By Edgar Muvunyi Tabaro
On October 10, 1992, President Yoweri Museveni undertook a daring state visit to Mogadishu, Somalia.
He was received by one of the foremost protagonists (War Lords) in the factionalized civil war, Gen. Mohammed Farah Aideed, of the Somali National Alliance, who then controlled 11 regions, but failed to establish total control over the country, including Mogadishu.
It is said President Museveni castigated Aideed for attempting to take Mogadishu without establishing the capacity to control the entire country. That trip together with that of President George Bush Snr. only weeks to his handover to Bill Clinton were to be the only visits of a head of state to Somalia for the next two and a half decades.
Earlier in 1987, there had been hostilities between Uganda and Kenya arising largely from mistrust from the Moi administration over the relatively younger administration in Kampala, which they had been misled about its intentions over the East African region.
The relationship with Kenya was repaired and cemented in the result, Uganda’s unfettered access to the sea thrived as well as trade between the two countries.
The above two, seemingly unrelated events, if watchers were keen to give attention to detail, are the hallmarks of what has determined the post-1986 state policy in strategic, tactical as well as operational outlook under President Museveni. Deepening, smoothening as well as widening integration of the East African countries.
At the 1989 independence celebrations, the then Zaire President Mobutu Sese Seko had been invited as a guest. He arrived two days late. At the said visit, a number of agreements were concluded for bilateral co-operation. Salient was joint exploration activities for oil in the Albertine Region and deepening trade. The co-operation did not translate into action for reasons not too hard to find.
Deep mistrust. Fast forward. November 2, 2019. My law firm KTA Advocates together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized the first-ever Uganda DRC Business Forum at Munyonyo.
It was a turning point in the Uganda DRC relations. Congo sent 117 delegates from different sectors. However, the occasion was graced by the presence of President Museveni who awed the audience with fluency in a number of the DRC languages.
At some point, he corrected the interpreter, a young lady, Deputy (MP) from South Kivu over a translation from the English language!
President Museveni outlined in off the cuff, ribs aching speech the hallmarks of the interrelatedness of the African peoples extolling the pre-colonial trade that existed between Pwani, the Central Tanzania woodlands, Congo Forest, the Sudanic lands etc involving different communities and races.
He further emphasized the need for peace and stability for trade to occur and propel the communities to prosperity.
The Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces have been involved in a number of peacekeeping operations and interventionist strategies in foreign lands that would not strictly qualify for peacekeeping missions as stipulated by the UN.
Previous efforts have been premised on Pan Africanism and the need to secure our interior by going for the bases of the rebel groups that operate outside our borders.
The latest engagement in the DRC has the hallmarks of all this, securing our people, our borders and Pan Africanism at hand. However, this time around, this writer proposes that economic interests too should inform our intervention so as to address some of the peculiarities that define our economy.
At a population growth rate of 3.4% per annum, Uganda is very likely to face a population explosion for which reason the economy has to be grown at more than double the population growth rate so as to maintain political stability.
We are turning out on average 70,000 graduates per year from our universities and other tertiary institutions and only about 5,000 of them can be absorbed for employment.
Furthermore, the percentage of tax to GDP is 14.8% meaning that for the tax body to grow its revenue collections it will have to tax the middle class highly- these are recipes for instability.
Enter the DRC, beyond the Pan Africanism rhetoric and cementing the stature of President Museveni and Uganda as the kingpin of stability in the region; there is an urgent need to address our economic interests.
DRC is gradually replacing the Republic of Kenya and South Sudan as Uganda’s largest trading partner with trade volumes standing at $267m in export earnings as well as $177m in ‘informal’ cross border trade (the Gambia and UAE are top trade partners as well).
However, most tradable to the DRC include re-exported cosmetics, vegetables, sugars, confectioneries, spirits and beverages and construction materials like cement and iron sheets among others.
This compares very badly with the entrenched western powers which have tended to dominate the high-end businesses such as banking, insurance and construction, electricity, mining etc.
Now, herein lays the juice for us now that we are deeply engaged in combat operations and will likely be involved there for the next foreseeable future given that Eastern DRC is home to about 133 militias, largely representing tribal and sometimes sub tribal interests (many combatants of these militias have turned mercenaries for external forces and their commanders’ soldiers of fortune.
As such, combat and post-combat pacification, will require the continued presence of the UPDF!) Who with support from external sources have been pursuing the agenda of secession of Eastern DRC, a process termed in Congolese speak ‘Balkanization’.
It is time Uganda stepped up its game and pursued the ambit of economic interests relentlessly just like other countries have opted to undertake when faced with the scenario that is playing out in the DRC.
This time around our gallant men and women in uniform ought to be followed by smartly dressed men and women in business suits armed with letters of intent (LOI) and memoranda of understanding (MOU) to seal businesses in the oil and gas, construction, electricity (Uganda, with the coming on board of Karuma dam has excess power which can be exported to the DRC), minerals and other related high-end sectors for Ugandan citizens and Ugandan companies in partnership with indigenous Congolese.
I have on previous occasions read and heard commentators castigating Ugandans for going for the low-end businesses in South Sudan, Somalia, in comparison to the Ethiopians and Kenyans.
But these businesses do not fall from the sky- there must be in place concerted and deliberately designed efforts by our business elite and Government alike in driving our energies in this direction.
The French, Americans, and British do it, why not us? To this end, this writer suggests well thought out approaches by the federations of commerce and industry that involve the Government of Uganda through special purpose vehicles in the fashion and style of the Uganda Development Corporation put together to mobilize capital through letters of comfort from Uganda offering support to such business entities that opt to invest in the now not so friendly environment of the DRC.
The said with LOIs, MOUs, special purpose vehicle[s] and letters of comfort in place, the task of borrowing money for investment from the numerous Exim and industrial development banks that dot the world and are hungry for investments in Sub Saharan Africa where the internal return of investment averages 25-32% (this compares better with Europe at 6-9%) would have been made easier.
This way Ugandans will secure markets and investment and ensure that the cost of sending our troops beyond our borders will be recouped through these investments.
The writer is a lawyer and an academic