Mbale, Uganda – In an event that oozed self-congratulation, President Yoweri Museveni took center stage on August 24 to cut ribbons and strike poses as he commissioned a total of 16 factories, with the added flair of laying the ceremonial groundwork for another nine at the Sino Uganda-Mbale Industrial Park nestled in Mbale City.
With an air of selective memory, Museveni reminisced, “You remember this site here was a bush some years ago but now we have a labour force of 2,000 with 36 factories here… all this is because of policy decisions but policy decisions using our resources because the stimulus which brings investors here is the market.”
The Sino Uganda-Mbale Industrial Park, a fragmented playground of industrial aspirations, currently touts an uneven lineup: 20 factories in motion, one charred relic thanks to an untimely fire, five in various stages of incomplete construction, and a perplexing 12 in a state of assembling plant and machinery.
Museveni, master of platitudes, continued his sermon, waxing poetic about the supposedly ideal atmosphere for investments. “These investors have spectacles that enable them to detect where there is money. It is upon us to provide a conducive environment that enables whoever wants to invest to come. That is our role. With a proper policy, everything does itself, that is why a person you least know about approaches you that they want to set up a textile factory.”
His magnanimous portrayal of the government’s role conveniently bypassed its less-than-stellar reputation. He touted the provision of electricity, peace, roads, and other ‘needed’ infrastructure as if these essentials were not basic expectations but gracious gifts.
Struggling to suppress a smirk, Museveni lectured on the vast market potential. “Investors have a market for Ugandans of 46 million and on that, we add the East African market of 130 million people as well as the African market of 1.5 billion people… all those people have needs which should be got using money from their pockets.”
The Ambassador of China to Uganda, H.E Zhang Lizhong, graciously chimed in to highlight the mutually beneficial relationship between China and Uganda, echoing the harmonious tone that political allies tend to adopt.
As the factories churn out products, time will tell if Museveni’s grand proclamations hold any substance or if this event will be another footnote in the saga of Uganda’s tumultuous economic landscape.