When Habib Migadde of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited me for this summit, I really did not know what to expect. I have not worked with any of the Nordic companies or anything in that direction. But when I went, I stayed. The Nordic East African Summit was held from the 16th-17th November 2015 at the CommonWealth Resort, Munyonyo.
Ugandans should stop planning a few million shillings projects and graduate to a few million dollars. This is because the Nordic investors, through the Nordic Business Association in Uganda are interested in investing in projects between 0.5 to 15 million dollars.
But before they invest or get into partnership with any of the companies here, they have a few lessons to learn at the summit, the presentation by Johnny Kjelsgaard, changed everything. It checked the rush before investing in business, the check-points involved. The question of culture.
Kjelsgaard is a Norwegian who has been working in Africa for two decades. He is the founder and CEO of Growth Africa. He has closely worked with startup ecosystem in Africa. And he has interested himself with learning the culture of Africans.
“Offer an African tea (be hospitable), ask them a number of questions, inquire from more than one person and be patient, ” he said.
Expectations; apart from Kenyans (of recent), chances are you will not get a no for an answer when a business proposal is presented to an East African. People have an idea about everything and can do everything.
However, it is not a given that one shall turn up at the time they are expected (something will always come up). Things will get a little slower but that is the pace.
The Ambassador of Uganda to the Nordic countries, H.E Zaake Kibedi, said there is quite a number of similarities between the Nordic countries and East Africa much as there are a number of differences.
When the Nordics come here they expect to find things done the way they are done back home which is a shock. Things usually turn out on the contrary.
Our level of business aggressiveness is both lower and slower than theirs. This includes the Kenyans as well. However there is a mixture of challenges.
Much as Kenya is good with speed and their level of doing work is much faster than Uganda and Tanzania, it is a corrupt country. According to Johnny Kjelsgaard, they always expect a “side-dish kick” and if you don’t, business progress may be slower. And this applies to Uganda as well. Lucrezia Biteete, the Managing Director of Laboremus said the situation is not saved by lawyers who are more dubious than any other.
Rwanda has no traces of corruption but does not have spacious land to host all the investors.
But have we stooped this low? No. it is just that we are different.
We are not known for the good things. We are not equipped with the right financials to do business. There is a lot of uninformed business in Uganda which limits the level of transparency with doing business.
The question that left me thinking is, if we don’t have what it takes, then why are the investors interested in Uganda and not Kenya or Rwanda where government policy is more favorable?
The Nordic group is more interested in Agribusness and ICT related projects not to mention oil and gas, tourism, and manufacturing.
The embassies of Uganda and those of the Nordic countries put this together because there is an interest. The interest to invest one’s money where returns are visible and achievable which Uganda promises. And that is what the Ugandans must treasure of themselves.
The summit was the first of its kind here in Uganda and it will be hosted in any of the other East African countries.
This will all depend on the commitment of those countries. As of now, the Nordic Business Association is here to promote the interests of all the practioners.
How I wish, Ugandans shun the excuse factor towards embracing these and more opportunities.
Photo credit: Lwanga Robert