Hundreds of businesses, politicians and Ugandan diaspora headed to East London on Saturday for the 6th annual UK-Uganda Convention.
Amongst the notable guests this year were Rt Hon. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, His Highness, David Onen Acana II, Acholi Paramount Chief, Mr Amin Mawji OBE, Diplomatic Representative, Aga Khan, Hon. Winnie Kiiza, Leader of Opposition, Hon. Cecilia Ogwal, MP/Parliament Commissioner, Retired Colonel Kiiza Besigye – and Lord Dolar Popat, the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Rwanda.
This year’s convention was re-focused to look at the trade and investment opportunities in Uganda, and discussions were themed around the question: ‘Why invest in Uganda now?’
The keynote address was delivered by Lord Dolar Popat. Popat was appointed in January as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Uganda and Rwanda, one of seven new appointments by the then Prime Minister David Cameron to service key emerging markets in Africa.
Popat was born in Busolwe and on Saturday he described his new role as his “dream job”. He said David Cameron had used the Trade Envoy programme as part of “the long-needed new approach to Africa; an approach that is pro-active, trade rather than aid focused, and designed for prosperity rather than from pity.”
The UK is already the largest cumulative investor in Uganda but Popat spoke of how this is only the beginning, and there is considerable room to grow trading relations between the two nations.
He told the attendees “UK businesses need to respond, grab the economic initiative and play a leading role in Africa’s future growth. Otherwise we’ll be left behind by the countries that see Africa as it is, rather than how they fear it is.”
A big talking point at the Convention was the impact that Britain’s decision to leave the European Union will have on their relationship with other countries. However, Popat spoke positively of the opportunities, saying “it is now up to all of us in politics and in business to identify opportunities that are open to us, as we forge a new role in the world, in the Commonwealth and in Africa.”
He spoke of a positive meeting he’d had with President Museveni last week during the Global African Investment Summit in Kigali, and how the summit had opened up the possibility of direct flights resuming between Entebbe and London.
British Airways controversially terminated their flights between the two in September 2015, but Popat claimed he’d found a company willing to reinstate the route.
Lord Popat concluded with a call to arms for British businesses to invest in Uganda. He said “Now is the time to invest in Uganda; now is the time to export from the UK; and the UK Government are here to support you in your efforts.”
“From financial to diplomatic support; from strategic advice to the best contacts book in Kampala; the UK Government is here to support every business that is thinking that Uganda might be their newest market.”