In an interview, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni defended his economic and diplomatic choices. He attacked Western companies in particular.
In a recent interview, granted to the Reuters news agency, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, called on Western companies to "stop teaching lessons" to his country. He also openly denied the seizure of Entebbe International Airport by its Chinese creditor, the Export and Import Bank of China (Exim Bank).. “I don't remember mortgaging the airport for anyone,” Museveni said, adding that Kampala would pay what it owes China. "There is no problem, they will be paid", assures the Ugandan head of state.
For Museveni, under fire from criticism because of his country's rapprochement with China, the increase in Chinese private investment in his country is due to several factors. The Ugandan president indicates that the investment incentives undertaken by the State are "an opportunity" that Chinese companies have been able to seize "very vigorously".
The Head of State also considers that "Western companies are short-sighted, they no longer have the eyes to see the opportunities". It has also put a damper on the tendency of Western investors to teach lessons. “Do the Western entrepreneurs who come to give us lessons think they know something that we do not know? », Quips the Ugandan president.
Is the fear of the debt trap justified?
Chinese public and private sector lenders have long been the major creditors of states in Africa. Billions of dollars have been disbursed under President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - the New Silk Road. According to the Ugandan Investment Promotion Agency (UIA), Uganda ranks third in Africa for direct investment from China in recent years.
An investigation by the Ugandan parliament in October revealed that China's Exim Bank had imposed onerous conditions on the country, as part of a loan for the expansion of Entebbe airport. The Minister of Finance, Matia Kasaija, had apologized for "the mismanagement" of this loan.
A journalistic investigation revealed that the loan maturity conditions allowed Exim Bank to seize the airport in the event of non-payment. The Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) had to seek the bank's approval for its budget, and any disputes could only be resolved by the China Arbitration Commission.
Disproportionate conditions, which are reminiscent of the strategy of Chinese creditors in Africa, commonly called "the debt trap". Talks are said to be underway between Uganda and China to find a solution to this situation.
Museveni, back to basics
On the other hand, the Ugandan president's exit kills two birds with one stone. First, Museveni's statements should reassure Chinese creditors and encourage them to move forward in the talks. Then, they put an end to speculation in the press about the Entebbe airport affair, the country's only international airport and a strong symbol of the sovereignty of the Ugandan state.
Museveni also took advantage of his interview to clarify certain things. It should be remembered that the Ugandan head of state, in power since 1986, is currently in his sixth term. The country had recorded an average economic growth of 6,5% in the 1990s, and more than 7% in the 2000s, and the poverty rate had been divided by three in twenty years. A real miracle for the country which had known decades of civil war.
However, the global crisis has hampered Uganda's development over the past decade. Once considered the African leader closest to the IMF, and one of the rare models of the success of capitalism in Africa, Museveni was quickly singled out by international bodies. Thus, the Ugandan president continued to rule on the margins of his old alliances with the West. It started with a dispute with France in 2016.
What the West forgets is that Yoweri Museveni is a Marxist. Its alliance with the West was a necessity for the state. Less today. The Ugandan president explains his rapprochement with China by “ideological similarities”. As for his relationship with Western investors, he denounces the passivity of what he considers to be an economic force "accustomed to its comfort zone".