The Uganda High Commissioner to Nigeria, Amb. Nelson Ocheger in an exclusive interview with African Leadership Magazine spoke about issues related to the Nigeria-Uganda bilateral relations. A lot of the conversation was built around the Ugandan nascent relationship with the ECOWAS region and the way forward for the parties involved. Excerpts.
Many of our readers are interested in knowing more about your background. Kindly share with us more about your career journey as well as your educational background.
I’m not a career diplomat. I began diplomacy in 2010 when I was appointed by President Yoweri Museveni as a deputy ambassador. I was posted to Moscow, Russia. That was when I started my diplomatic career. Prior to that, I was into business and consultancy. By profession, I’m a communicator. My highest qualification is a Masters degree in Business Administration from Eastern and Southern African Management Institute, Arusha, Tanzania.
The Nigeria-Uganda bilateral relationship is a quiet one. What has been under the carpet? How can this relationship be further strengthened?
I agree that perhaps the relationship between Uganda and Nigeria has not been very pronounced but I associate that with the fact that on our part as Uganda and I think our host in Nigeria, it is a general thing in Africa as a continent. We are not very enthusiastic to tell our story whether as countries or as a continent. This is why the African continent is always looked at differently from a global perspective. But I think that narrative is changing. The Republic of Uganda is very keen now to change the narrative so that we are globally looked at positively as well as Africa as a whole. As we speak, there are so many things taking place between Uganda and Nigeria. From the business perspective, the Uganda High Commission in Nigeria has encouraged the formation of Uganda-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The idea is that we want this association to spur business relations at a private sector level between Uganda and Nigeria. We have been able to engage different business stakeholders in Uganda. We encourage them to visit Uganda as regularly as possible so that they are able to identify areas where they can do business in Uganda and vice versa. Right now, discussions are taking place so that at the earliest possible time, we are able to launch Uganda-Nigeria Investment Forum. In Uganda, we have an annual trade fair which takes place in October and we are looking to hold this forum in that period. The purpose of the investment forum is, as the name suggests, to enable prospective investors to come together, share ideas, exchange views, identify areas where they can invest either individually or together between Uganda and Nigeria and of course, between East Africa and West Africa. I said East Africa and West Africa because, in East Africa, we have the East African community which has registered tremendous success in this development. We started as a free trade area then went on to have a customs union and now we have a common market. There are discussions at a higher level to establish a common currency for the East African community. I am aware that the same thing is taking place in West Africa. So when the Uganda-Nigeria Investment Forum is established, the partners and membership will benefit, not just from the Uganda and Nigeria markets, but from the East and West African markets. Lastly, for as many countries as possible to register and be pre-qualified to participate in our oil and gas industry in Uganda and as we speak, quite a number of them have expressed interest. This is encouraging. Nigeria and Uganda are trying to make business processes easier and we believe the future for commercial co-operation between both countries is very bright.
We understand that Uganda has expressed willingness to join in the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement. If Nigeria eventually assents, how do you think both countries can benefit from each other? Are there any initiatives and strategies to significantly increase the trade turnover between Nigeria and Uganda?
I think the most important thing is that the government must involve the private sector. Governments on their own cannot create many jobs. Once that is done, we can create a trade environment that will enable the private sector to invest and so doing, create jobs for our people. I think governments need to scale public-private partnerships in policy formulation, legislation, regulation and investment.
Uganda rates as one of the countries in Africa with quality universities and a premium place for post-high school training. You represent the Ugandan government in Nigeria, how have you facilitated this to get Nigerian patronage?
We have shared as much information as possible with Nigerian stakeholders regarding educational institutions in Uganda. In Uganda, we have both public and private institutions. As you know, one of our universities, Makerere University, ranks among the best four in the continent for the last 15 years. Because of the effort we have been able to put in place to share this information, we now have quite a number of Nigerian students who have enrolled to study in Ugandan institutions. We have close to 7,000 Nigerian students enrolled in different institutions of higher learning in Uganda. I want to emphasize the fact that those who have already finished their education in Uganda and have come back, and those who are still there have given us reasons why they have been able to choose Uganda as an educational institution. As you know, Uganda and Nigeria share a common colonial history. Our educational curriculum is more or less the same with minor variations. The cost of both public and private education in Uganda is comparatively cheaper. This is the information they have given us. Ugandans are very hospitable. Most Nigerian students are in private institutions and most of these institutions do not offer accommodation so the students have to find their own accommodations either in the hostels near the institutions or in private accommodation. Either way, they have found that the hospitality of the Ugandan people has made their lives easy. Lastly, Uganda as a country is now enjoying unprecedented peace and stability. So, the basic ingredients essential for a student to concentrate on their studies are now available in the country. We don’t want to say that we have arrived as a country. We still need to scale up our effort as a country especially at public sector participation in order to facilitate exchange programs. Two years ago, when I visited the Kaduna state government, the administration at the time offered scholarships to Ugandans to study in one of the universities that offer agriculture. Education is one way of bridging the gap between our countries, cultures, languages and people.
What new projects we should be looking forward to in 2019?
We are commencing this year with the construction of our chancery in Nigeria. The government of Nigeria was generous enough to allocate us the land where we are now going to construct our chancery. As I said, we are resident in Nigeria but cover all ECOWAS member states so we look at that as a strategic intervention that will enable us to be visible not just in Nigeria but in West Africa. Secondly, we intend to ensure that we realize the creation of the Nigeria-Uganda Investment forum so as to bring different stakeholders together. Finally, we intend to involve Nigerian stakeholders to participate in our annual Martyrs Day. Annual Martyrs Day in Uganda marks the remembrance of those who died during colonialism because they accepted and were willing to spread Christianity in East Africa. We celebrate this day to reaffirm Uganda’s faith in Christianity. We believe that by extension, Nigerians can benefit from that because Nigeria has a huge Christian population and therefore we are encouraging them to visit Uganda for the purpose of having that solidarity in Christianity, appreciating the Ugandan culture, tourist attractions and exploring opportunities for cooperation. All the countries we are covering have a chamber of commerce, we intend to ensure that this year, they establish direct linkages with their counterparts in Uganda so they can be able to come up with ideas on how best they can scale up business cooperation. I commend African Leadership Magazine for your efforts, you are helping Africa tell a story, keep it up.