President of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, gave this exclusive interview to United World at his country home in Rwakitura, in which he shared his views about the profound transformation that Uganda has undergone since the arrival of democracy in 1986, the key sectors for socioeconomic development, as well as the main economic challenges that the country is facing. President Museveni, who will attend the first African Leaders Summit in Washington and the Global African Investment Summit in London over the coming months, also spoke about the attractiveness of Uganda for European and American investors. At your first speech as President of Uganda you stated, “This is not a mere change of guards, this is a fundamental change in the politics of our Government”. Uganda has come a long way since that momentum, the country finally reached stability, peace and security, literacy has increased through universal education, the economy has been stabilized and the business environment liberalized through regional integration and global market access. How important has the establishment of the democracy been for the development of Uganda?
Democracy was very important for our country, as our people had not known democracy. In pre-colonial times we had a system of feudal chiefs. Later, during the post-colonial period we had a dictatorship. There was only a brief period of time, between 1962 and 1966 when we had a democratic system. Bringing back democracy was of outmost importance for Uganda and it was important for our people to take their destiny into their own hands.How has this country changed since you first took office in January 1986?
Security was a big problem in the past. Under feudalism, before colonialism, chiefs were always fighting each other, and then, they were also confiscating the property of the people. There was no proper governance before colonialism. During colonialism, there was some security, there were fewer wars, but people had no political rights, no economic rights, and for some time, there were also a lot of wars by the British against our people. After independence, there was a lot of insecurity, of people and of property. The second big achievement since 1986 is security for all. On the social side, universal education, also immunization so children don’t die from diseases, that is why the population has gone up. The population of Uganda was 14 million in 1986, and it is now 37 million. It has gone up very fast, mainly because of our health programs. On the economic side, a lot of development has taken place in the sectors of transport, construction, some sectors of manufacturing, mineral resources, and even ICT sector. Even there, although we can do much more, big achievements have been attained. The backbone of this economy and the major source of employments is agriculture. Can you please share with us your views on this important sector?
Agriculture has grown. There are three types of agriculture in Uganda: plantation agriculture, with big plantations like sugar and tea. Those have done very well. There is also large-scale commercial farming. That one has also done well. And small-scale commercial farming, this one still needs to do more. Our climate is very good, and therefore, very deceptive. You can stay here, you don’t have to work, and you can grow food and eat. That means you will have food, but no money. If you don’t have money, you won’t have a full life. You would live, but you will not have a full life. That is a problem. We call it subsistence farming. This is our big problem. Because of the good climate, campesinos, peasants, just grow food for subsistence, and they don’t remember to do activities for commercial purposes. We are underutilizing our agricultural potential. It is there, but not fully used. Many of the campesinos are still asleep. These years, they have woken up a bit. Coffee production is incredibly important to the Ugandan economy and around 32% of Uganda’s population is related with coffee production, possibly the biggest employer of the country.
We produce 4 million bags of coffee. That is about 30% of what Brazil produces, but we can produce much more than that. We want to produce 12 or 14 million bags, when campesinos rise. This means we would be the second largest producer, behind Brazil, which produces about 30 million bags. I think we can go as far as 15 million, or even 20 million bags. We can do it if campesinos stop sleeping.One of the biggest challenges is that campesinos are still sleeping. What other challenges is the country facing in order to meet its potential?
That is really the main problem. The other thing is manufacturing. We need to do more manufacturing, and set factories. Now, we still have the problem of exporting raw materials. That is a big problem, because, on the one hand, you get less money, and on the other hand, you export jobs. If I export cotton, not processed, that means the jobs for spinning, for weaving, for making garment, are all exported. That’s our second big problem. We need more factories to add value to the raw materials, we need industrialization. The third problem is that you cannot do this without solving the problem of infrastructure, especially transport and electricity. Roads are good, they have been worked on, but we need to do more. If you don’t solve the problem of infrastructure, then the costs of production are high, so they cannot allow private companies to make profit. That makes our economy less competitive vis-à-vis China or India. The three biggest challenges that we want to solve are: campesinos sleeping, exporting raw materials (industrialization), and infrastructure.
We had other problems in the past, like education, but that has been tackled. One former problem was having undeveloped human resources. That was the problem in the past, but it has been addressed. We now have the opposite problem: educated people without jobs. Then, of course, we also had a problem of market. Once you produce, you must sell. But that one has also been addressed because we formed the East African Community, the Common Market of Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa. Some of the problems have been addressed, and the others are being addressed now.Tourism is the best face of a country and Uganda is blessed to have an incredible and unique touristic destination. How is your government encouraging the development of the tourist sector?
The first encouragement is security. Once there is security, tourists will come. We have plenty of tourist attractions. We have wild life and nature paths, mountains, gorillas and everything. We have the resources for tourism attraction. The missing link was security, which is there now, and the other thing is infrastructure and accessibility to tourist areas. Maybe, we are weak at promotion, to tell people in the world about Uganda.
Speaking about security, Uganda is recognized as a staunch ally of the US and a key partner in its fight against terrorism, particularly through its contribution to the African Union Mission in Somalia and in US campaign against Islamic extremism. Now is the time to advance on trade and investment, and take full advantage of this relation. What can be the main benefits derived from increased cooperation with the US beyond security aspects? In which areas would you like to see more partnerships?
American manufacturing companies could invest, and add value. In the modern world, there are two kings: one king is the entrepreneur, the one who has got the knowledge, and the vision to see he can make goods and services, and also the capital to do it. If he doesn’t do it, goods won’t be there. The second king is the consumer, the one who buys what is produced. If you produce, and nobody buys, then you go bankrupt. In the middle, there are other facilitators, like for instance infrastructure. That is facilitation for these two to link: the entrepreneur and the consumer. They need infrastructure, peace, good governance – no corruption and so on – and human resources – people to employ. What Africa is lacking now, are the entrepreneurs. We have them, but there are not enough. If we could share those, it would be good for us, but also good for them, and the US. If we get people to produce textiles here, that means we create more jobs for our people, and we earn more money for our cotton. For a kilo of cotton you get one dollar, but if it is processed, you can get 15 dollars. That is 15 times the value, and also jobs. If there are more jobs in Africa, there is more money in Africa. We shall buy more from the US and the US will benefit. Maybe they want to sell some factory parts, or computers, whatever; and then we shall buy more of that. We are now trading with China because there is more money in China. If there is more jobs here and therefore more money, because of adding more from our national resources, then we become stronger trading partners for the US and even for Europe. Europe is facing a lot of problems. If Africa was buying more products from Spain, it would help European economies. The potential of European economies have been exploited. Here, our potential is underutilized. The child of 6 years has got more potential to grow than me, because I can’t grow more. European economies are close to full utilization of their resources. Here, everything is underutilized: human resources, land, and purchasing power. Things will go up in Africa, and that is what the US and Western Europe should look at. Entrepreneurs could come here and help us with infrastructure. Of course, we are building infrastructure ourselves, but if they could help, it would be good.Regarding Europe, you are visiting the UK for the second time this year coinciding with the Global African Investment Summit. What does the UK have that others countries don’t have? What can the UK bring for the further development of Uganda?
We can work with anybody, but the UK, probably because of language and communication; but there is nothing specific. We can work with anybody. Indeed, we import a lot from Japan. Most cars on the road are Japanese. There are some German cars, also, but they are mainly from Japan and India. We are not interested in who you are, but in money. If the UK was smart, they could take advantage of the cultural closeness. It is not easy for us to communicate with the Chinese. There is also some sleeping in Europe. Europeans are a bit asleep, not only the campesinos. Europe and Africa are near, and we work closer to China that is very far away. Europeans have become lazy. Africa is here, one billion people! Within the next twenty years, we shall be more than two billion, and we are just next-door. Really, history, language, and distance –Europe is part of Africa! – Those are the reasons for having closer relationships. You were saying they are sleeping. When American citizens and people from Europe look at Africa, they think it is all the same. How are you going to awake them at the summits in Washington and London?
I will talk. They must work with Africa for them to improve their own lives. Africa will develop with or without Europe. Once we develop, they will have to work with us. We wake them up with their stomach, with the economic needs of their people. Many people are out of jobs, companies are going down; having loses, so they must reorganize their economies. Africa is just there, next door, that is really incredible. There is a lot of sleeping in European leaders and businessmen. Ordinary people might not know what to do, but entrepreneurs and leaders are asleep. In terms of tourism, what makes Uganda different from Rwanda, Tanzania or Ghana? Why should choose prospective tourists choose Uganda over these better known destinations?
If you fly by plane, from Alexandria in Egypt to Uganda, it is five and half hours. If you fly from near Cape Town, it is five and a half hours. Uganda is just in the middle of this giant continent. If you want to enter the continent, why not start in the middle? Uganda has also got its own uniqueness. Some resources here are unique. There are many species of animals in a small area. Uganda has got mountains, valleys, tropical forests, big lakes, the Nile River; there are really many things compacted in a small area. We have the savannah. It is really unique: geographically and centrally located. Of course, we have peace and security.We have met with almost your entire cabinet. The Minister of Works told us that this was a landlocked country, but that it would become ‘land linked’. The Minister of Trade said that Uganda could become the food basket of the East African Community. This country has everything but as the Bible says, “When a nation has no vision, it perishes”. What is your vision for the future of Uganda?
Social economic transformation. In Europe, in the last 500 years, you have undergone huge economic transformations. Society has changed in Europe. If you go to the Middle Ages, when Columbus was going to America, or even before, you will find Europe had three social classes: the feudalists, the peasants, and the artisans. There was no middle class. If you go to Europe today, you won’t find feudalists, they are not there. Campesinos are no longer there, or there are very few. Now, you have new groups, the middle class, and the working class. It is a skilled working class. These are new, in the last 300 years, because of the industrial revolution. That was a socio-economic transformation. That must happen here. In Uganda, if you were here 500 years ago, you shall find the same structure as Europe: there were feudalists, peasants, and artisans. In colonialism, they killed the feudalists, the artisans, and left only the campesino. You can call this a problem of campesino. They dress like European, but they are not really middle-class people in production. They are middle-class in consumption, but not in production. The middle class here are bureaucratic middle classes, not part of the manufacturing activity. If there were entrepreneurs, then we wouldn’t have a shortage of them. We have a shortage because the African middle class are a pseudo middle class, it appears like it, but it is not real. This is where the problem of Africa is. We have a pseudo middle class. They are not engaging in industrial production. That is why we have a shortage of entrepreneurs. All they do is consuming, not producing. The socio-economic transformation that happened in Europe, and China, and India, that metamorphosis should happen in Africa. This metamorphosis hasn’t happened. It has been stuck for the last 300 years.In the last year, you have been saying that Uganda doesn’t need donors, but investors. What is your message to those investors that are going to read your words?
Sectors are clear, and profitability is high. The internal rate of return in Africa, compared to Europe or Asia, is high. I don’t want people to come here to lose money; they must come here to make money. Making profit in Europe is not easy. You compare profitability rates. That’s the point.