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14.06.2017 Opinion

Why Uganda Must Help Cool The Desert Anger Against Qatar

Swaib K Nsereko   

Early this month, the world woke up to a desert anger unprecedent in recent times. Four Gulf Cooperation Countries—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Bahrain tersely severed diplomatic relations with Qatar. Scope of the hard stance, with far-reaching economic consequences is not limited to Doha, but its partners too, Uganda inclusive.

The Uganda-Qatar serious bilateral relationship is relatively young—hardly eight years old. Its, however, promising—characterized with justified enthusiasm on either side. The relationship is centered on economic and defense interests.

Last month president Museveni sent junior minister for investments, Evelyn Anite to Doha to explore ways of opening a Ugandan investment coordination office.

This was, but one of the several exchanges of high-level officials—nearly on a monthly basis since 2014. The president himself had, after 30 years, made a maiden visit on April 17 to 19 to meet with Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at his Emiri Dewani (palace) in Doha.

The rendezvous, prior to the current diplomatic impasse were part of a strategy constructed by officials in Kampala to maximize gains from the $100b budgeted by Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup tournament. Uganda is eager to grab with both hands the offer of 40,000 jobs by Qatar. These jobs—effective this year, are spread out in all sectors and would raise the current size of Ugandans in Qatar from a few thousands to over 50,000. This is more than a sub-county community, full with its cultural package.

Economic Implications
Although besides the Qatar airways, Doha is yet to venture deep into the Ugandan investment geography, high hopes have since developed, consequent upon the visit there by Museveni. He briefed Qatari billion-dollar entrepreneurs of the opportunities in Uganda as well as the east and central African regions. He highlighted the market strength—40 million Ugandans, who are part of the 170 million East Africans—also part of the 500 million Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa—that are part of the African continental market of 1.25 billion people due to hit 2.5 billion in the next 5 years.

Whereas Ugandan investors are yet to massively tap into Western markets—opened through Agoa and EPAs of America and Europe, respectively, Museveni is certain the already experienced Qataris will do it from Uganda. Through the African growth opportunity act (Agoa) since the Bill Clinton administration, a total of 6,000 Uganda products can enter America for zero tax rates. And, the European Union’s yet to be signed economic partnership agreements (EPAs) is a modification of the existing Everything but Arms (EBA) framework. Beijing, China, too accepts up to 440 products duty-free. Hence with the current disturbance in Doha, it might have a longer freezing effect to Kampala’s expectations than earlier anticipated. This is unfortunate for a country’s foreign interests.

Cooperation at International Level
So far, Uganda has reason to take Qatar for a reliable ally. In 2014, while accepting the credentials of Uganda’s ambassador, Dr Rashid Yahya Ssemudu, Emir Tamim promised to explore further about Uganda’s investment opportunities. This, he did in 2015 through the Qatari Investment Authority’s visit to Kampala. And foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa will testify that when Doha promised to back Uganda for the candidature of President of the United Nations General Assembly, it did.

Since empires are built with support of friends; owing to the above, Kampala is morally obliged to support Doha emerge out of the current diplomatic logjam unscathed. Working with the African bloc of OIC membership, that comprises forty-seven per cent (27 of the 57 nations) of this body, offers a viable mechanism for successful settlement of the standoff.

Swaib K Nsereko
Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Islamic University in Uganda

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