By Drake Nyamugabwa
Uganda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sam Kutesa has said that the country’s foreign policy has recently leaned more towards its economic interests.
Uganda has traditionally focused on peace and stability but owing to the ‘environmental changes’, Kutesa says it has necessitated that foreign policy prioritizes economic relations to boost Uganda’s socioeconomic transformation. Kutesa revealed this last Tuesday while delivering the first annual foreign ministers’ lecture organized by Uganda Council on Foreign Relations (UCFR) at Hotel Africana. “Given the changes of this environment, there has been an evolution and a paradigm shift in the conduct of Uganda’s foreign policy to focus on the socio-economic transformation of our country,” Kutesa said.
In as much as peace and security are still relevant for Uganda in the regional and global space, the Minister said; “economic and commercial diplomacy is increasingly taking centre stage”.
“Our prime objective is to contribute to the economic transformation of the country, guided by Uganda Vision 2040, and putting priority in supporting implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP II).” He elaborated that Uganda’s chances of maximizing the consistent high economic growth has been registered over the last two decades and achieving middle income status by 2020 lie in deepening its economic engagement at the bilateral, regional and international levels.
Important to note is that the Common Marker for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) continues to be Uganda’s main export destination with 53.71 per cent of the country’s total exports in 2014/15. This is followed by the European Union whose share of exports in the same year was at 21.8 per cent.
Within the COMESA region, Kenya remains the biggest market for Uganda’s export products contributing USD 374.7 million in foreign revenue followed by South Sudan at USD 309.6 million in 2014/15. “We are therefore leveraging opportunities that arise from global and regional markets in order to increase opportunities for trade and investment,” Kutesa noted, highlighting the development of skills, infrastructure and inter-connectivity, intra-regional trade, common markets, and the removal of trade barriers.
With the recent signing of the EAC – SADC – COMESA Tripartite Free Trade Area Agreement, Uganda will be looking to an a larger market of 26 countries with a combined population of nearly 625 million people and a total GDP of approximately USD 1.3 trillion. In the broader international system, he said
Uganda is tapping into non-traditional economic partners, particularly in Asia, the Middle East and South America to promote its goods and services, tourism. He explained that Uganda’s foreign policy is structured upon a framework of bilateralism, regionalism and multilateralism in a pattern of concentric circles with East African Community (EAC) and Sub Saharan Africa forming the inner circle. “We give due priority to the development of relations with these countries to ensure a peaceful, secure and stable neighborhood, so as to safeguard peace, security and development within our own borders,” the Minister expounded.
Uganda which is currently a member of the AU Peace and Security Council has actively participated in regional and continental processes to respond to and resolve crises. Notable among these efforts is the participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in Somalia, IGAD on the situation in South Sudan, the ICGLR on DRC and the EAC on the situation in Burundi.
Kutesa said that Uganda has registered significant achievements in its foreign relations, among them; hosting a successful Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2007, its non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council in 2009/10 and presiding over the 69th session of the UN General in 2014/15. The country has also been largely credited as a model for its policy on refugees, which is why it managed to co-host an international refugee summit this year along with the UN Secretary General Antonio Gueterres, where over USD 440 million was pledged in humanitarian funding.