Rwabwogo rallies DR Congo to embrace trade links with Uganda

Entrepreneur & Senior Presidential advisor on special duties in Uganda, Odrek Rwabogo has hailed trade relations between Uganda and the DR Congo, which he says since time immemorial have held both countries close, while helping Ugandans acquire wealth. According to Rwabwogo, Lake Kivu in the DRC has been a historical link between several countries around it, which has been used to facilitate crossborder trade. 

Rwabwogo was speaking at the opening ceremony of the second leg of the Uganda-DRC Business Summit that is continuing in Goma, North Kivu Province of DRC. The Presidential advisor is part of a delegation of over 200 private sector players and Ugandan government officials led by East African Affairs Minister Rebecca Kadaga, participating in the Summit that started on May 30. 

The Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) representing private sector business associations in partnership with Government of Uganda organized the Business Summit seeking to open up new business frontiers as well consolidate trade relations between Uganda and DR Congo. 

Specifically the Summit is jointly organized by the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU), Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UNCCI), Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA), in partnership in the Government of the Republic of Uganda’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperative (MTIC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of East African Community Affairs (MEACA), Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB), Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) and the Presidential Advisory Committee on Export and Industrial Development (PACIED) headed by Mr Rwabwogo.

DRC was formally admitted into the EAC Regional Bloc on March 29, 2022, bringing together a market size of more than 250 million people.  Uganda’s trade with DRC has been growing over the years, increasing by an average of 10% annually. During 2017, for instance, Uganda exported goods worth $188.98m to DRC while imports from DRC to Uganda stood at $156.5m. However, this has grown dramatically, with Uganda’s exports to DRC increasing to $338.56 Million in 2021.  The DRC is one of Uganda’s biggest trading partners in East Africa, with Uganda exporting mainly cement, palm oil, beer, sugar, iron and steel, rice, iron and steel (scrap), cocoa beans and natural rubber. 

Mr Rwabwogo listed several products and services that the delegation had carried to the summit including dairy, meats, coffee, tea, cement, sugar, cables, poultry and services such as accounting, tech, medicine, education. 

See full remarks below……….

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Remarks at the opening ceremony of the second leg of the business summit – Goma June 6

By Odrek Rwabwogo 

“Last week we completed the first leg of our business mission with the western and central parts of the big DRC. Today we start our session with a lot of hope and optimism our second leg in Goma, an area with a strong historical links to the greater eastern africa.

Lake Kivu, one of Africa’s and perhaps one of the world’s deepest lakes that lies on the extreme western side of the Albertine Rift Valley – holds many historical secrets in culture, customs and trade with east africa in the last 500 years. At the beginning of the 19th century for example, trade in iron products (spears, hoes and bracelets) agricultural commodities such as cattle and goats from Masisi hills, legumes, fish etc flourished here. That trade along with the southern lake of Tanganyika, connected the western tribes of Uganda and Northwest Tanzania- the Banyambo, the Baziba, the Wagaba all of Tanzania today and the Banyoro, Batooro, Banyankore; and even the northern groups of the Alur, Lugbara, Acholi along with the Baganda of present day Uganda. The lake connected all of us with the lacustrine tribes in Rwanda and the peoples of mid eastern Congo. These are the forest people called the Lega, the Tembos and Nyanga societies that led trade from here. 

The trade in Ivory, iron and food products which we know often ended supporting the small kingdoms of Busongora and Nkore making them richer than they were meant to be, was very autonomous of many of the political entities and kingdoms of the Great Lakes and it flourished regardless of who was in control. 

Trade on this lake where the towns of Goma and Gisenyi are situated, was the earliest expression that money knows neither kings and queens nor boundaries. Money only follows trade and stability. Trade here also connected the east coastal Swahili groups from Mombasa, Pemba, Kilwa, Zanzibar and Malindi, thriving towns pre Portuguese invasion in 1505 – with the Congo and the Uganda hinterland. This connection is very much alive today and even more needed given the increase in our populations and the demand for stability and wealth for Africa. 

There are three strategic propositions we bring you today in this summit leg in Goma as a part of DRC that carries some 60% of our trading relations:

1) We bring you a number of Ugandan SMEs that will share products (dairy, meats, coffee, tea, cement, sugar, cables, poultry etc) and services such as Accouting, tech, medicine, education etc. Together we can build skill, good partnerships and trade that will give us a better capital base for both our countries. In this market, consumption, prices and demand is high yet the need for patents and R&D is still very low which allows us to grow together. It means our businesses can grow organically and at a good pace together with yours! When we become stronger together through this exchange, we will build a base that multinational capital (MNCs) which tend to stop local capital formation in developing countries, loses the incentive to come and constrain our growth. When they come as they will, they will be our partners not competitors. Let me give you an example. In Kinshasa, we were driven in executive Hyundai cars from Korea for the last five days. I know about the early Hyundai brand car that in 1976, was slightly better than a motorcycle for a car. Koreans worked with their local firms to borrow and assimilate car technology and today, western car makers cannot penetrate this market. Korea is number five among the top world car makers yet they began when I was already a school going age child. Do you really think Koreans have better brain cells than Africans? Not at all. They simply know their interest and work together to achieve it. Let us unite our companies so that we can grow together.

2) When we achieve the first objective, above, now we enter a new phase, a very critical one – that of joint processing of raw materials from here. The best timber, fish, coffee, dairy and beef, fruits and vegetables lie along the 700km border line from Arua to Goma on both sides of our border. Let me show you why this is important. In 1985, President Reagan of the USA, threatened Brazil with sanctions to force it to open the market to the US computer manufacturers saying Brazil is guilty of extreme protectionism. Brazil was saying “we need to build our computer industry first before opening up to you” Brazil stood strong with her Neigbours against this pressure and today, the  country exports not just computers but aircrafts with those computers that run them. They also sell beef and grains at 60% Lower price than Uganda here! How did they do it? They stood firm, United in action and scaled their businesses. The west always wants to keep us in primary products – minerals, crude oil, timber etc. Can we not really stand together as businesses and pursue policy change in this space so we can make batteries for example from here, now that we are all EAC? It all starts with thoughts of cooperation at business level to force this change. This summit should be a good start. Let’s us work when the sun is up. These are good days and they might not return for Africa if we miss this window. 

3) Finally, we need a point of contact to keep our business relationship working and growing. To have spent time here and study the market and we don’t leave a point of unity for trade, would be wrong! I have, therefore, asked the leadership of PSFU, FEC in DRC, our ministries of trade and MEACA, to find and fund a joint Uganda/DRC cold chain or warehouse to allow industrial and agricultural products to be stored longer here for the market to taste and adapt to them. There are first class business firms I have seen here that can participate in setting up and managing these facilities. We could start with Goma and then Beni and eventually Kinshasa. This will facilitate trade and introduce such things as insurance, export credit fund and make banking easier for businesses here and Uganda. It will also answer the matter of demand versus capacity of the market here and out businesses. 

I thank HE President Anton Felix Tsishikedi and HE Yoweri Museveni for opening up our countries and give us the right attitude and Entry to trade. I thank the Governor, Gen Ndiima Kongba and the mayor, for the warm hospitality accorded to us since we arrived here in Goma on Saturday.

I thank the security of our two countries for standing shoulder to shoulder to protect our region, it’s trade routes and the lives of people and property, making it safer to do business. When we keep working together we will free young people from the temptation to be used in religious and tribal wars and we will build better societies in both our countries. 

I thank Pastor Kasereka and his wife for praying for this event. Work in the natural is done in the spirit first. I thank them for this. 

Have a great start of the second leg of our summit. 

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