The Italian ambassador to Uganda Stefano Dejak has been in the country for 18 months. He is very optimistic about the future of cooperation between the two states. In this interview with New Vision’s David Mugabe, he talks about the journey of the cooperation as Italy celebrates its Republic Day
QWhat is the Italian National Day?
The Italian National Day is the celebration of the day Italy became a Republic. Infact, it is called the Republic day. The outcome of the referendum held on June 2, 1946 which abolished the monarchy and made Italy become a republic.
How significant is it for Italy to become a Republic?
A Republic is a form of state where no one has an advantage just because of their blood or that he belongs to an aristocratic line. All citizens are absolutely equal and differences can emerge because of the hard work and capacity of individuals. There is no difference from birth.
And how has becoming a Republic since the National day changed Italy?
This was right at the end of world War two (WW II) and Italy was not very different from what Uganda is today. There was a lot of energy but also a lot of poverty especially in the south. But the existence of basic skills and infrastructure created conditions for the economic boom in the 1960s where Italy became one of the wealthiest and most industrialised countries in the whole world.
When you became Italian ambassador to Uganda in November 2011, what was your main focus?
The ambassador has many roles, but crucially the embassy is the house of the people it represents. It is an expression of the Italian public administration paid for by all Italian tax payers.
A key focus was to get in touch with the Italian community here and I published a book that talks about the long history Italians have in this country. It also explains why Ugandans have an idea of who Italians are. Now the Italian community is organised and the Italians want to be a positive part of Ugandan life. There are six hospitals in the north managed by Italians including St Joseph hospital in Kitgum district founded in 1915 and there is Bujagali built by Salini.
What is special about the history of Italy?
There are two aspects, one is cooperation for development which is not easy to quantify. This includes the missionaries, volunteers and non-governmental Organisations. Then you have businessmen. Uganda has reached a level where it needs more of business than aid. Not many young Ugandans are waiting to have a sack of rice from the UN, they want jobs and skills. The
prime minister of Uganda visited Italy in December to promote investments that is an example.
How much trade is Uganda doing with Italy in exports and imports?
In my view, it is too low, there are patterns of growth and growing interest on both sides. In 2011 Italian imports into Uganda were $44m while Uganda exports were $31m. In 2011, it was $58m. They will be growing now that we are jointly doing so much to increase our economic relationship.
What are the opportunities for increasing investments and business between the two states?
There is an enormous potential because the goodwill already exists which can be a fundamental multiplier. These are two states at different stages of development-Uganda wants to enter the category of mid-income. The Italians in the 1960s and 1970s built the economic miracle.There is a perfect scope for transformation and best ways to develop going forward..
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Agro-industry is key for Uganda- Italy cooperation
Giulio Mulas is a director at the Italian Trade Commission based in Johannesburg, south Africa. ICE- aims to facilitate, develop and promote the Italian economic and trade relations with foreign countries – with particular attention to the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises. They also work to develop the internationalisation of Italian firms and the marketing of Italian goods and services in international markets. Mullas was in Uganda and attended the Uganda Investment Forum 2013 and spoke to New Vision’s David Mugabe:
Q Is the Italian Trade Agency already in Uganda?
The Italian Trade Commission is not in Uganda.
What activities are you involved in?
From our office in Johannesburg we assist Italian Companies interested in Uganda in collaboration with the Italian Embassy in Kampala.
Any specific plans for deepening your presence here?
We actively participated at last Uganda Investment Forum in Kampala and we had very interesting contacts whose follow up we foresee on next months. We are also aware of great activity from Italy with Italian Companies coming to Uganda on behalf of Italian Promoting Organisations in Milano. The most active has been Promos.
What opportunities exist for Ugandan entrepreneurs?
There are very interesting opportunities of collaboration for both Uganda and Italian Companies in many areas, but mainly in agro-industry and food transformation and packaging.
What are you doing to widen these opportunities?
From this point of view I suggest you look to the programme of the International Conference that we are organising in Kigali next month dedicated to food technology (Sustainable packaging for Competitiveness and Development of SMEs in EAC Region”, in partnership with East African Community and UNIDO).
Italian companies are into packaging and processing
Export agency gives credit to Ugandans to buy hi-tech equipment
Uganda needs more good roads to attract investments
Vieri Velardi, is the director for East Africa at the Italian Export Insurance Agency (SACE), he attended the recent Uganda Investment Forum 2013 in Kampala and spoke to New Vision’s David Mugabe about the opportunities for both countries. Excerpts below:
QBriefly tell me about the Export Credit Agency (SACE)?
SACE is the Export Credit Agency (“ECA”) of the Italian Government and our goal is to support those Italian companies that decide to tackle the international markets. Our government offers both financial and insurance products that make the internationalisation process of the companies easier, financially viable and risk free. As such our companies find business relatively easy.
Have you made any concrete deals or collaborations in Uganda since you came here?
Yes we have. So far in 2013 we have concluded one deal and are in the process of concluding a second. In the first case we have supported a local manufacturing company in purchasing hi-tech machinery from Italy.
As you can imagine, modern machinery reduces the costs of a company, it improves its productivity and it increases the quality of its products. You can easily understand the benefits of having healthy companies both from a financial and employment perspective.
What opportunities do you see in Uganda?
I personally see important opportunities in Uganda. The stable political environment has made Uganda an attractive investment site and the growing middle class and overall economic empowerment of its population makes its economy vibrant and interesting. Specifically I believe that the main areas of opportunities rely upon infrastructures and power generation.
Uganda is a land locked country that can and should, however, take advantage of its geographical position by becoming a hub for trade between, for example, the DRC, South Sudan, Rwanda and the ports of Mombasa and/or Dar es Salaam.
This, however, cannot happen because modern infrastructure (such as highways, railways and airports) are not in place. This is a common problem throughout East Africa but I believe that Uganda can tackle it better and quicker compared to its neighbouring countries.
On the other hand power generation is a key element to insure the economic growth of the country. Uganda has been blessed with water ways that can guarantee the production of clean, cost efficient power plants and thus become an exporter of electricity throughout the region. However, we must stress the fact that investors will risk their resources only if the rule of law is guaranteed by an independent, competent and corruption free judicial system.
What can Ugandan businesses learn/gain from the agency?
The most important positive effect for any local company is the fact that they can purchase Italian hi-tech good and services and pay for them with a deferred payment. By doing so the machine is purchased and is able to pay itself off through the benefits stated in the answer of question two above. The overall interest rates and financial costs applied to the transaction are very competitive compared to the interest rates applied by local banks.