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Uganda’s Odrek Rwabwogo Aims To Transform Trade And Increase Exports

Uganda's Plan to Boost Exports by $6 Billion: No More 'Blind Dates' in Trade

Odrek Rwabwogo is a man with big plans for Uganda. Rwabwogo is energetic and focused on raising an additional $6 billion per annum in exports for his East African nation by 2028.

Rwabwogo is a special adviser to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. A graduate of Makerere University and the UK’s University of Wales. He is currently Chairman of Uganda’s Presidential Advisory Committee on Exports and Industrial Development.

“We are going to markets to stop “blind trade” bringing products to a country when you don’t know the preferences when you don’t have a representative. And it kind of wastes time,” Rwabwogo said in an exclusive interview with Zenger News. Rwabwogo, who many see as a potential presidential contender is the man of the moment in Uganda.

No More ‘Blind Dates’ For Uganda, Trade Shows Planned

Uganda currently has seven trade envoys across different markets that are looking at value chains, retail outlets, and new buyers for the country’s crops.

“We need to avoid blind dates with our products, we need to bring them to market. We are not at the electronics stage and I hope we get there soon. When it comes to agricultural products as you know from phytosanitary conditions to other regulations there are a lot of standards imposed. Part of this is of course driven by consumer concerns and consciousness about, also it is used as a protectionist tool.”

Rwabwogo is also planning strategic sessions in key markets around the world – the next such market is planned for London in October. To attract investment in these export-driven opportunities, Rwabwogo has helped establish the Trade Frontier Fund for thirteen key sectors in Uganda.

A general view of the main entrance of Entebbe International Airport in Entebbe, Uganda, on December 1, 2021. Air freight could profoundly improve Uganda’s agricultural export prospects. KATUMBA BADRU SULTAN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES 

The UK Faces Fruit and Vegetable Rationing, Uganda Has a Solution

One of the globally relevant East African success stories in recent years has been Kenya’s emergence as a hub for the international flower trade. This was built on the success of air freight often developed in tandem with commercial air traffic. In that context, Uganda is re-invigorating Uganda Airlines, first founded under then-President Idi Amin and relaunched in 2019.

“I’m here [in London] to get it done. We’ll get it done because that will allow us to have three flights a week. You have about 100 tons that you can pull here in fruit and vegetables in flowers. And this market consumes a lot of that. So expanding options for exports is very important… When you expand those infrastructure options, you lower the unit cost, you lower the cost of logistics.”

The United Kingdom is currently facing high inflation and rationing was even imposed for a period this winter on fruits and vegetables. It seems like a win for the UK in particular during the winter months. Flying in fresh fruits and vegetables and returning with European tourists who would have a direct flight to one of Africa’s most intriguing cities and access to safari destinations just as compelling as those in Kenya.

Improving Infrastructure Means New Opportunities In Africa

Uganda isn’t just looking across the seas but, across a lake. Lake Victoria located a short drive from the capital of Kampala offers opportunities to trade with Kenya and Tanzania.

“We don’t have vessel capacity on those bodies of water. So you find 40 trucks waiting at the border with Congo and they are offloading one at a time to various 15-horsepower engine canoes. That’s not really how you trade. So we’re looking at a new option in this regard.”

Except for Eritrea, all countries in Africa have signed or ratified the agreement to facilitate trade in Africa. Both Uganda and the continent’s majority are in the latter camp. The African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA. One challenge is that a lot of Africa’s infrastructure for too long has been focused on bringing African goods to external (read European) markets. The AfCFTA is an effort to reorientate trade.

“So for the first time in a long time now, Africans are saying let’s create a first mover advantage with each other. Even if we may have differing levels of development and even if we share a lot of comparative advantages, we must trade amongst ourselves. What is easier? To trade with an Icelander or a Congolese with whom you share both a neighborhood as well as tastes and other preferences?”

Rwabwogo says the new agreement is a “significant game changer” which means that “The European Union removed the spectre of war from Western Europe. When people trade with each other, they fight less and you need that if you want to build democracy and freedom. When people trade they don’t worry about their destruction.”

Edited by Rachmad Imam Tarecha and Joseph Hammond

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