An interview with Mr. Willy Mutenza, the Chairman of Uganda Convention-UK
What is the Ugandan Convention UK?
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 Ugandan Convention provides the ideal avenue to exchange views and network amongst the Ugandan 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 from the land of their ancestors and more importantly, acknowledge the key role they played 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.
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, 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?
The fourth Ugandan Convention will take place on the 13th Sept 2014 at the Troxy Arena, in London, and the theme is ‘Uganda is open for business’, conveying the clear message that Uganda welcomes new business ventures and investors.
Why should people attend the Uganda-UK 4th Investment Summit?
The Convention offers a unique portal to listen to and meet key note guests who will share 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. There are untold opportunities to network with powerful business leaders, to share ideas, and to forge new business partnerships. Anyone with any business aspirations should not miss the convention.
How many people do you expect to attend the convention this year?
The Convention is now the largest Ugandan gathering in Europe. We expect over 2000 delegates from all over the world to attend this year, which is not only due to the convention’s excellent reputation, but also to some key high profile speakers from the private sector speaking on the day, such as like Lord Verjee, Lord Popat, Mr. Amos Nzeyi and many others.
What criteria are used to choose the individuals who will talk at the convention?
Every year, we have a theme and chosen sectors which guide us on whom to invite as our speakers. African Diasporans are still failing to realise their dreams in the West and we know that some of the reasons for that is due to lack of unity, inspiration and role models. This year, we managed to get some of the wealthiest Ugandan Asians in the UK to share their own success stories to not only inspire delegates, but to also share tips on how to invest in profitable and bankable projects.
We are also 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 HE Governor Cyprian O. Awiti who will present a paper on opportunities in his region for Ugandans to tap into. Because we are very open and inclusive, other countries embrace the Convention as well.
What inspired you to set up an organization of this nature?
I was inspired by the cohesion and unity I saw in other communities like the Somali and Ghanaian Diaspora community. I felt we can do the same. I know that any immigrant community can’t 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 migrating to the West where most of them end up doing mediocre jobs. This brain-drain denies Uganda its rightful opportunity to grow as it lacks the skilled labour force it invested in but end up losing to emigration. The Convention bridges that gap by encouraging Ugandans to look at Uganda as a safe haven to go back to. What is also encouraging is that we have managed to see a significant number of Ugandans going back home to engage in various businesses.
Do you foresee the Ugandan Convention UK evolving into perhaps an advocacy organization tackling challenges facing Ugandans immigrants in the UK?
Yes, this year we registered a charitable arm of the Convention “Uganda Diaspora Engagement (www.ugandadiasporaengagement-uk.org/) which is now a registered charity in the UK. This organisation will mentor and assist Ugandans with capacity building, and to help individuals discover their unique potential, support them in expressing these potentials, and guide them towards further personal development, such as educational avenues, apprenticeship, business start-up ect.
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 always the right time for something to happen, but I think Ugandans in the UK were more divided than those in the US. Tribe and politics seemed to take most of our time. The Convention’s vision was to change people’s mind-sets and look beyond tribal and political affiliations. I am happy to see now Ugandans are keen to engage in progressive and business discussions.
This convention is normally held over one day only, 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 over two days but the cost implications are very high. We raised the standards by holding the convention in an upmarket venue but that comes at a cost. Being a new concept, we had decided not to charge delegates, and wait until the concept is understood and well established before we contemplate charging a fee.
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 African cultural heritage and we use music to bring together Ugandans to promote community and social cohesion. We don’t have a criteria to choose artists, but we tend to base it on who is popular within the Diaspora community. For this year, we shall base our choice on a certain kind of music, and engaging personalities.
What does it take for Ugandans in the diaspora to attend the convention?
Attending the convention is free. It only requires a delegate to either register online or at the entrance on the day. We have an exclusive area for VIPs and investors and those who want to interact personally with our VIPS. The fee for these exclusive seats is £35. The after-party is also payable, £20 for a normal ticket and £30 for VIP seats.
What is the process for a Ugandan back home in Uganda to attend the convention?
Those from Uganda are required to register at www.ugandaconvention.eventbrite.co.uk.
We do give document support only to those who are attending as exhibitors, sponsors or invited speakers. Other delegates need to get a VISA without our intervention. Online VISA application can be done from www.visa4uk.fco.gov.uk.
How has the Uganda Convention UK impacted the Ugandans?
Some of our positive outcomes so far are: more than $5million was invested in a maize processing plant in Uganda; more than $100,000 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 first Convention. For example, Mrs Janet Mukiibi, who now works with Kats, Dr James Mwesigwa who has become a consultant and lecturer on patients safety and has written a curriculum for this discipline for Universities.
And I personally have taken a trade mission of investors after each convention, resulting in investors deciding to invest in Uganda.
The most crucial point is the change of mid-set of Ugandans now in UK. The preoccupation with tribe and politics is becoming a thing of the past. We are now seeing more forums dedicated to trade and investments instead.
Some of the resolutions proposed at the convention which had positive outcomes include; talks to appoint a Minister of Diaspora Affairs; the president has been engaged by the parliament to scrap the dual citizenship fees; Ugandans in the Diaspora are now participating in the electoral process; promotion of the Diaspora rights and observation of the Diaspora week; and we are still lobbying to appoint the Minister of Diaspora Affairs.
Another of our achievement was also to host a delegation led by CEO Kiwalabye-Male, from Buganda Land Board. This was an indication that Buganda Kingdom has embraced the Convention as well. 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 we encountered personally was the animosity from some pockets of Ugandans who are against development. Anything they believe the government is having a hand in is ruled out as bad. That group waged a negative campaign on social media and printed media in Uganda, but with blessings of God, we overcame their negative expectations and the majority of Ugandans and friends of Uganda supported this great forum.
Another challenge is the cost implications which could be minimised if we got more support from people who see the potential of the convention and want to help it succeed and grow from strength to strength. On the day, we also have to cater for everything, including feeding our invited politicians which all adds to our costs.
How have you handled these costs?
We manage to sustain the convention from sponsors, exhibitors and from the evening after-party revenues, but up to now, we have not broken even. My own business is paying for 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.
We have plans to start other services to investors in addition to the convention, in order to recover some costs of preparing for and 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 such as increase remittances inflows through targeted investment products for Diasporans; reverse the concept of brain drain to brain gain by tapping into the huge pool of Ugandan professionals working abroad; encourage investments in key sectors, i.e. education, agriculture, health, housing, sports, tourism; and setting up our Diaspora cooperative which is in the pipe-line.