KAMPALA, August 14, 2009 – World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick concluded his visit to Uganda late Thursday calling on Ugandan authorities to take advantage of the opportunities brought by East Africa’s regional economic marketplace.
“I have worked with President [Museveni] for nine years starting with the trade topic and I know he has been a critical leader in the need to develop an integrated market for the whole of East Africa and to facilitate transportation of goods and people,” Mr. Zoellick said at an end of visit press conference. “There’s a 170-million-person market here and that’s where the future opportunity lies.”
Withstanding the Global Economic Crisis
While Mr. Zoellick acknowledged that Uganda has been impacted by declining remittances, he thanked the country’s leaders for keeping a stable economy. At the same time, he cautioned against complacency saying the real impacts could be felt in the coming years.
“Uganda has fared relatively well [in the face of the global economic crisis] because it’s got a good stable base, Mr. Zoellick said. “But we know that there are still difficult times ahead.”
Mr. Zoellick said he looks forward to the G-20 meeting in September where he will work to put developing countries high on the priority list, particularly those in Africa, to ensure that the impact of the crisis does not obliterate the development gains they have already achieved.
He thanked Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for his economic leadership, not only in the country but also in the region.
“The president has obviously been a leader in taking Uganda forward and making it a country others can look to,” Mr. Zoellick said.
President Museveni thanked Mr. Zoellick and the World Bank for helping Uganda’s economy achieve minimum recovery. The recovery has allowed the country to get on a solid footing of growth and transformation.
“One target we had when we came to power in 1986 was to end the informalization of the economy and achieve minimum recovery,” Museveni said. “ We were assisted by the World Bank both in concepts and also material support for which we are extremely grateful.” Museveni said the Bank has greatly supported Uganda in human development, education for all, immunization programs and health. “In all these efforts the World Bank has been very supportive.”
President Museveni said that his government and the World Bank had agreed on several targets which he hoped would propel Uganda to the next level of growth and development.
“Recently we have harmonized our positions in terms of concepts and our targets are electricity, roads, the railway systems, modernizing agriculture through prosperity for all, and expanding the network for vocational schools,” he said.
Trade, Transport and Agriculture, Keys to Growth and Development
During his visit to Uganda, Mr. Zoellick visited the Kenya-Uganda border post at Malaba, where he came face to face with the challenges of regional trade and integration. He received briefings from both Kenyan and Ugandan authorities on recent developments at the border, particularly the joint efforts of the two countries.
“The Malaba one-stop customs border post gave us a sense of the need to develop roads and railroads, but also how the hardware had to be combined with the software to improve the processes and information systems to be able to pull goods more quickly across the border,” Mr. Zoellick said.
Malaba is one of the busiest border posts in the region, serving as a transit point by road and railway for countries west of Kenya, including Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Southern Sudan, and the Democatic Republic of Congo. Malaba handles an estimated 53 percent of all freight destined for Uganda. The value of all cargo through Malaba was US$1.75 billion in 2007 and US$2.45 billion in 2008.
Mr. Zoellick also visited the International Finance Corporation-supported Tilda rice estate which produces about 20 percent of Uganda’s rice for domestic market consumption and for export. He was particularly happy that 10 percent of the rice was grown by the over 1,000 outgrowers who then sell it back to Tilda for processing.
“The Tilda rice operation is a great example of what President Museveni refers to as food and income security, and with the initiatives which we have started at the Bank and with the international community, I hope we can help the president and his team to advance this kind of initiative across the value chain of agriculture,” he said.
The Tilda rice operation has improved land use, including irrigation. It supports local schools, dispensaries, and health care clinics, and provides a livelihood and market for the over 1,000 small outgrowers who sell their produce to the rice mill.