Sino-Uganda relations have entered a crucial stage

Feb 19, 2024

The significance of China-Uganda relations transcends bilateral cooperation and holds implications for regional and global dynamics. 

Steven Akabwayi a Research fellow at Development Watch Centre. Courtesy photo

Steven Akabwayi

Early February this year, China opened a visa centre in Kampala for ordinary passport holders, aiming to reduce congestion at the main embassy. 

The centre was launched by the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda H.E Zhang Lhizong, purposely to ease travel for Ugandan nationals travelling to China for business and other activities. 

The relations between Uganda and China have grown rapidly over the years. 

It should be noted that by 2023, the trade volume between the two countries had risen by 6.6%, reaching 1.14 billion.

Uganda Airlines is expected to open direct flights between Entebbe and China’s Guangzhou City which will ease trade and also strengthen people diplomacy within the two countries.  

China’s direct investment in Uganda reached $ 131 million in 2022, ranking 10th among all African countries.

President Museveni has always shown optimism on Sino-Africa relations, in one of his interviews in 2022, he demystified allegations commonly peddled by Western countries that Beijing expands its influence by drawing smaller economies into a debt trap. 

"Africa has been having problems for the last 600 years due to the slave trade, colonialism, neocolonialism, and none of it was from China," he said. 

China's engagement with Uganda is rooted in a shared commitment to development and prosperity. Over the years, China has emerged as one of Uganda's most significant partners, investing in key sectors such as infrastructure, energy, agriculture, and healthcare. 

These investments have played a pivotal role in driving Uganda's economic growth, creating jobs, and improving the quality of life for millions of Ugandans. 

One of the most notable examples of China's contribution to Uganda's development is the construction of the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway. 

This vital infrastructure project, funded by China Exim Bank and built by Chinese companies, has not only eased traffic congestion but also enhanced connectivity, facilitating trade and investment within the region. 

Moreover, China's support for Uganda's agricultural sector has been instrumental in boosting food security and rural livelihoods. Through initiatives like the Uganda-China Agricultural Technology Demonstration Center, Chinese experts share their expertise in modern farming techniques, irrigation systems, and crop diversification, empowering Ugandan farmers to increase productivity and adapt to climate change. 

Critics often raise concerns about China's involvement in Africa, citing issues such as debt sustainability and environmental degradation. 

However, such criticisms fail to acknowledge the agency of African nations like Uganda in negotiating mutually beneficial partnerships with China. Unlike colonial powers of the past, China's approach to engagement with Africa is based on equality, mutual respect, and non-interference in domestic affairs. 

Furthermore, China's investments in Uganda go beyond infrastructure and agriculture, extending to education, healthcare, and human resource development. 

Through initiatives like the China-Uganda Friendship Hospital in Naguru and scholarships for Ugandan students to study in China, bilateral cooperation in the healthcare and education sectors has strengthened people-to-people ties and fostered cultural exchange. 

The significance of China-Uganda relations transcends bilateral cooperation and holds implications for regional and global dynamics. 

As Uganda serves as a gateway to the East African Community (EAC) and the Great Lakes region, its strategic importance cannot be overstated. China's investments in Uganda's infrastructure, particularly in transportation and energy, contribute to regional integration and promote economic development across East Africa. 

Moreover, Uganda's participation in China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) offers opportunities for connectivity and trade along the Maritime Silk Road and the Silk Road Economic Belt. As a landlocked country, Uganda stands to benefit from enhanced infrastructure linkages and improved access to global markets, positioning it as a key player in Africa's economic transformation. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, China's support for Uganda's healthcare system has been particularly noteworthy. From donating medical supplies and equipment to deploying medical teams, China has stood in solidarity with Uganda in the fight against the virus. 

This demonstration of friendship and cooperation underscores the resilience of China-Uganda relations in times of crisis. 

Looking ahead, the potential for deeper cooperation between China and Uganda is immense. From harnessing renewable energy resources to promoting sustainable tourism and enhancing digital connectivity, there are numerous avenues for collaboration that can benefit both nations and contribute to shared prosperity. 

In conclusion, the relationship between China and Uganda is not only critical but also holds immense potential for shaping the future of both nations and the broader African continent. 

Through cooperation, mutual respect, and commitment to common development goals, China and Uganda can pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future for all.

The writer is a Research fellow at Development Watch Centre. 

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