Ugandans in the diaspora have been urged to invest more back home and also market the country’s vast investment opportunities and tourism potential. The call was made by the Government Chief Whip (GCW), Hon. Denis Hamson Obua, at the opening of the two-day inaugural Convention of Ugandans living in Southern Africa (COUSA) at the Villa Africa Boutique Hotel in Pretoria on Saturday, 18 November 2023.
COUSA brings together close to one million Ugandans living in the Southern African countries of Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and South Africa. The initiative embraces the collective will and aspirations of all Ugandan communities in the region, providing a common voice with inclusive development and empowerment.
“The convention is a platform to display positive energy instead of negative energy. This is a unifying factor and a strong platform that will greatly contribute to the socio-economic development and transformation of our country and empower all Ugandan communities in Southern Africa and beyond,” he said.
Obua was accompanied by several MPs from Uganda, including Hon. John Bosco Ikojo, the Chairperson of the Committee on National Economy, and Hon. Tony Ayo, the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on ICT and National Guidance. The CGW urged the attendees to engage the MPs present on any matters of the law that they were constrained with during the open session.
“If there are constraints you face because of the laws that the Parliament of Uganda has passed, please engage the MPs here today so that steps may be taken to address them,” Obua said. According to the World Bank and Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development, as of 2022, Ugandan diaspora remittances constituted stood at US$ 1.3 billion or 4.5 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
In recognition of the contribution by the diaspora to Uganda’s development, a Diaspora Services Department was established in 2007 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to handle diaspora issues. Uganda’s High Commissioner to South Africa, H.E. Paul Amoru, said the community of Ugandans living in Southern Africa is diverse and therefore unique because each was exposed to opportunities in terms of skill and human resources that could be positively mobilized to contribute to the national development agenda.
Ambassador Amoru, who also superintends over Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Eswatini, said while several Ugandans have invested in sectors of the Southern Africa economy such as hotel and hospitality, education, healthcare, and the automobile industry, over 70 South African companies are doing business in Uganda and are estimated to have total assets of over US$ 3 billion in sectors such as telecommunications, banking, insurance, ICT, tourism, hospitality, wholesale and retail, power generation, manufacturing, and the automobile industry, among others.
He singled out a Ugandan-based businessman, Andrew Kakuru, who has secured a license from the South African government to import 1,500 tonnes of pineapple and 7,000 tonnes of avocado into South Africa annually. The interim COUSA chairperson, Moses Badru Ssentongo, requested Parliament to consider budgeting for COUSA, as has happened for Ugandans in the United Arab Emirates, so that the members can be supported during times of distress.
Ssentongo applauded the Government for beginning the processing of national IDs and passports at the Uganda Embassy in Pretoria and slashing the cost of sending passports back to Uganda from Shs82,000 to Shs10,000. Parliament has on several occasions debated on issues pertaining to the diaspora by way of legislation and resource allocation to address matters of importance to the Ugandan diaspora, including the evacuation of Ugandans from crisis situations such as during COVID-19, the war in Sudan, and Ugandans trapped in difficult situations, including in the Middle East, among others.
Special participants at the convention came from the Uganda Development Bank, Private Sector Foundation Uganda, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Exports and Industrial Development, Uganda Airlines, and dfcu Bank. Prior to the convention that was also addressed by Andile Ramaphosa, the son of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, there were meetings on investment and diplomacy. The High Commission will at the next convention of 2024, run the inaugural Diaspora High Achievers Awards to recognize the exceptional contributions of Ugandans in Southern Africa.