Moses Sserwanga interviewed Uganda's ambassador to China about the economic ties between the two countries now that China is the second largest economy in the world
Can you give us an overview of the economic relationship between China and Uganda?
The relationship between China and Uganda is good. We engage in the private sector, commerce, trade, investment and government projects. The e-government project in Uganda is one of the several projects supported by China with $106million under concessional loan arrangement. Other projects include: a hospital of 100 beds, which is being built at Naguru, Kampala, an agricultural technological demonstration centre, aqua-culture and a fish farm which is being built at Kajjansi. Also inclusive is a government complex, a twin building which is being constructed adjacent to Parliament, the former Criminal Investigations Department Headquarters among others.
What are the trading ratios and Chinese investments in Uganda this year?
Trade volumes have been growing. In 2006, trade volume between China and Uganda was $170 million and we are now in excess of $300million.
What are the major exports to China?
At the moment, it is cotton, hides, skins, coffee and fish.
In terms of Foreign Direct Investment how has Uganda benefited from China’s tremendous economic growth?
According to Uganda Investment Authority records, Chinese companies are the leading investors in Uganda at the moment. I do not have the exact figures though.
What is the latest about the National Back Bone Infrastructure knowing that internet is now a major factor for development and then the e-government project where a Chinese company Hauwei is providing software systems?
The first phase of the project was largely to improve communication coverage within Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja for purposes of successfully hosting Chogm. The second phase is to cover the broader area of Uganda beyond the three towns and eventually to cover the whole country and ultimately the 3r 3rd phase is to cover the component of e-government.
How was the NBI and e-government project supposed to work in areas where there is no electricity?
In terms of the e-government project in Uganda, there are two aspects to it. One, the usage, the ability to use and the desire to use. This is a new project. It is supposed to go up to the sub-county level. Depending on whether those people in the offices at the sub-county would wish to use these facilities. There is the issue of facilitating the infrastructure that is put in place in order to increase the utilisation of the e-government which will help to provide good environment for investors and businessmen. It will cut down on the red-tape and corruption. The government is handling its part, which is to provide electricity to various locations. There is a programme financed by China for development of solar energy, late this year or next year targeting electricity deficiency in the remote areas.
It is alleged that shoddy work was done on the NBI, what’s your response?
If somebody says shoddy work was done that is a subjective statement because I believe this was a big project and there were set standards, set specifications and set quality outcomes. To say shoddy work was done there must be an evaluation done by some authority and the same authority must have determined that shoddy work was done. To the best of my knowledge no competent authority came up with report to say Huawei did shoddy work. It was speculation by different people.
Ingrained in the contract, there were set standards. Somebody must have proved that Huawei breached the contract in terms of those set standards. We have the National Information Technology Authority, we have the Ministry of ICT, I guess we have several agencies in Uganda who would come up with a position that Huawei did shoddy work and not based on speculations as was the case.
Secondly this is a big company in China and globally which cannot allow their reputation to be tarnished by substandard work. There were allegations of corruption; again this was subjective and speculative. Uganda has well stipulated procurement procedures which were followed and I know the Chief Executive officer of Huawei and top management practice zero-tolerance to corruption. Rather than speculate, Ugandans need to embrace this project. The contractors have done a good job according to the facts available to me.
How about the issue of cost? There are reports that the Uganda project cost more than that of Rwanda.
That is comparison. What were the components in terms of e-government and NBI? There is the element of taxation. In Rwanda did they pay taxes, the area coverage? The information I have is that the cost taking into account all the components was almost the same. There were no major deviations. The Uganda component is inclusive of equipment and civil works and taxes.
Is China interested in oil extraction or oil refinery in Uganda?
China has shown interest in the oil industry in Uganda. Chinese companies are already taking over interests of Heritage in the exploration stage. The President of Uganda has been emphasising that we will not export crude oil and that we must refine it from here.
The Minister of Energy has been to China for talks. Sinopec, a major Chinese player in the oil industry has shown interest in building an oil refinery in Uganda and I hope the negotiations will be successfully concluded. Sinopec officials will be visiting Uganda sometime next month (September) for more negotiations. Once the negotiations are concluded, hopefully by the end of this year, we will be in position to negotiate with the government of China.
How many Ugandans are living and studying in China?
At the moment, every year China offers Ugandan students scholarships at all levels, at graduate and post graduate levels, 35 students per year and there is an existing exchange programme for human resource training. Every year, more than 300 Ugandans of various disciplines come to China for various courses ranging from one year to six months. There is a lot of cooperation at the political level, in terms of training. There are vast opportunities and there are times when there is a need for specialised skills obtainable in China and a request is made by the Ugandan government to the China government and the embassy follows up the matter.
How will Uganda benefit from the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, China?
First we are grateful to the China government for supporting Uganda and other countries to take part. They provided money to set up the African pavilion. I was told about $650,000 was spent for the construction of the African pavilion. The Expo will help us to showcase what we have, especially in areas of tourism. Many visitors have been to our stand. The benefits are many.