Our reporter met Willy Mutenza, the Chairman of the Ugandan Convention UK.
The Chairman shared some of the challenges and resolutions that had been reached at the previous conventions and during the various consultations with Ugandans in the UK.
Does the Ugandan Government acknowledge the Diaspora’s role in the development of Uganda?
Willy Mutenza: Yes, the government recognizes the power of the Diaspora and its contribution to the nation, but very little has been done to harness its potential, and a lot still needs to be done in terms of equitable and fair policies for Diaspora members.
In fact, the contribution of the Diaspora is a critical component to the growth of the economy and to the achievement of the Convention’s overarching vision of a globally prosperous Uganda.
It is for this reason that the Uganda Convention UK has had total support from the business community and from the government who can utilize the event as a platform to reach out to and empower Ugandans abroad to effectively make greater contribution to the development of the country.
Is there only a particular segment of the Diaspora that invests back home through remittances?
Willy Mutenza: Not at all Ugandans in the UK are well-educated, highly entrepreneurial, and include successful doctors, engineers, educators, nurses, restaurateurs, social workers and labourers.
Regardless of their profession, they generously support their families and friends in Uganda by remitting more than $800 million a year.
However, remittances are not scalable, which gives African governments and Diaspora Africans a vested interest in utilizing remittances to better tackle economic and social challenges in the continent.
The last 4 Conventions must have provided you with some vital statistics with regards to challenges and solutions faced by prospective investors from the Diaspora. Can you share with us what the outcomes are?
Willy Mutenza: The feedback from stakeholders and Diaspora members has clearly shown the areas where change, transformation, growth and potentials lie.
Despite the significant contribution from Ugandans abroad, there are many challenges that have inhibited their effective contribution to national development. Allow me to share some of those challenges:
- Inadequate capacity to offer consular services
- High cost of remitting money
- Lack of incentive framework to promote Diaspora participation in national development
- Inadequate mechanisms for protecting Ugandans’ rights in the Diaspora, and promoting their interests
- Lack of an integrated database on Ugandans living abroad
- Untapped skills and expertise
- Weak coordination and linkage mechanism between organisations and institutions set up to assist Diasporans
- Under-utilization of Information and Communication Technology Enabled Services (ITES) and new media
- Lack of reintegration framework of returnees
- Inadequate participation in democratic processes by Ugandans abroad
And on the other hand, we have also identified strategies and solutions that can make a huge difference as to how Diaspora members can contribute more efficiently.
For example, there is a need to develop and implement strategies to empower and engage Ugandans abroad into national development process; to develop mechanisms for dialogue and partnership with Ugandans abroad; and establish the necessary institutional mechanism for co-ordination and administration of issues affecting Ugandans abroad.
Ugandans also need to be mobilized abroad to form town, city or country specific umbrella associations, as well as regional and global umbrella associations for effective representation and engagement.
There is also a need to develop measures to enhance and also protect and support the interests of Ugandans abroad in such matters pertaining to immigration issues, custodial sentences, consular services, repatriation of the deceased act
Dual citizenship seems to have become a bone of contention, and the Diaspora is also claiming voting rights. What solutions have been put forward in those areas?
Willy Mutenza: Indeed, with regard to Dual Citizenship, The Diaspora has been asking for the registration fee for be waived, as they feel it is not acceptable they have to buy their right to be Ugandan, or to naturalise as Ugandan since it is their birth right any way.
Regarding the right to vote, the Diaspora wants to have access to the home country’s political decisions and to have their specific interests represented.
In addition, the Diaspora also feels that the bureaucratic burden has to be alleviated, procedures must be simplified, and that the capacity to offer Consular Services must be enhanced.
Can you expand on the key areas that the Diaspora really wants to see addressed so that they feel they can more easily and securely invest back home?
Willy Mutenza: The last 4 Conventions and consultations with the Diaspora have pinpointed the areas that need to be improved upon. Let me share with you the resulting report we drafted for various sectors.
The Diaspora wishes to have investment development and opportunities available in Uganda to be regularly published, and especially for the Diaspora SMEs, as a way of promoting incentives that will encourage Diasporans to invest back home.
There is also a need to have a classification system for the most pressing investment opportunities for the Diaspora and investment opportunities with the highest ROI, but needing minimal capital investment that Diasporans can afford, and also as a way to promote more FDI.
A new category and classification system of Diaspora investors should be formulated. The threshold of capital needed to qualify should be reduced so that Diasporans not having the required capital to qualify as full investors can still tap into the incentives given to other investors.
People tend to make investments usually in their region or locality of origin, where they still have family ties and are familiar with the local context. The government and investment authority should identify areas of investment specified according to regions in order to promote linkages and, in particular, facilitate transfers and investments to the specific areas the Diasporans originate from.
A Diaspora Trade and Business representative at the Presidential Investors Round Table (PIRT) must be nominated.
Policies and incentives must be developed to cater to the demand for nostalgic products abroad and strengthen the productive capacity and quality standards in the exporting countries.
Such policy initiatives are also in the interest of business links that span producers and consumers in the respective home and host countries, and can encourage their expansion into other, larger market segments.
Access to finance:
As an incentive, a Trust Fund should be established to provide grants, loans, technical assistance and support to individual Diasporans, networks, and communities for Diaspora-led development projects to be implemented in Uganda.
Diasporans with companies in the West must be allowed to bid for tenders to promote competitive and non-discriminatory rates to all potential providers. The high cost of remitting money must be lowered as well.
The Diaspora wants to involve one of their members as a consultant in the early planning stages of the Diaspora Bonds. This will iron out drop-backs that can jeopardise its success and will also help to avail comprehensive information about the scheme. It was asked that contact details of relevant departments and personnel in Uganda should be made available for interested Diaspora members, either to enquire about the scheme or share their views on it.
Establishing a Diaspora bond with high interest rate is a good way to incentivise and to tap into Diasporans who are not interested to return but wish and can invest in non-commodity market.
Fast track desk at Entebbe Airport:
Ugandans from the Diaspora often encounter a lot of hostilities from immigration officers at Entebbe. Rt. Hon. Kadaga pledged to inform the government that it has not done the necessary to enable those in the Diaspora to “land softly” when they return home. A Fast Track desk is a necessity that needs to be addressed now.
Land and property rights:
According to Mr. Alenyo Marshall (Senior immigration officer), Ugandans who have not taken out a dual citizenship certificate don’t have a right to own land under the mailo land and freehold arrangement. However, Diasporans who have lost their citizenship or if their spouse is not Ugandan, still want to have the right to buy land and property under freehold terms. Their request needs to be addressed in a professional manner at government level, and if need be, changes in legislation must be considered to accommodate them.
A desk in the land’s Registry or presidential office dedicated to Diaspora land issues needs to be established to mitigate the risks Diasporans face of losing their land to unscrupulous people, and to deal with the resulting problems of dishonest land dealings. This crucial step will promote more investment from the Diaspora in infrastructure and asset investments.
Diaspora Human capital:
Brain drain and Diaspora human capital are of concern, not only in quantitative but also qualitative terms. The government should set up an incentive for all government organizations to give priority of job vacancies to Diasporans.
This is the way to encourage knowledge and skill transfer back home to mitigate the brain drain, which leaves gaps in the higher segments of the local labour market, causing shortages in sectors most important to the country’s socio-economic advancement.
It was asked to make available a comprehensive list of opportunities, such as the program that Diaspora department in partnership with World Bank is spearheading, to professionalise some sectors such as roads and railways, with a need to recruit from the Diaspora.
A list of career opportunities must be made available, such as the program that Diaspora department in partnership with World Bank is spearheading, in order to professionalise some sectors such as roads and railways, and for which recruitment from the Diaspora should be promoted.
The Diaspora expertise and skills must be tapped into and philanthropic initiatives should be promoted as well.
Youth exchange programs should be promoted to raise awareness of issues facing the Ugandan youth, and how the UK youth can assist their Ugandan counterparts, and to learn from one another, especially on good values derived from both cultures.
Uganda recently established a youth venture capital fund; youth whose parents have dual-citizenship should have access to the venture capital fund in Uganda. This will boost Diaspora youth participation in the development of the country, and also become an incentive for them to look at Uganda for opportunities.
The government is asked to support initiatives that acculturate nationalistic attitudes into the Ugandan Diaspora’s youth, so that they feel attached to Uganda. This will encourage the next generation to view Uganda as a mother country, rather than “a country somewhere over there, that Mum and Dad keep on talking about”, as Hon Maria Kiwanuka so aptly quoted.
Mr. Seguya is asked to establish Diaspora permits with concessions to encourage Diaspora tourism.
Areintegration mechanisms for returnees must be developed; pre-departure training must be considered and the development of a legislative Framework must be considered too.
As you can see, this is quite a substantial feedback that many will find very informative. I think it is also imperative that Uganda harnesses and maximizes the potential of Ugandans abroad to contribute to Uganda’s transformation agenda, while at the same time meeting their needs and expectations through a mutually beneficial and lasting partnership.
This all sounds very positive. Is there anything that couldhinder the implementation of these solutions?
Willy Mutenza: There are some major limitations to the involvement of Ugandan Diasporas in development policies for example.
Another drawback is that programs affecting Diasporas are developed without sharing knowledge and resources.
I feel there is a need to examine what we know at this stage about engaging Diasporas for development and to propose a roadmap for policymakers based on existing evidence.
Diaspora associations such as the Ugandan Conventions in America and Europe and others need to be consulted and utilised, as well as the expertise of community leaders and consultants.
Even the African Union and the World Bank acknowledge that the Diaspora plays an important role in the development of Africa. Can you tell us more about it?
It is correct that the African Union (AU) recognizes the role played by the Diaspora in the development of the continent. The Extraordinary Summit of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union in its meeting of February 2003, declared the African Diaspora as the sixth development region of the continent.
The declaration was based on the recognition of the African Diaspora as an important part of the continent, whose potential needs to be fully exploited in building the African Continent.
Similarly, the Declaration of the Global Africa Diaspora Summit of May 2012 underscored the need to build sustainable partnerships between the African continent and the African Diaspora through sustainable dialogue and effective collaboration with governments and peoples of different regions of the world in which the Diaspora populations are located.
According to the World Bank, remittances to developing countries are three times the Official Development Assistance (ODA).
The remittances are estimated to be about $406 Billion (World Bank, 2012). The World Bank estimates that remittances sent through informal channels could add up to at least 50 per cent of the official estimate, making it the largest source of external capital in many developing countries.
The Diaspora contributes a significant percentage to the Uganda GDP from the remittances they send back home. Further, its contribution in terms of skills, expertise and transfer of knowledge to Uganda is invaluable, but these potential is not yet fully developed or harnessed.
To conclude, what is your final message to members of the Diaspora who are keen to get involved?
Willy Mutenza: I would like to stress that the Convention in the UK was purposefully established to complement the need to mainstream the Ugandan Diaspora into the national development process, in line with the aspirations and goals of the Uganda Vision 2040.
In the end, what matters is for everyone to realize that the time is now to implement most, if not all, of the solutions outlined above.
Procrastination and red tape must be eliminated and people must develop a burning desire to see tangible and visible results at ground level. Time and willingness is of the essence.