Uganda seeks to turn her embassies into trade missions

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Office of the Prime Minister has organized a three-day Commercial and Economic Diplomacy Laboratory to develop a road map on Commercial Diplomacy for Uganda’s Missions abroad.


While officially opening the Lab, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Sam Kutesa said that the environment in which foreign policy is conducted is constantly changing and therefore there is need to adopt new tools that support national growth, development and transformation.

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This he says must address Economic/Commercial Diplomacy as a priority in addition to the traditional issues such as peace and security, Regional Corporation and Integration.


Hon. Kutesa also added that the Lab will define deliverables for Economic and Commercial Diplomacy as it generates and responds to pertinent questions that will help build consensus and define priorities that must be tackled to realize the core goal.


The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amb. James Mugume stressed that the objective of the Lab is for all stake holders to know how to drive the national economic agenda, which is to uplift Uganda from a Low income to middle Income economy by 2020.


In addition a Monitoring and Evaluation mechanism will be put in place to check progress and establish which problems must be resolved by coming up with quantifiable strategies and targets, as well as identify responsibility centers for resolving them.


The three day training will be driven by the Office of the Prime Ministers Delivery Unit who will deliver an overview of the BFR methodology and will focus on results generated by core team discussions on Lab Charters, budgets, challenges and solutions to Commercial/Economic Diplomacy.


The training which is in its pilot phase is attended by seven of Uganda’s Heads of Missions abroad and Private sector among which are, the Uganda Tourism Board, Uganda Investment Authority, Uganda Export promotion board, Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum Oil and Uganda Chamber of Commerce.


Uganda embassies and the economy


Analysis of the statistics for Uganda’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) provided by the Uganda Investment Authority for the last five years reveals that some of our embassies / ambassadors have not even attracted a single investment for the country.

At the last year’s Ambassadors retreat in Munyonyo, the envoys expressed disappointment over what they called measly resources allocated to them.


They argued that the resources given to them can hardly enable them accomplish commercial and economic diplomacy oblivious of the saying: ‘ ‘ Technical people complain about lack of resources, business people find a way around to the problem.’’


‘ ‘We want to do more than flying our flag in foreign countries. The funding we get can only cater for out salaries, allowances, administration costs and paying for utilities, but cannot be used for commercial diplomacy. We need money to promote our country’s image and commercial interests’’ Said James Kinobe, Uganda’s Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Uganda has 37 foreign embassies. According to data by UIA, only nine have managed to bring serious business for the last six years. Keep in mind that most envoys play no role in these deals. One wonders whether foreign envoys played any role in bringing the 300 investors, which president Museveni was quoted saying as having brought in 2014.


From 2009 to 2013, 214 FID projects are reported to have originated from China amounting to US$667,877,876. Over the same period, 326 projects worth US$ 632,139,530 came from India. From Kenya, 76 projects worth US$ 478,920,047 were recorded. Whether these projects materialized or not is another question.


A visit to Uganda embassies leaves a lot to be desired. You get to understand that embassy staffs are more concerned about Visa applications and less about promoting Uganda.


As some ambassadors complain of limited funding, others have managed to use the same limited resources to attract investors to Uganda, increase country’s exports as well as attract tourists. One such envoy is H.E Julius Moto, ambassador to South Africa, He was posted in 2012.


Between 2012 and 2013, Uganda registered 14 projects from South Africa worth US$ 38,344,800. Some embassies have either done the same figures in five years or not even matched it.


Where is the problem?


The quality of the staff recruited to work in the foreign affairs ministry are key for success of our embassies.


Speaking at her send-off ceremony at Serena Hotel, Allen Kagina the former URA Commissioner General (Now UNRA boss) noted that government is at times accountable for the failure of her programs.

Kagina said many times government appoints people in new positions, but fails to give them the necessary trainings to match their new responsibilities. Kagina’s explanation perhaps explains why our envoys do not perform to our expectations.


According to analysts, some of our ambassadors are appointed for political reasons and therefore lack the skills to match new roles of today’s ambassador.


The world is changing from the old diplomacy (Political diplomacy) to commercial diplomacy –tourism, investment, and business facilitation.


Kenyan foreign missions are said to be on the right market as far as bringing in FDI is concerned. The people they appoint to head foreign missions are said to have rich experience in the private sector. They were formerly successful executives, with strong business shrewdness and negotiation skills. The Kenyan government knows that the future is about economic growth through trade and economic growth through trade and commerce. Consider the minister for Foreign affairs-Ambassador Amina Mohamed. She is a top lawyer and highly skilled. She is former Negotiator at the World Trade Organization based in Geneva.


Her work experience span over 20 years and covers a broad spectrum of domestic and international assignments including Permanent representative Kenya mission to UN, Director Europe and Commonwealth, Director Diaspora, United Nations Assistant Secretary General, among others.


Analysts say 80 percent of Kenya’s involvement in EAC is about trade.



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