a delegation from Kenya led by Governor Cyprian O. Awiti who will present a paper on opportunities in his region for Ugandans to tap into. This is an indication that other countries embrace the convention and we are open and very inclusive.
What inspired you to set up an organization of this nature?
I was inspired by the cohesion and unity I saw in other African communities in the UK like the Somalis and Ghanaians and I felt we, as Ugandans, could do the same. I know that any immigrant community in the UK cannot develop without platforms to share ideas and knowledge on personal development.
Another issue that bothered me was a large expatriate population of skilled Ugandans from Uganda to the West where most of them however end up doing menial jobs. This brain-drain denies Uganda a chance to grow as it is robbed of the skilled labour force that it invested in educating, to the West. The Convention was to bridge that gap to encourage Ugandans to look at Uganda as a safe haven and since then, we have seen a significant number of Ugandans going back home.
The Vice President of Uganda Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi addressing the audience during the 3rd Ugandan UK convention in 2013
Do you foresee the Ugandan-UK Convention evolving into more; perhaps an advocacy organization tackling challenges of Uganda immigrants in the UK?
Yes, this year we registered a charitable arm of the Convention called “Uganda Diaspora Engagement. Among others, it will mentor and build capacity, with the aim of helping Ugandans discover their individual potential as well as support them in expressing this potential. It will guide them towards further capacity building, such as educational avenues, apprenticeship, business start-up etc.
Your American counterparts have had their Uganda North American Association convention running for years now. What has taken the Ugandan community in the UK so long to get together?
There is a time for everything but I think Ugandans in the UK were more divided along tribal and political lines than those in the US. The Convention’s vision was to change people’s mind-set and get them to look beyond tribe and political affiliations. I am happy to see that Ugandans are now keen to engage in progressive business discussions.
Ugandans artistes are apparently a big part of the convention. How do you choose who is coming to perform?
One of the objectives of the convention is to exhibit and celebrate the rich diversity of our cultural heritage and we use music to bring Ugandans together to promote community and social cohesion. We do not have a criterion for choosing artists. We base on the popularity of the artist within the Ugandan community in the Diaspora. But from this year, we shall base our choice of artist on public behaviour and the kind of music an artist makes.
What does it take for Ugandans in the diaspora to attend the convention?
Attending the convention is free –of-charge. It only requires a delegate to either register online or at the entrance on the day. We have an excluded partition for VIP where investors and those who want to interact with our VIPS pay a £35 (about sh153,000).
This convention is normally held in a day unlike your American counterparts who do it over an entire weekend. Is that time enough to cover everything?
We would love to hold the convention for over two days but the cost implications are too much. We raised the standards and decided to have the convention in an upmarket venue but that comes at a cost and being a new concept, we had decided not to charge, to wait until the concept is understood and then we can start charging a fee.
What does it take for a Ugandan back home in Uganda to attend the convention?
Those from Uganda are required to register at online at our website.
How does a Ugandan from back home in Uganda interested in attending the convention go about the process?
We do give document support to only those who are attending as exhibitors, sponsors or invited speakers. Other delegates need to get a visa without our intervention.
( Right – Left)Willy Mutenza, the chairman and founder of the Uganda UK Convention, Energy minister, Irene Muloni and the Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi during the 3rd Ugandan UK convention in 2013
How has the Uganda Convention-UK impacted us as a country?
Some of our positive outcomes; more than $5m (about sh12.5b) was invested in a maize processing plant in Uganda; more than $100,000 (about sh250m) was donated to good causes. In addition, several Ugandans from the Diaspora have relocated back to Uganda and are enjoying their successful ventures.
So many Ugandans have relocated back to Uganda since the Convention among who are Mrs. Janet Mukiibi, Dr James Mwesigwa, who is now a consultant and lecturer on patients safety and has written a curriculum for this discipline for universities.
I take groups of investors to Uganda after every convention and some of them have decided to invest.
The most crucial point is the change of mid-set of Ugandans now in UK. Tribal and political inclinations are now a thing of the past. Now, we are seeing more fora dedicated on trade and investments among Ugandans here in the UK.
Some of the resolutions proposed at the convention and have had positive outcomes from the government include; the president has been engaged by the parliament to scrap the dual citizenship fees; Ugandans in the Diaspora now participate in the electoral process in Uganda; promotion of the Diaspora rights and observation of the Diaspora week. We are still lobbying for appointing the Minister of Diaspora affairs.
One of our achievements was also to host a delegation led by CEO Kiwalabye-Male of Buganda Land Board. This was an indication that Buganda Kingdom has embraced the Convention. They also contributed towards the Convention as exhibitors.
You are the first person to set up a convention of this nature in the UK, what are some of the challenges you have faced in running it?
The primary challenge I have encountered personally is the animosity from some pockets of Ugandans who are against development. They rule out as bad, anything that has the involvement of the Government of Uganda. That group has been waging a negative campaign on social and in print media in Uganda against us but with the grace of God, it has surpassed their expectations with Ugandans and friends of Uganda alike, supporting this great forum.
Another challenge is the cost implications which can be minimised if our partners see the potential and support us financially. On the day of the convention, we have to cater for everything including feeding our invited guests which is all expensive.
How have you handled these?
We manage to sustain the convention from sponsors, exhibitors and the evening after-party but up to now, we have not broken even. My business is paying most of the costs. We are running the convention as a business and we do not expect to break even now but in the future, it will make profits.
We have plans to start other services to investors in addition to the convention in order to recover some running costs of our daily chores of running the convention.
Where do you see this organization in the next five years?
In the next five years, we want the convention not only to be the biggest gathering of Ugandans outside Uganda but also be able to fulfil our goals among others; increase remittances/inflows through targeted investment products for Ugandans in the Diaspora, reverse the concept of brain drain to brain gain by tapping into the huge pool of Ugandan professionals; encourage investments in the key sectors in Uganda like education, agriculture, health, housing, sports, tourism and setting up our Diaspora cooperative which is in the pipe-line.