Uganda Means Business

An unprecedented surge in demand for consumer goods makes Uganda a lucrative market in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Businessmen in the United Arab Emirates have been keeping a keen eye on Uganda's economic performance as the country continues to develop into a rapidly emerging market for consumer and capital goods from the Middle East. As the next century approaches there is a mood of optimism and a belief that Uganda will once again emerge as the 'Pearl of Africa' - the name given to it by the late Sir Winston Churchill in 1908. 

Traders and business people in the United Arab Emirates realise the great potential the country holds as an up-and-coming market and are now beginning to penetrate the Ugandan market in a big way. A large contingent of UAE companies will be participating in the forthcoming 3rd Afro Business Trade Fair which is being organised in Kampala. This trade fair is sure to provide a further boost in UAE-Uganda trade ties as it will provide UAE-based companies an opportunity to sell directly into the Ugandan market instead of routing its merchandise through Kenya.

Dubai's re-exports to Uganda have more than doubled in the last 5 years due to increased trade between the two countries. As more and more Ugandans realise the benefits and convenience of doing business with Dubai, these figures are sure to rise in the coming years. Already Dubai has emerged as a favourite shopping destination for the people of Uganda. "The availability of quality goods at competitive prices is attracting a growing number of Ugandans to Dubai," says Paolo Mayanja, former Area Manager of Uganda Airlines in Dubai.

Uganda's economic performance in the last few years has generated a lot of interest in business circles around the world. Economists believe that the country has an economy with great potential as it is endowed with significant natural resources, including amply fertile land, regular rainfall, rich mineral deposits and a skilled labour force. Little wonder then that economic forecasts for Uganda predict that the country is now poised for rapid economic growth and development.

The Ugandan economy registered an unprecedented GDP growth rate of 10 per cent in 1995, making it the fastest growing economy in the whole of Africa. Inflation, which had been rising at an alarming pace in the early 80's dropped from 300% in 1987 to less than 30% in 1990. Add to this the political stability and liberal economic policies of the current government and you’ll know why Uganda has suddenly become the centre of attraction in the East African region.

Political stability has been the cornerstone of economic success in Uganda. Since President Museveni came to power in 1986 there has been peace in most parts of the country. Recent presidential elections have further boosted the country’s image and provided a platform for further economic development. 

In the last 10 years Uganda has made an impressive recovery from its turbulent past. Today, the country's economy is on the upswing following the implementation of a structural adjustment programme recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF): in the last year the economy grew by over seven per cent. Though the economy is still based on agriculture, with coffee accounting for up to 80 per cent of export earnings, yet the manufacturing sector has also gained in prominence. New industries have recently been set up for processing of vanilla, fish fillets and roses for export. Although Uganda’s major export markets are Europe and the USA, the Middle East is fast emerging as a big market for Uganda. Uganda’s exports to the Middle East constitute cotton, tea, tobacco hides, skins, vegetables, fruits, and fish. 

Uganda's relations to the Arab world go back to the 1830s when Arab traders moved inland from their enclaves along the Indian Ocean coast of East Africa and reached the interior of Uganda. Since then, Uganda has had cordial relations with the Arab world. As member of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), Uganda is considered as an ally and friend by all Arab countries. 

Tourism, which used to be Uganda's fourth largest source of foreign exchange until the troubles of the 1970s, is another area of potential growth in UAE-Uganda relations. Uganda is home to about two-thirds of the rare mountain gorillas which still live in the wild. This and other opportunities to view primates such as man's closest relative, the chimpanzee, are attracting a growing number of visitors from all over the world. A concerted international marketing campaign by the Uganda Tourist Board (UTB) will go a long way in luring more visitors from the region. Till now, the private sector has taken the initiative to promote Uganda's tourist attractions abroad. Sheraton Kampala, for instance, played an instrumental role in introducing Uganda as a tourist destination to the Middle East travellers when they participated at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai. "The Middle East remains an untapped market,” says Grace Muguluma, former director of sales and marketing of Kampala Sheraton. "We are hoping that increasing trade ties will further boost inbound tourist traffic from the Middle East," she said. 

Today, Uganda is passing through a transitional phase in its economic evolution. Until 1972, Asians, who constituted the largest non-indigenous ethnic group in Uganda, were the main players in the financial markets of the country. In that year, the Idi Amin regime expelled 50,000 Asians, who had been engaged in trade, industry, and various professions. In the years since Amin’s overthrow in 1979, the country began a programme of economic recovery that received considerable foreign assistance. 

Uganda today is a country at peace. It boasts the fastest-growing economy in East Africa, and is working to better the lives of it's people by moving towards a representative government and laying the groundwork to establish a viable commercial market. Uganda's economy grew by 4 per cent in 2003, and since 1992 some $350 million in foreign investment has flowed into the country. 

The inflation rate has dropped to under 10 per cent from a high of 250 per cent in 1987. Reform programs have slashed government employment by half, and reduced ministries by a third and the armed forces by 30 per cent.
As the relationship between the international business community and Uganda develops in scope and stature, plenty of opportunities are becoming available to Ugandan exporters as well as foreign investors, entrepreneurs and holiday travellers. Given such a positive climate, the joint efforts of the Ugandan government and private sector organisations to create an ever-greater economic bond are also expected to gain momentum in the coming years.