His Royal Highness made a remark on an overview of investment opportunities in Northern Uganda; Encouraging collaboration and insight into practicalities of doing business in Acholiland
His Royal Highness made a personal remark and appreciation to the Chairman of the uganda Convention, Mr. Willy Mutenza and his committee. He requested that the Convention also takes place in Uganda to enable interaction between businesses from both countries. He expressed concern that over the years he had seen organisations like the Convention start and were discontinued due to sabotage.
He said that over the years Acholi had been in the news all over for the wrong reasons. The conflict that characterised the 1980’s, 90’s and part of 2000 closed out this potentially rich region from engaging meaningfully in trade and investment opportunities using its resources.
What was happening at the time were spontaneous attempts by individuals and organizations trying to make a meaning while doing business in Acholi. The net result of this was that nothing really got off at the time in terms of trade and investment. Human capacity that is essentially critical to trade and investment was significantly compromised by the prevailing conditions, time and space became grossly restricted, basic infrastructure was extremely poor. Hence, making the access to productive areas extremely difficult due to insecurity and displacement.
He further said that the situation had changed most violence ended, and people returned to their homes, productive activities were going on. Most basic infrastructure was being rehabilitated or set up. Most rural centres had electricity extended, major roads were being paved, schools and health centres rehabilitated etc. This therefore meant that Acholiland was slowly opening up and getting positioned as a key player in trade and investment in Uganda. A number of strategic partners were showing up at the gates of Acholiland, some had got in but others hadn’t for various reasons. However, key as a determinant for gaining access in Acholi was the method of approach. The Acholi from time to time advocated for an objective, open and transparent engagement with the people.
He assured delegates that Acholi in general was very enticing; anybody who came would not leave in awe of the vast opportunities. HRH said that, “virtually at every turn of your head, there is an opportunity, agriculture, tourism, mineral, culture, animal husbandry, commerce name it”.
Despite the insecurity, “Acholi is endowed with a long stretch of border with South Sudan which has for the last decade offered the best export destination for Ugandan products” said the Paramount Chief.
He said that in order to facilitate activities around investment, government had established regional offices of most strategic agencies. These included the Uganda Registration Bureau, Department of Immigrations Uganda Revenue Authority, Inspectorate of Vehicles, the Police, Lands registration, Solicitor General etc. This had eased the procedures and processing of various documents and getting necessary approvals while in Northern Uganda.
He outlined some key investment opportunities in Acholi land:
- Agriculture: Acholi was known for its land and the best climate for most agriculture to thrive. This was an opportunity that nobody would want to miss. The good thing was that most food in the world comes from Agriculture and people were not about to stop eating. In fact, those who tried to get substitutes have had health problems and were now running back to natural foods. Acholi was capable of producing most organic foods required by people of this world
- Animal husbandry/Ranching: Obviously not all areas may be agriculturally productive. For those not, the alternative the obvious in animal husbandry. Under different arrangements, Acholi had a number of ranches; Aswa Agago, Acholi ranches and many other largely private ranches. Many of these were unfortunately defunct due to the war attempts. Efforts to revive formerly government owned ones met challenges because of detected sinter intent, lack of transparency and corruption.
- Forestry: Just like animal husbandry, Forestry was a great potential in the region. Acholi still had many natural forests with numerous tree species that derive uses. There were also opportunities for establishment of artificial forests because of the existence of vast tracts of land. The big challenge here was that government and its agencies UNFA, NEMA had renegade on their duties to regulate this activity. Unscrupulous agents of government, its agencies and businessmen were now engaged in unsustainable exploitation of Acholi forests. “I am now leading a strong initiative to ensure that this trend is reversed. So that we can use our forests in a sustainable way as a source of energy e.g. charcoal farming; where we plant trees that mature quickly and use modern kilns to burn charcoal instead of the traditional means being used whereby more than half of the trees burnt are wasted”, said the HRH.
- Tourism: Acholi offers everything in tourism, say; wildlife, Murchison falls, national park and it’s the largest in Uganda with diverse flora and fauna. The Acholi landscape was spectacular consisting of undulating plains and mountains with every part bearing a refreshing uniqueness that could be effectively exploited for tourism and also the numerous historical sites telling a lot about its past. These sites could be developed for tourism. Acholi also being extremely rich in culture with elaborate music, dance and drama, cuisine, dress, norms, values and practices, offered great opportunities for tourism. The famous “mato oput” for instance was a practice with worldwide acclaim that many people from all over the world were drawn to Acholiland to understand it. More so tourists that visited the national parks had nothing more to unwind them other than the cultural tourism which played a big role, especially the people living in proximity to the parks (e.g. Nwoya district) who were having problems with elephants destroying their crops every year. Cultural tourism could supplement their means of livelihood.
- Natural resources: Within the oil industry there were many opportunities in and around the oil industry in Acholi. Very soon there would be great opportunities for the provision of goods and services for this industry while greater opportunities still existed for exploration and exploitation not only of oil but other minerals that have been found to exist in Acholi. Acholi also provided a number of water ways. A portion of the great Nile passes through Acholi and along with it were a number of rivers that offered opportunities for hydro electricity production, Irrigation, fishing etc. say; the great Aswa, Agago pager, Agago Rivers.
- Investment Financing: Investment financing was considered a major problem in doing business in Acholi and Uganda. Interest rates on loans were extremely high most standing at between 25%-30%. In this area alternative and cheaper means of providing investment financing was viable option of investment.
- ICT Transport and Communication: As the world gets globalised and more and more people get connected, the opportunity for ICT Transport and Communication bears greater meaning. All the opportunities, would become meaningless if this sector was not enhanced. This fortunately is a fast growing sector in Acholi. As investment and productivity increases, there would be an apparent necessity for investment as ICT is a fast grow in sector in Acholi. The fibre optic backbone was connected to most turns easing telephone and internet communication. In terms of transport other than the good road network radiating from Acholi and the potential for redevelopment of the railway line, Gulu in Acholi had a well-developed airfield whose status only needed to be upgraded to an international airport. This could easily happen if there was an attendant growth in investment in many of the sectors. Most roads in and out of the Acholi have been paved including those that link with South Sudan at Nimule and Misingo. Electricity had also reached most rural trading centres offering opportunities for small scale industries and value addition.
- Proximity to South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo offered great opportunity for cross border trade
- For those interested a lot can be done around religious tourism. Acholi with the two dominant Christian religious sites could bring in a number of pilgrims every year at specific times. The burial sites for St Janani Luwum, St Jildo Irwa and St Daudi Okello and also other numerous traditional religious sites.
- Social services, health and education were suffering significantly in Acholi. Most social services in Acholi were still dependent on government and public sector. Unfortunately, government seems to be more turned towards directing these services to the private sector. It was therefore imperative that private sector investments in health and education could be enhanced. This does not mean that all government responsibilities would be taken away but through the private sector quality services that were sought elsewhere could now be found sufficiently in Acholi. It was not uncommon to find multitudes of Acholi seeking quality schools in other regions yet if these schools were in Acholi it would ease the burden on parents paying substantial attendant cost.
He further said that, he might be sounding like a government agent on many of the things but these are realities that needed to be said. Engagement with government was important in order to achieve all that was desired. he informed the delegates that his technical team led by the Acholi Prime Minister were in the process of developing a document that outlined the need to restructure the relationship of cultural institutions with government.
He mentioned some of the Acholi problems that constituted important assumptions to be adored. Twenty plus years of long drawn out conflict had left a telling effect on the people. There continued to exist multiple problems at the individual, family, clan and society levels which were affecting people’s appreciation to issues because of multiple cases of post-traumatic stress disorders, psychosocial problems which were getting more visible. This was compounded by widespread poverty and an entrenched dependency syndrome drawn from a legacy of humanitarian assistance. As a consequence, this slowed the thrust for recovery and diverted attention away from making meaningful progress. Some of the major conflicts seen in Acholi now were attributed to this.
Contestations over land, over gender based violence etc. were typically examples of this problem. Unfortunately, strategic government programmes like PRDP, NUSAF etc. we’re not effective in addressing these challenges.
Conversely investing in Acholi would be a clear understanding of the context therein. Effective engagement coupled with transparency and accountability should be able to deliver meaningful investment in Acholi. Governance challenges, corruption abuse of office, incompetence that has been under spread should be decisively dealt with in order to ease doing business and investing in Acholi.
Finally, he reiterated his submission emphasizing that there were many opportunities in Acholi and with the right approach, these could offer opportunities for trade and investment. He acknowledged that doing investments was attracted by a number of factors, amongst which were the ease of doing business, limited red tape and belief by investors about stability of their investment in a country. In this case Acholi and Uganda would be most suitable.
However, there were also some challenges that could be turned into opportunities, for example; local private sector had not built capacity to utilize procurement opportunities offered by large public investments, instead foreign firms had benefited from procurement; public finance management imply that public investment projects had not delivered value for money; misguided investment such that entrepreneurs in Uganda seemed to favour less risky investment like real estate, entertainment, bars etc.
There was no specialization in investments whose products or services could be traded across international boundaries thus tending to encourage import dependency and worsening things like trade balance, high interest rates, inflation, and exchange depreciation. Its these important that Uganda looked at the export products and markets so that the economy rapidly rose to enable investors tap into the global value chains a. The Paramount Chief appealed to the Acholi in the Diaspora to lead the way to invest back home.