In Part VIII of these series, we bring you a speech that President Museveni made on July 9, 1995 to members of the Federation of Uganda Asian Organisations at the International Conference Centre.
Museveni formally welcomes Asians of Ugandan origin back into the country, reassures them that there would be enough room for them to invest in the country and implores them to join him in fighting corruption within government: –
On behalf of the government and the people of Uganda, I warmly welcome members of the Federation of Ugandan Asian Organisations back to your country after many years of forced exile all over the world. We are grateful to God that you not only survived wherever you were forced to stay, but that you actually prospered. With the varied experiences you have accumulated in various parts of the world, Uganda is fortunate now to become the melting pot and beneficiary of your skills and experiences.
Amin’s rule was a hideous assault on our country. I regret the gross violation of human rights that took place during that dark period in our history when fundamental and basic rights to life and property were trampled on. Most of you, or your parents, suffered terribly, losing your homes and country overnight. Most of the African Ugandans also suffered gross violations of their rights, and around 300,000 of them lost not only their properties, but also their lives, many of them disappearing without a trace.
Others were forced into exile. I, myself, left the country one day after Amin took over and immediately began to organise how to get rid of him.
Amin wronged African and Asian Ugandans:
Therefore, as you reflect on that dark period in our history, it is important to remember that many Ugandans suffered horribly at the hands of ldi Amin, just as you, too, suffered. Whenever I go abroad, I am asked this question of the injustice that Amin did to the Asian people.
My answer is always that Amin did not only wrong the Asian people – he wronged the African people as well, in fact more so than the Asians. Some of you were here and you will remember that only three Asians were killed, but the Africans who were killed numbered at least 300,000. Amin only turned to the Asians as an afterthought after he had killed many Acholis and Langis, especially in the army, and many politicians.
Let us, therefore, put this unfortunate past behind us and get on with our lives. A lot of time has been wasted in chaos, violence, and destruction but there is now a lot of enthusiasm for development and I call upon all Ugandans with the requisite skills to come forward and support our struggle for modernisation.
I am happy that members of the Asian community have created one umbrella organisation to make it easier for the government to interact with the community. The National Resistance Movement government is keen on ideas that can emancipate our country from poverty. Your chairman thanked the government for returning property to its owners.
We do not deserve any thanks for this. Ugandans have a right to their properties and we have merely been redressing this violation of a basic human right. I wish to assure you that the political institutions we are building will endure and safeguard basic human rights for all Ugandans. You should not fear that what happened in the early 1970s will happen again in Uganda – it will not. I challenge all of you, and all other Ugandans to become more assertive in the defence of their rights.
Enough room for African Asian investors:
You have returned to a different Uganda from the one you left behind in the 1970s. Before Amin expelled Asians, their commercial network extended deep into the villages and small towns in Uganda.
Today, most of the retail trade in the small towns and villages is carried out by African Ugandans, some of whom are also trying to climb the ladders of high finance, commerce and industry. There is, however, room for all of us because there is so much to do. There are enough opportunities for the African Ugandans and for the Asian Ugandans.
The GDP of Uganda is now six billion US dollars per annum. Belgium is about one-tenth the size of Uganda, that is, about the size of Karamoja. That small country has a GDP of US$ 196 billion, and that is without the amount of natural resources we have here.
When Uganda becomes developed, it is no exaggeration to imagine that our GDP will one day amount to ten times that of Belgium’s present US$196 billion. Therefore, you cannot say that there is not enough room for the Asians and the Africans in Uganda there is enough room for all people who would like to come and invest here.
Although we appreciate the role played by our development partners, Ugandans must be the major players in the development of their country. Countries all over the world are basically developed by their own citizens and Uganda cannot be an exception. Ugandans in the diaspora have done well and your savings should be invested here before we begin to look for foreign investors.
The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) coming into Africa in the 1990s is almost negligible because Eastern Europe, China and the former Soviet Union are competing for the same capital. Africa must, therefore, rely on its own efforts to generate its own capital. Ugandans in the diaspora are well placed to become the source of this capital.
Investment process expedited:
Since 1986, the NRM government has worked hard to establish peace, security and stability in order to create an environment conducive to investment.
In 1990, the National Resistance Council enacted the Investment Code Statute, under which the Uganda Investment Authority was established to facilitate the dissemination of investment information to expedite the paperwork and to provide the guidance that both foreign and local investors require.
The Investment Code is being updated, so if you have any ideas on how the atmosphere for investment could be improved, bring them, through your association, to the officials concerned.
Government is pulling out of business and government properties are being privatised. You can inform your contacts abroad about the sale of these properties so that they can be made into productive assets once again.
Some Ugandans have been complaining that the NRM government is selling off the country. I can tell you that this government is more patriotic than some of our detractors. Most of the public enterprises failed and became a burden to the taxpayer who has had to prop them up for a long time.
Apart from providing employment for a few bureaucrats who, in most cases, are inept, these enterprises are of no benefit at all to the country. The main problem has been putting privately-minded people in charge of managing public enterprises. You have got somebody who is selfish and you put him in charge of public property – that is a recipe for disaster, and that is what has been happening here for a long time.
The emphasis so far has been on reconstruction, which was the right thing to do in a country in which buildings, machinery and utilities were damaged. However, it is now 16 years since Amin was ousted, and over those 16 years, we have been talking about reconstruction.
Some of this reconstruction has been done, but the world has not been standing still. There have been numerous technological innovations. Therefore, we cannot simply carry out reconstruction without taking into account the new technological aances. This is the only way we can manage the competition in the international market-place.
From your chairman’s speech, I gather that you are committed to providing some social services and to assist people less fortunate than yourselves. Traditionally, religious institutions and non-governmental organisations have been supplementing government efforts in the provision of social services.
Since the government is not yet in a position to satisfy the demand for social services, your contribution in this area is very welcome. I am particularly pleased with your idea of setting up rural polytechnics which will help our youth to fulfil their potential and prevent them from drifting aimlessly into the urban areas. Government will support this venture, and I urge you to start as soon as possible.
What is the role of an investor?
When it comes to the role of the Asian entrepreneur, or other foreign investors here, there has, since the 1960s, been some confusion on this issue, which has caused some delays. I am informed that in 1965, Uganda had a higher per capita income than South Korea.
Because of the mistakes our governments have made, however, South Korea is now far ahead, while we are talking about reconstruction. One of the roles of the NRM has been to clear up this confusion. What is the role of the investors, whether he is Asian, foreign, or local? Is an investor an asset or liability to the country? In order to answer this question, we need to go back to a basic economics lesson.
There are four factors which make up the production process: land (i.e. natural resources), labour, capital and entrepreneurship. You can already see where the Asian businessman or woman come in. Uganda has always had labour and land – what we need are the two additional factors of capital and entrepreneurship.
If you are able to bring these two factors, you are a very useful species to Uganda because you are contributing in a decisive way to the future of the country. Without capital and entrepreneurship, Uganda’s land and labour resources will stay as they have been since before the time of Jesus.
Just as I cannot read the words written in this paper without my spectacles, similarly I would characterise entrepreneurship as the spectacles to identify economic opportunities. Therefore, we welcome people who have entrepreneurial spectacles to see opportunities in Uganda.
You should not worry about people like Amin. I am one of the people who helped to get rid of Amin, and I am one of the people welcoming you to Uganda. Our means to get rid of the Idi Amins of this world are now infinitely greater than they were 25 years ago.
Since 1991, the Uganda Investment Authority have licensed 1,430 projects worth US$2.08 billion. Of these, Asians have contributed US$440 million, which is a significant contribution of 21.15 per cent. If all 1,430 projects were implemented, they would create 85,000 new jobs.
The Asian projects alone would create 30,000 jobs. The very large Asian projects worth more than one million dollars number 1,14 those between half-a-million and one million dollars number 114 the medium ones worth between half-a-million and US$250,000 number 106 the smaller ones worth between US$250,000 and US$50,000 number 141 and there are 40 very small projects worth less than US$50,000. I am very pleased with this contribution our Ugandan Asian tribe is making to the economy of Uganda.
Let us fight corruption together:
I do, however, have one grievance against our Asian tribe, and it is that they have not joined me in fighting corruption in this country.
When you go to the Investment Authority where you may find some corrupt officials asking for bribes and you say to yourself, “If he wants two or three hundred thousand shillings in order to process my licence: let me give it to him so that I can get my business done quickly.”
The lawyers say that if you can take one step, you might as well take fifty. … By agreeing to pay a bribe, you are agreeing to put our economy in jeopardy because this man will not stop at that one bribe alone. Tomorrow he will ask for another bribe the day after that, he will do the same and the whole bribe culture will become part of the cost of your project.
If you do not want to join me in fighting corruption, I aise you that when you are malting feasibility studies, you should include bribery as one of the costs – along with machinery, land, and civil works construction!
Bribery for the UIA, bribery for the immigration office, bribery for the land office, bribery for the telephone connection, bribery for the electricity, bribery for the water – you should include it as part of your costs! Why are you allowing these corrupt people to disturb our work?
You should telephone me quietly and tell me whenever you are asked for a bribe. We got rid of ldi Amin – how can we fail to get rid of a handful of thieves in all these little places?
Therefore, you investors are the ones who are letting us down. We have the means to get rid of this scourge, but we do not have the information upon which to act. There is a racket which ensures that the information on corrupt officials does not get to the right authorities, while you are not courageous enough to report them.
There are some economies in Africa which have never had wars and other disruptions like we have had here, but they have been stagnant for years because of corruption. Even without war, corruption alone can cause capital flight and disinvestment – it is not at all a small matter.
So, I now appeal to you to help us fight this evil because you are the people who pay the bribes, and you are the people who can inform me when it happens. I will give the chairman of your association a telephone number which you can ring if anyone asks you for a bribe.
Finally, I thank you for inviting me, and for the kind words your chairman has said about me. It is through interactions like this that we shall together develop our country.
Thank you very much.
Source : The Observer