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Uganda Promotes Trade Over Aid

Uganda's Ministry for Trade says it is implementing measures to improve Uganda's ability to produce more goods for export. The ministry's statement follows a call by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for rich countries to support Uganda in its efforts to become less dependent on foreign aid. Arjun Kohli reports from our East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

Ugandan Ministry of Trade's Permanent Secretary Sam Nahamya, tells VOA that the ministry is helping the government improve the country's infrastructure, which he says will allow manufacturers to transport goods more efficiently and meet global standards.

"We have developed an export strategy paper, which we hope to use to increase our trade with western countries. Our problem has not been the market," Nahamya said. "We have not been able to export because we have got some constraints on the supply-side of the chain."

Last week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni suggested that rich countries could better help his country by opening up their markets rather than their wallets. He said trade, not aid, would enable the Ugandan economy to grow.

Right now, Uganda exports primarily to members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, better known by its acronym COMESA. South Sudan, Rwanda, Congo Kinshasa, Tanzania and Burundi import Ugandan products such as steel, iron, cement, and coffee.

Uganda has projected export revenue of one and a half billion dollars in 2007. The amount that Uganda expects to receive in foreign aid this year is just under half that figure.

President Museveni has praised countries that he says are giving Uganda the opportunity to increase exports. He noted that Uganda's trade with China and India rose by double digits in the past year.

Another large incentive comes from the European Union, which offers a duty free market for most Ugandan-made products. But Minister Nahamya acknowledges that many goods are currently rejected by the European Union because of poor quality or hygiene standards.

Uganda's economy grew five percent this year and has consistently outperformed many other economies in the region over the past five years.

The growth marks a significant turnaround from the 1970s, when Uganda's economy collapsed after the country's brutal dictator, Idi Amin, expelled the country's largely middle-class Asian community and shut down their businesses.

Amin was overthrown in a military coup in 1979. But ongoing guerilla wars and human rights abuses under Amin's successor, Milton Obote, held Uganda back as one of the poorest nations in the world for another decade.

Yoweri Museveni took power in 1986, and has been re-elected twice. He has been criticized for failing to undertake political reform. But observers credit him for transforming Uganda's economy through currency reform and other measures.

The president has also welcomed back Asian entrepreneurs, whose businesses are once again flourishing in the capital, Kampala, and elsewhere in the country.