EXPO 2021 Dubai, UAE, the largest international exhibition event ever to be staged in the Arab world will welcome 190 participating countries of which Uganda is one. An estimated 25 million global visitors will attend the fair from October 2021 – March 2022. Thus, UAE’s Dubai will host the world for 173 days each brimming with new commercial opportunities at the elaborately constructed Dubai Exhibition Centre; that will present boundless opportunities for Uganda to allure trade, tourists and FDI inflows since the entire world will be assembled in one place making it undemanding for us to elucidate the country’s potential at a token cost.
That first ever such event in the region was supposed to take place last year but it stalled due to the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic. Although the event will start late this year, the authorities here have not re-baptised it for 2021 Expo Dubai; it has retained its original tag of 2020 Expo Dubai for good reasons. Ugandans need to know that the UAE is the commercial hub of the gulf states; it has a PCY of $43,103 (Wikipedia, 2020), a population of 9.89 m people (2020) with a GDP of $421.1 billion (2019) and has the second largest economy in the Arab world after Saudi Arabia. A third of the UAE’s GDP is from oil revenues. Its GDP per sector is as follows: industry – 49.8 percent, services – 49.2 percent and agriculture -0.9 percent. Labour force by occupation plays out as follows: services – 78 percent, industry – 15 percent and agriculture – 7 percent.
Worth noting is that the UAE hosts an estimated 100,000 Ugandans (most of whom live in Dubai hence the urgent need to establish a consulate there to offer them the ever-burgeoning consular services) an integral part of our esteemed global diaspora rated highly in Uganda’s Vision 2040 and development plans for mobilization as elemental drivers of our country’s economic development. The UAE-based Ugandans are said to, yearly; remit a whopping $200m back home. Relatedly, the UAE is said to import goods worth $1.1bn from Uganda mostly gold and agricultural goods. With that potential for augmented economic benefits to Uganda, it is worth evaluating them hereunder:
Firstly, Uganda’s participation in the expo would, with robust elucidation: augment both trade and tourism through technical and strategic cooperation, aid technological transfer as well as burgeon FDIs inflow into the country. Why? Because the Yoweri Museveni administration through its MDAs will have an occasion to delineate to the international community about Uganda’s glowing investment environment and opportunities with concrete evidence. The expo side meetings, too, will provide a platform to hammer out south-south cooperation pacts that will have a potential to ameliorate the effects of the sanctioning world against us.
Secondly, Uganda’s participation in the expo would have the potential to increase the country’s political visibility, improve its public diplomacy and image not only in the Arab world but also amongst the wider participating international community; Uganda’s national day, for instance, will be the first to be celebrated in the Dubai exquisite exhibition area. The UAE has underwritten the construction of our country’s pavilion in the exhibition area where both the national day and show-casing of Uganda’s products and innovations will be held. The national day celebrations will have a potential to increase the country’s international stature by leaps and bounds because for a moment we shall be the centre of focus. As argued earlier, Dubai and by extension the UAE constitute the gateway to both the North and the South because it is, in particular, situated strategically in the middle of major global economic routes into which Uganda can tap.
Thirdly, Uganda’s economic and commercial diplomacy will be boosted given the unique opportunities the expo will present. Exhibiting firms and individuals from Uganda have been given the unique opportunity of bringing their products and innovations to the exhibition centre; the UAE has provided a container for shipping them by May 2, 2021. The Yoweri Museveni administration’s emphasis on ECD activities will get a new lease of life for review and fine-tuning in order to align with the new and emerging opportunities for purposes of leap forward.
Correspondingly, the world’s youngest carrier, Uganda Airline, is soon making its maiden flight, if all goes according to plan, to Dubai and there is a lot of enthusiasm here in the UAE for Uganda’s cargo that most especially includes agricultural products and mineral beatified products like gold; that, in essence, requires urgent examination by the relevant MDAs in order to plan accordingly. Such flights will possibly sort the enduring pickle and quandary of connectivity by the national carrier teaming up with Emirates, Etihad and Fly Dubai to jointly venture into the East African region to purposefully stimulate trade and commerce between the Middle East and the Interlacustrine regions.
Fourthly, the expo presents an opportunity to mobilize Uganda’s diaspora in the UAE in particular and the entire middle east in general to vigorously participate in the country’s development; the 100,000 Uganda nationals spread out in the UAE is a good starting point in this endeavour and the expo, it is planned, will decipher to that constituency the conducive business environment and umpteen investment opportunities available. There are already ongoing discussions between the mission and the UAE diaspora about how best to involve the later in the planning, implementation and aftermath auditing of expo activities.
Fifthly, there is a real possibility of increasing opportunities for technological transfer from the UAE, the Middle East and elsewhere to Uganda. Uganda is a member state of International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) which is headquartered in Abu Dhabi. Uganda held its rotational chair until January 2021.
Ambassador Henry Mayega
Deputy Head of Mission
Abu Dhabi, UAE