The Good in Foreign Presidents Visiting Ugaanda

By Ofwono Opondo

May, 25, 16
Within the next one month Uganda will be the focus of world attention, and perhaps local envy against President Yoweri Museveni as he hosts three foreign head of governments, South Korean President Park Geun-hye (May 28-30), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (May 31-June 1), and Israel Premier Benjamin Netanyahu  on July 4. All the three will be making their maiden and therefore state visits, and in fact the first leaders of their respective countries to come to Uganda. These high profile state visits come on the heels of the mid May swearing in ceremony of President Museveni attended by fifteen heads of state, two vice presidents, a prime minister, and other heads of delegations representing their countries from as far as Russia, France, and Cuba.
These visits coming in rows since that of US President Bill Clinton in 1998, the Commonwealth Head of Governments (CHOGM) in 2007, two Papal visits among others are boosts of confidence in the direction Uganda’s leadership is taking particularly on collective issues of socio-economic transformation, humanity, regional and global trade, investments, stable politics and security. These geo-strategic issues, if combined give Uganda and indeed Africa a strong standing and voice on global cooperation hitherto unseen. For Uganda it should provide wide opportunities to deepen bilateral cooperation in trade and investments, relevant skills, entrepreneurship and technological transfer. Like it was after the immediate post-independence Africa, Museveni’s leadership as that of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Milton Obote and Jomo Kenyatta is once again linking up the African continent for a possible consensus and renaissance.
Each of these visits has bilateral trade, investment and economic as well as global security cooperation components. It is the first time in fifty years that an Israel prime minister visits Sub-Saharan Africa, and for Netanyahu to choose Uganda alongside Kenya and Ethiopia is significant. Of course, Netanyahu is also coming to mark the 40th anniversary of the Israel raid on Entebbe airport dubbed “Operation Thunderbolt” to rescue 248 hostages among them 98 Israelis who had been taken by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-External Operations ((PFLP-EO) militants during which his brother Yonatan Netanyahu who commanded that raid was killed alongside forty-five Ugandans, on July, 4, 1976. Netanyahu visited Uganda in 2005 as a private person for the same purpose. The two hijackers had the stated objective to have 53 of their members released from prisons in Israel and other countries in a swap for the hostages.
Equally, It is the first time a Turkish leader visits Uganda, although Turkey is an old civilization from the Ottoman Empire and an emerging technological, economic and military powerhouse yet undiscovered by Africa as whole. As Prime Minister Erdogan had declared in 2005 that it was “Africa’s year,” which many African countries Uganda included didn’t take up very seriously especially on trade and investment opportunities. In 2010 Turkey held the Turkish-African summit hoping to injecting energy in trade and investment cooperation, which only Ethiopia and West African countries took up seriously, yet today competes globally with China.  
In Uganda’s case many MOUs remain on the shelves because Uganda bureaucrats don’t bother the result of which there are hardly more than twenty high profile Turkish investments in Uganda. It is hoped that during Erdogan’s visit all the outstanding investment MOUs should or will be successfully concluded among them the removal of travel visas.
Although Uganda opened an embassy in Ankara in 2010 and Turkey in Kampala in July 2013, bilateral trade volume as of 2015 is only 29 million USD in favour of Turkish exports in dry food, electronics, readymade garments, textile, and construction equipment. There are about twenty Turkish investors are in Uganda in restaurants, education, health services, and construction worth 150m USD. Turkey also offers some public and private scholarships to Ugandan students to study in Turkey mainly in science disciplines.
South Korean among other things is keen to strengthen its trade and investment ties with Uganda, and so it is expected that bilateral agreements are to be signed with various ministries including those of agriculture, trade, and health. There will be a business forum held at the Serena hotel for over 200 top notch investors. South Korea is supporting the modernization of Uganda’s agricultural sector especially in food processing it is handing the National Farmers Training Institute at Kampiringisa, Mpigi district.
Although usually not publicly stated all these countries seek to deepen their security cooperation with Uganda on global terrorism more so in dealing with its affiliates in East African. Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Kenya have led a very successful campaign in Somalia ending piracy on the Indian Ocean. In addition South Korea may be concerned over Uganda and Ethiopia, two countries seen as close to North Korea in purchasing its military hardware and personnel services.
Uganda has maintained diplomatic relations with the DPRK since 1963 including military cooperation, and we hope South Korea doesn’t demand that we sever those relations. However, Uganda encourages the spirit of dialogue between the two Koreas to resolve any outstanding issues. Similarly Uganda doesn’t expect Israel and its allies to demand that Uganda withdraws its well-established relations with the people of Palestine especially peaceful co-existence alongside the State of Israel.