Having welcomed his Excellency, the Honourable Ministers, and all the distinguished guests, the Prime minister of the UK trade envoy to Uganda Lord Popat expressed his gratitude to once again be addressing the UK-Uganda convention. Drawing from his remarks he said “For nearly a decade, this event has gone from strength to strength, fostering stronger relations between our two nations”.
This year we were joined by the Vice President of Uganda, His Excellency Edward Sekandi, who he has had the honour of working with on a number of occasions. He noted his presence as a sign of how important this convention is to all Ugandans and their counter parts in the Uk.
He welcomed all the business leaders, CEOs, civil servants and in mention, the Vice President of the London Chamber of Commerce Subhash Thakkar. “Thank you all for coming and for helping to build a new generation of ties between the UK and Uganda’’.
He talked about the unique advantage point when it comes to UK-Uganda relations. His Excellency, UK and Uganda may be geographically separated by many thousands of miles, but they are brought together by their shared history, synergy and membership of the Commonwealth. His colleague in the House of Lords, Lord Howell, always said that America are our allies, Europe our neighbours, and the Commonwealth our family.
Lord Popat was born in Uganda before coming to Britain as a seventeen-year-old. Life has now brought him to full circle, having been a Minister for both Business and Transport and now serving as the Prime Minister of Trade Envoy to Uganda and Rwanda. This has allowed him share the many skills he has learnt both in business and politics, with love for Uganda. This was expressed in his words
‘’you can take the boy out of Uganda but you can’t take Uganda out of the boy”.
But, to his eternal regret, Britain has spent several decades focusing on its neighbours and neglecting their Commonwealth family. Our membership of the European Union brought with it many benefits, but there were also costs, to closer relations with certain nations and one of them was Uganda in particular.
Last year he hosted lunch for President Museveni in the House of Lords, so that he could meet and speak with British businesses interested in investing in Uganda. He was asked about the presence of so many Chinese-backed projects in Uganda, and he gave the sort of withering answer that only the best politicians can do.
He told us that he loves Britain. That there is huge demand for British goods and services in Uganda, and a great affection for the UK. But then he followed up with ‘but we never see you there’. He went on to say that “when I need hospitals and roads built, and the Chinese are there to build them, who else can I turn to? I don’t speak Chinese, I speak English, but my people need new roads and hospitals”
That is the challenge that faces all of us in this room. He took the President’s words to heart, and they give him all the motivation he needs when he’s undertaking his Trade Envoy duties. He is right; Britain needs to be more outward-looking, more conscientious of our relationships with our Commonwealth family, and better-attuned to the amazing economic advancements across Africa.
Your Excellency the Vice President, not long ago our trade with Africa was 30%. It is now less than 4%. We need a fresh approach to Africa, particularly those countries that are part of the Commonwealth that builds on the deep and historical links we have with the continent and the affection many Africans have for Britain.
He stated, our Prime Minister is holding the UK-Africa Investment Summit here in London on 20th January, where we have invited all African Heads of States. This summit will bring together UK and African Governments, alongside major international investors, to grow awareness of investment opportunities on the continent. President Museveni has verbally confirmed that he will be attending with the focus being on Agri-tech, fin-tech, manufacturing and financial services. On financial services we are number one in the world. Many years ago we had a branch of Uganda in the UK –he would like to see them come back and have a branch in London.
He emphasized that Britain will soon be leaving the European Union and be an independent country once again. This is the opportunity we need to reset so many crucial diplomatic and trade relationships around the world to once again become an outward-looking nation. And his great hope is that Brexit will be the start of a golden age of relations between Africa and the UK, in particular Uganda.
Once again Africa is on their radar and the great news was that they are already seeing many new facets to that relationship. As we speak, in Kabaale, the Hoima International Airport is being constructed by Colas, a UK company. The first stage is expected to be completed in 2021, ready to serve Uganda’s oil, agriculture and tourism industries in the Western Region. The local content will be in excess of 70% and the airport project alone is expected to create more than a 1,000 jobs, all of which will be taken by Ugandans.
Recently the Prime minister led a delegation of Agri-tech companies to Uganda, scoping out opportunities for collaboration and looking for ways in which Uganda can export more and add value to their exports. He was delighted to say, as a follow up to that visit, President Museveni took his advice and arranged for a Ugandan delegation to be here in the UK to continue the discussions they started in Uganda. These included Mr. John Musinguzi, Senior Presidential Advisor on Investment and Mr. Steven Muyingo, Senior Presidential Advisor on Economic Affairs who have been touring the UK over the last 10 days to source further opportunities in the Agri-Tech sector. His aware they have been to see a number of companies, including Sainsburys, Tescos and Waitrose to explore further export opportunities. The delegation also visited a number of local markets to better understand the process of purchase and importation of fresh products. He was very hopeful that this trip will lead to several opportunities for furthering our trade relationship.
It was his aim to see Ugandan exports rise to the tune of half a billion within 5 years. It is a very ambitious target and therefore we need to address the cargo and connectivity issues to export these goods.
Earlier this year, Uganda purchased two airbus planes, as they look to build better connectivity with their key markets. He has long been critical of the UK’s own aviation failings; in this country our main airports are at capacity and we shamefully allowed British Airways to stop flying 6 days a week to Entebbe. Flights between nations are modern-day bridges, and we are therefore working to repair this broken bridge to support greater collaboration, understanding and trade. He applauded Uganda for taking steps in the right direction and he could only hope that here in Britain we rectify any recent mistakes, to enable us see continuous progress in infrastructure construction, agri-tech and aviation. That’s before we get to some of the other industries where Britain and Uganda can work together, including the energy sector, medicine and pharmaceuticals, and of course, fintech. He very much hoped that the discussions around the day’s events will see further leads in these crucial areas. He encouraged any British businesses that are interested in trading in Uganda to contact him; not only because Uganda is a wonderful country, but also because the UK Government has a number of programmes that help to support British exporters there, including bespoke support from the Department for International Trade and considerable financial help from UK Export Finance, which currently has about £600 million available for exporters to Uganda.
In the past, we have been driven by aid whereas we need to be focusing on trade. He was saddened to see that Uganda was once again dealing with an Ebola outbreak, but was delighted to see that Britain offered to support Uganda in dealing with this challenge.
He concluded by saying we are at the dawn of a new age of UK-Uganda relations and his role as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy over the past four years has seen the level of commitment there is on both sides.
“Our nations are stronger together, working in partnership, focused on trade, and working towards a prosperous future for all of us’’.
He thanked everyone and hoped they enjoy the rest of the Convention.