Saturday, January 6, 2024

Alexander Graham Bell, the Scot, turned Canadian-American inventor of the first practical telephone is quoted to have said many decades ago that “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” An African proverb too says, “He who chases you gives you a way out of troubles”, to show that life is a series of open doors with opportunities, not just one offered by the United States of America. In the year just ended, the US government issued six alarmist negative advisories telling its citizens and the world to reconsider coming to Uganda claiming that Uganda was unsafe due to alleged insecurity, governance and human rights concerns citing the enactment of the anti-homosexuality law by a democratically elected parliament.

But nay, the US government had overrated its influence even over its own citizen’s travel and enjoyment choices. The evidence is that during the last Christmas and end of 2023 season, photographs coming from Uganda’s major tourist attractions of Kidepo, Murchison, Kibaale and Queen Elizabeth national parks scattered in the East, Northwest, South and Southwest of the country showed jam-packed occupancy by tourists mostly from Uganda and Africa but also US, Europe, Asia and the Far East. Clearly the negative advisories did not achieve its main objective which was to scare away foreigners and isolate Uganda.

While the figures of tourist entries, hotel occupation, food, beverages sold and revenue collected are yet to tabulated and made public, the optics at these parks and certainly landing at Entebbe International should make Ugandans smile in the self-belief that it’s all possible without the paltry direct financial aid from the US. The tourists, local and foreign were snapped at every park entrance itching to spend their time and money experiencing the natural beauty and endowments that Uganda offers. Hopefully, some will return to seek trade, investments and settled life opportunities in Uganda, while many will recommend Uganda to friends and relatives as a good destination.

Not done by the negative advisories, this week President Joe Biden implemented his earlier threat to strike Uganda from the beneficiary list of African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Although Uganda’s export under this arrangement has been paltry compared to our regional neigbhours since inception that had only recently reached $9million annually, it was a good bilateral gesture of friendship and support. In the past decades Uganda is already finding even better and more rewarding alternatives within Africa as we build regional and continental free trade areas, as well as outreaches in China, Asia, Middle East and Russia.

And as 2024 opened, within the first week, Uganda today concluded hosting a three-day Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of Commonwealth Countries (CSPOC) from fifty-two Member States. Now consider that each country only sent a delegation of at least three senior officials to accompany their Speaker, we can work out the amount of money spent here and international attention and publicity for Uganda.

Any losses from AGOA can as already being seen in hosting CSPOC2024, and although small in comparison to what the US has this meeting is important and has the potential to further extending Uganda’s reach to the global community especially at a time when a known political bully seeks to isolate us. And while there have been some criticisms, fortunately, not many Ugandans were unduly distracted by the fact that Speaker Anita Among and her deputy Thomas Tayebwa chose that their faces rather than that of mountain gorillas, Kidepo national park, iced-topped Rwenzori Mountain on the Equator, and Sipi Falls should appear on the various welcoming billboards at Entebbe and along the entrance routes.


Some would say it’s luck, but many know that it is due to the hard international diplomatic work and domestic scores by Uganda’s leadership under President Yoweri Museveni that on the back of the Speaker’s conference, next week from January 15-22, 2024 hosts the 19th meeting and Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the Group of 77 plus China countries. NAM meeting under the theme “Deepening Cooperation for Shared Global Affluence” has 120, while G77+China with 135 member countries whose theme “Leaving No one Behind” is the largest bloc on the UN. It is comforting that by mid this week 97 member delegations had confirmed attendance among them 25 presidents and Hedas of Government, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis, with Nicholas Maduro of Venezuela, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, and Cuban Vice president Salvador Valdes Mesa expected. Also, four vice presidents and Speakers, twenty-five ministers of Foreign Affairs, and fourteen Observer countries and International Bodies. So, those who want to sulk are entirely at liberty to do so.

And obviously apart from additional diplomatic clout, CSPOC2024, NAM and G77 chairmanship should add Uganda more trade, tourism, technology transfers and investment opportunities, if our diplomats at the foreign ministry and missions are supported to do vigorous and innovative legwork.