Community, Diaspora and Immigration
The Ugandan UK Convention achieving its goals
Following the 2nd Uganda UK Convention in 2012, many important issues were raised and accordingly, planned resolutions were made to address them. The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Uganda responded to some of the points raised and addressed them below. But first is a reminder of the Convention’s goals.
The 2nd convention discussed a series of topics and issues, and various presentations were tabled on the day. A few points of concern were raised and we decided to focus on them and to lobby the government for better policies to enable Ugandans in the Diaspora to feel that they are Ugandans and secure to contribute to the social development of Uganda.
The experience encountered at the airport will always impact on the general overview of a country and it is a fact that Ugandans from the Diaspora are picked on by immigration, security and staff at Entebbe Airport. Thus, at the Convention, it was requested that a fast track desk be established at Entebbe Airport for Ugandans from the Diaspora, who often encounter a lot of hostilities from immigration officers. Rt. Hon. Kadaga pledged to inform the government that it has so far not done the necessary to enable those in the Diaspora to “land softly” when they return home.
Among the sectors focused at the Convention was the agriculture sector. The Hon. Tress Bucyanayandi, Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries was asked after his resourceful presentation, to serialise opportunities in the agriculture sector and update them regularly on their website, and also list skills and career gaps in the sector to enable skills and knowledge transfer from the Diaspora. Among the delegates was the CEO of NAADS, Dr. Mugasi who was questioned on various partnership opportunities in NAADS not to mention the career gap existing to exploit the Diaspora skills.
Annually the President convenes a Presidential Investors Round Table (PIRT) which has scored great success, mainly in the ICT, Regulatory and Business Environment, Mining and Petroleum and Transport sectors. Trade and Business representative: Nominate a Diaspora representative at the Presidential Investors Round Table (PIRT). Delegates at the Convention requested the nomination of a Diaspora representative at the Presidential Investors Round Table (PIRT). Ugandans in the Diaspora feel that they are not represented on this influential forum and are still lobbying the government to secede and support a representation from the Diaspora.
The Convention made some headway when the Speaker promised to create a small desk in the foreign affairs committee to deal specifically with the Diaspora in parliament, to represent and advocate for policies affecting Diasporans. Policies have been passed and debated in the parliament by legislators who do not understand Diasporans’ needs. A committee to represent Diasporans’ issues must include parliament members who have lived in the Diaspora.
Fundamentally, the vision of the Uganda UK Convention is to harness the tremendous skills, expertise and knowledge base of the Ugandan Diaspora with a view to promote socio-economic and infrastructural development back in Uganda. The Uganda Convention provides a platform for exchanges of views and networking to Diasporans on matters of common interest and concern to them.
The delegates requested the regularly publishing of development and opportunities available in Uganda, particularly for Diaspora SMEs, as a way of promoting incentives for Diasporans to invest back home. Ugandans in the Diaspora still lack a credible and resourceful point of contact to get information on their various queries in Uganda. The Diaspora Desk is ill-equipped and less enthusiastic to help. It is a positive step that the government is discussing Diasporans’ involvement in the development of Uganda. Uganda Investment Authority has in fact a compendium of business ideas which Ugandans in the Diaspora can exploit, as these are researched and proven case studies.
We are still lobbying the government to establish a Diaspora investor category at the Investment Authority to enable us to exploit some incentives like other foreign investors. In the letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kiggundu Juliet Namirimu wrote “on the issue of reducing the threshold of capital needed to qualify as full investors, as well as incentives given, it should be noted that the requirements needed and incentives given to local investors are the same for all Ugandans, both local and in the Diaspora. This is different from the investment requirements and incentives given to foreign investors.” Nevertheless we are still pressing for this recognition beyond local investors.
It has been argued that the fastest trend through which a nation can achieve sustainable economic growth and development is neither by the level of its endowed material resources, nor that of its vast human resources, but technological innovation, enterprise development and industrial capacity. For instance, despite its poor natural resources, and the hurdles it faced from 1920s chronic inflation, Germany has effectively exploited the manufacturing sector and rose up to become the largest economy in Europe and the fourth largest in the world.
It is on this premise that the government should incentivise and encourage skills transfer from the Diaspora. Ugandans in the Diaspora have acquired various skills in various industrial sectors and the Convention is working with Mr. Sebaggala M. Kigozi, Executive Director – Uganda Manufacturing Association (UMA) to identify those industries that are looking for skills that are lacking in Uganda. The Convention is also lobbying him to list feasible investments in micro manufacturing projects to enable Diasporans with minimal capital to exploit them.
One of the contentious issues that raised bitter debates was the Dual Citizenship. Ugandans unanimously agreed to lobby to waive the dual citizenship fee and asked Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga to lobby the parliament to achieve it. Ugandans in the Diaspora feel it is not acceptable that they have to buy their right to be Ugandan, or to naturalise as Ugandan, since it is their birth right any way. Under the current 1995 constitution, it confirms that a person is Ugandan if he/she is born in Uganda to one of the parents or grandparents who is/was a member of any of the indigenous communities existing and residing within the borders of Uganda as at the first day of February, 1926, and set out in the Third Schedule to this Constitution; and every person born in or outside Uganda, one of whose parents or grandparents was at the time of birth a citizen of Uganda. Therefore, having a British Passport does not take away the right to be Ugandan. In the referenced letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ugandans in the Diaspora are required to take on dual-citizenship to be able to enjoy the same benefits as Ugandans living in Uganda. Among these benefits are right to vote, land and property rights, owning land under the Mailo land and freehold arrangement which applies also to their spouse under the 1995 Constitution. Ugandans who do not apply for dual citizenship can only obtain land under leases arrangements for 49 or 99 years.
Due to many Diasporans falling prey to land conmen, Dr. Sarah Nkonge who represented a team from the President’s office on land issues, was requested to facilitate the establishment of a Diaspora land desk to deal with issues arising from land disputes and challenges, which many from the Diaspora are facing, leading many to have lost their land to unscrupulous people. This crucial step will promote more investment from the Diaspora in infrastructure and asset investments.
One of the Convention’s objectives is to mobilize the Ugandan Diaspora to transfer knowledge, skills and technologies to Uganda to promote socio-economic and infrastructural development. Brain drain and the Diaspora’s human capital are of concern, not only in quantitative but also qualitative terms. Since the Convention, we have witnessed Ugandans relocating back to fill skill gaps in various private and government sectors. One of those Ugandans who was influenced by the Convention is James Mwesigwa, whose interview we include in this issue. James Mwesigwa successfully set up a company in health and safety and is now enjoying a demand for his skills in this sector. The government recently contracted Fred Amonya to build capacity building in infrastructure development in the railway sector in Uganda, which is another one of the many cases of successful relocation.
The government should set up an incentive for all government organizations to give priority of job vacancies to Diasporans. This is the way to encourage knowledge and skill transfer back home to mitigate the brain drain, which leaves gaps in the higher segments of the local labour market, causing shortages in sectors most important to the country’s socio-economic advancement. It was asked to make available a comprehensive list of opportunities, such as the program that Diaspora department in partnership with World Bank is spearheading, to professionalise some sectors such as roads and railways, with a need to recruit from the Diaspora.
As we are very busy discussing issues that affect Diasporans, we forget to look at the future of the Diasporans’ community sustainability. Ugandan youths in the Diaspora need to be given a platform and be included at all levels of policy enactment and discussions. The Convention is keen to mentor Ugandan youths in the Diaspora to instil in them a sense of nationalism, as it is imperative to promote youth exchange programs to raise awareness of issues facing the Ugandan youth, and how the UK youth can assist their Ugandan counterparts, and learn from one another, especially on good values derived from both cultures. The Ugandan government is asked to support initiatives that acculturate nationalistic attitudes into the Ugandan Diaspora’s youths, so that they feel attached to Uganda. This will encourage the next generation to view Uganda as a mother country, rather than “a country somewhere over there, that Mum and Dad keep on talking about”, as Hon Maria Kiwanuka so aptly quoted.
The Permanent Secretary from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Uganda wrote that the government is keen to harness the potential of Diasporans and has addressed some of the issues raised at the Convention.
With regard to business and investment opportunities for Diasporans, Uganda Investment Authority has developed a compendium of business opportunities. UIA developed comprehensive information on key investment opportunities for Ugandan Diaspora, in line with the National Development Plan where the issues of agriculture, investment inventory and Uganda Manufacturing Association have been tackled. The Government has tried to improve on the Transport and Communication Network, in addition to removing tax levied on agricultural products in a bid to promote agro-processing industry in Uganda.
Diaspora Investors: on the issue of reducing the threshold of capital needed to qualify as full investors, as well as incentives given, it should be noted that the requirements needed and incentives given to local investors are the same for all Ugandans, both local and in the Diaspora. This is different from the investment requirements and incentives given to foreign investors.
On the issue of change of land and property rights clause, it should be noted that Ugandans in the Diaspora have a right to own land after acquiring dual citizenship like any other Ugandan. Even a spouse of a Ugandan citizen is granted this opportunity by the 1995 Constitution of Uganda (refer to Article on land for spouses).
Diaspora Bond: a feasibility study on the establishment of the International Diaspora Bond has been completed and Bank of Uganda is proceeding to another level. The Consultants who were engaged on the Diaspora Bond were recruited by UNDP and one of them was a Ugandan from the Diaspora who clearly understands the needs of the Diaspora.
Diaspora skills transfer back to Uganda: Government’s mandate is to cater for the welfare of all Ugandans; therefore, it provides equal opportunities for all. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been engaged with World Bank on the Project, ‘Capacity needs assessment for Infrastructure Development,’ and an opportunity has been given to Mr. Fred Amonya, a Ugandan Consultant based in UK to transfer his skills in infrastructure development in the Railways sector to Uganda.