Uganda’s international relations over the past year are brought into focus as a new government report reveals the extent of foreign visits by African leaders. In the 2022/23 financial year, the report indicates that no European, American, or other world leaders visited Uganda, highlighting the country’s increasing isolation on the global stage.
The report, titled the “Second Annual Governance and Security Programme Review,” disclosed that a total of 20 African presidents visited Uganda during this period. Among them, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia stands out with five visits. President Salva Kiir of South Sudan followed with three visits, while President William Ruto of Kenya, President Évariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi, and President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania each visited twice.
Several other African leaders, including Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti, Brahim Ghali of Sahrawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, and Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan Abdelrahman Al-Burhan of Sudan, made single visits to Uganda during this period.
The report underlines the fact that Uganda did not receive any foreign heads of state from the Americas, Europe, or Asia, revealing a notable absence in diplomatic exchanges.
Uganda’s isolation from Europe and the United States gained momentum after its Parliament passed the anti-homosexuality law in May. This law led to the withholding of funding by the World Bank and various donors, and President Joe Biden announced the expulsion of Uganda from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), a trade agreement dating back to 2000.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has been vocal in his criticism of European and American governments, accusing them of imposing foreign values on African governments. He has maintained that his presidency is the result of Ugandans’ will rather than foreign backing.
During the same period, President Museveni embarked on eight foreign visits, spanning countries from the United States to Vietnam, including stops in Burundi, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Algeria, Kenya, and the United Kingdom.
However, his travel record contrasts sharply with that of his Kenyan counterpart, William Ruto, who visited 45 cities in 38 countries over 83 days. The report suggests that these presidential visits have contributed to enhancing bilateral relations and attracting investors and other opportunities for Uganda.
Farouk Kirunda, the deputy presidential press secretary, noted that the impact of these visits can be measured through outcomes such as increased foreign investment, tourism, job creation, and the easing of trade restrictions. Bilateral agreements signed during these visits are expected to further stimulate economic and diplomatic relations.
President Museveni’s foreign visits have also led to some countries removing visa requirements, simplifying the movement of goods and services. However, it is vital for Ugandans to increase production and add value to their products to maximize foreign exchange earnings.
The report highlights specific initiatives during President Museveni’s foreign visits. In the UK, he engaged with off-takers of food and investors in Uganda’s agricultural and industrial sectors. He appointed trade envoys for the Balkans, the UK, and the USA to promote Uganda as a preferred investment destination.
In the United States, Museveni attended the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit, held talks with investors, and met with US government officials. The report further mentions the President’s visit to Vietnam, where he explored investment opportunities, signed agreements on diplomacy, education, information and communications, and agriculture technology, and discussed regional security challenges.
During his visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), President Museveni held talks with UAE’s President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, attended the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Summit, and engaged with government officials and the business community.
The report does not specify if the bilateral agreements and other engagements are actively pursued for implementation. Despite this, government-facilitated visits of high-level foreign dignitaries, job processing for migrant workers in Poland, and evacuations and repatriations of Ugandans are recognized as notable achievements.
The report concludes that Uganda successfully lobbied for the chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and G77+China, with summits scheduled for January 2024. It also emphasizes that the government initiated, finalized, and signed 151 agreements/MoUs on political, social, and economic matters during the period.