Uganda, according to the trade and industry ministry, has set eyes on growing its Middle East market
From October 2020 to April 2021, Dubai will host the Expo2020, an international event that takes place every five years. Uganda will be one of the over 180 countries participating in the expo. What is in it for Uganda? Will Dubai be the shot in the arm that Uganda needs to grow the Middle East market?
Uganda, according to the trade and industry ministry, has set eyes on growing its Middle East market, which though currently small, has a lot of potential.
According to Bank of Uganda statistics, Uganda’s exports to the Middle East were only worth $505.26m (about sh1.8 trillion) in the financial year 2016/17, compared to imports which were $761.24m (about sh2.7 trillion).
The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, Ambassador Julius Onen, says this could grow exponentially in the region, with a gross domestic product of $504.403b, if exploited.
Uganda’s exports to the Middle East include fruits and vegetables, minerals, grains and pulses, coffee and tea.
What Uganda should tap into
According to Onen, Uganda is looking at Dubai as a major processing zone for Uganda’s exports to the Middle East.
Dubai is one of the seven United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country in the Middle East.
An artist’s impression of one of the pavilions at the Expo2020 Dubai
“We are going to participate and we are looking at the whole of the Middle East as a frontier. The Middle East, comprising 16 countries, four of them in North Africa, has a combined Gross Domestic Product of $505.403b,” Onen said.
It is hoped that by tapping into this, Uganda would be well into middle income status by 2020, which critics have dismissed as too ambitious a goal, with many challenges in the way.
But the president of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, Hamad Buamin, says the challenges that Uganda and Africa generally face can be turned into opportunities to rump up their development.
He noted that Africa has the world’s fastest-growing economies currently and many opportunities that could increase the rate of growth to realise their huge potential, if well-harnessed.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the fastest growing economies in the UAE, were like that a few years ago, but have turned around their fortunes to become centres of commerce and leisure. These two have pushed the UAE Gross Domestic Product to $35.384b.
According to Buamin, Africa has big opportunities in information, infrastructure and capital markets, as well as other endowments such as the natural resources.
During the Global Business Forum in Dubai recently, President Yoweri Museveni said Africa has the advantage of its population to drive development and production for its markets.
He noted that Africa’s 1.2 billion population should be a big stimulus for production and economic development.
According to him, the fact that the population is expected to reach 2.5 billion in 30 years should present more opportunities for production.
Hamad Buamin, the president of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce
Uganda alone has a population of about 40 million people and this is projected to grow to about 60 million by 2030. Most of these are young people aged 35 years and below.
The Global Business Forum was one of the activities organised in preparation for the Expo2020 Dubai.
Museveni argued for Africa’s regional economic blocks to form bigger units and add political muscle so that they can compete with international giants.
“For example, I do not want Uganda to face these giants alone...,” Museveni said.
These blocks, according to Museveni, should pave the way for a continental integration, which should enhance its economic muscle and political voice on the international arena.
He said he envisages an Africa as one common market aided by its big population that can “sell their products from one side to another”, but also trading with the international markets on equal footing.
Museveni, however, said some strategic bottlenecks, which include education, ideology and identity (religion and tribe) interests, need to be addressed first to remove the unnecessary conflicts they cause — which conflicts derail the people from focusing on a common goal of economic transformation.
“We are saying those differences are not important. What is important is who supports you through buying your product...,” Museveni said. “We want politics that is not based on sectarianism but on pan-Africanism,” Museveni said.
According to him, this can be achieved through ideology that should unite African entities towards a common goal of development.
Need for unity
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, who, was also at the forum, argued for integration, which he said is being hampered by divisions and inefficiencies.
The continent is not as prosperous as it should be because of these inefficiencies and divisions, yet co-operation in trade would drive and deliver development.
“But,” he said, “We are beginning to see good progress.” The momentum is there, so it is up to the governments and the private sector to keep it up...”
Regional blocks such as the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) in West Africa, East African Community (EAC), Common Market for Southern Africa (COMESA) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), under the African Union indicate that there is progress, according to Kagame.
“The blocks should come together and we see continental free trade area and the people of the continent are supporting this…,” he said
The EXPO2020 Dubai is one of the international expos held every five years and hosted by different countries. The last one was hosted in Milan by Italy in 2015 and the previous one by China in 2010.
The expos are co-ordinated by the International Bureau of Exposition (BIE) and the host is elected by members of the BIE.
Participating countries sign contracts, after which they discuss with the host country about how they will participate.
In the past expos, African countries shared pavilions. However, in the Expo2020, each country will have its pavilion to exhibit its activities, though the majority of them will be assisted by the host to build their space.
The Expo2020 Dubai will feature three sub-themes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability and each participating country is supposed to choose one under which to participate.
According to the Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB), Uganda’s lead agency in the preparation for the expo, Uganda has not yet decided under which sub-theme to participate.
According to an official who declined to be named, the trade ministry is still developing the concept that will guide that decision. But the official said they have different things they want to exhibit which touch all the sub-themes.
“Our pavilion will tell our story as Uganda. We shall invite the private sector to participate,” the official said.
The head of the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda (PSFU), Gideon Badagawa, said his members will participate, although they have not yet received instructions from the trade ministry.
Badagawa said a number of PSFU members have expressed interest and are in touch with their Dubai counterparts.
“We are looking at tourism, agribusiness, agricultural equipment and engineering. We want to see what technologies are there,” Badagawa said.