KAMPALA – President Museveni on Tuesday left the country for the first Russia-Africa Summit which kicked off Wednesday at Sochi-Black Sea Resort City with 50 African heads of state expected to attend.
The Summit, which will focus on actual and potential relations between Russia and African nations in the political, economic, humanitarian, and cultural fields among others, will be co-chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President, who is also the African Union Chairman, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
With the summit billed as the strongest signal yet that Moscow is stepping up its game in Africa, for Uganda, it comes at a particular time when the country is increasingly running out of options when it comes to choosing foreign allies.
Over the last few days, the mainstream media has been awash with reactions to a BBC interview in which Mr Museveni said opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine will not be allowed to sing in Uganda again because he has been mobilizing investors in the West not to invest in Uganda.
To many analysts, the President’s remarks confirm the view that the West, particularly the USA, has turned its back on Uganda over growing concerns over the shrinking political space in the country.
Mr Museveni, who has been in power for over three decades, is accused of continuously unleashing the police and army on opposition politicians and activists.
Last month, the US State Department slapped travel and economic sanctions on former Inspector General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura, accusing him of masterminding police brutality against protestors. He has since labeled the accusations as malicious.
However, reports indicate that more government officials have been denied visas to the US amid concerns that the US State Department is about to sanction more officials.
Amid these sanctions, analysts say the Kampala government is rest assured that foreign aid and other budgetary support from the West is drying up.
Even China to which Uganda has always turned to for loans has now developed cold feet amid concerns that Kampala may not pay back in time.
In April, it emerged that China had turned down Kenya’s funding request to complete the Naivasha-Malaba section of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), meaning that it could affect Kampala’s section of the project. Uganda that requires $2.3b for the project.
Uganda’s debt portfolio now towers at Shs41 trillion, according to official statistics, with most of the money owed to China’s Export-Import (Exim) Bank. There is, therefore, concern from China that Kampala may not have the capacity to pay any further debts from China.
The alternative is now Russia. In September, Russia beat China to the contract that will see Uganda develop its uranium deposits into nuclear power for “peaceful purposes”, mainly electricity generation and medicine (cancer treatment).
Energy minister Irene Muloni signed an inter-government agreement (IGA) with Mr Nikolai Spasskiy, the deputy director-general of Russia’s nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, in the Austrian capital Vienna, on the sidelines of the 63rd Session of the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference.
Rosatom is a state-owned corporation which runs nuclear power generation, nuclear fuel, nuclear weapons and nuclear safety activities in Russia and globally.
Uganda’s bilateral trade with Russia has doubled over the last ten years, from $30m (sh112b) in 2009 to over $74m (sh270b) by the end of 2018, much of it in mining and ICTs.
In recent years, Russia has conducted training for Ugandan troops and provided military equipment, including six Sukhoi fighter jets purchased from Russia in 2011.
The two countries are finalizing agreements to broaden cooperation in strategic areas including cybersecurity, minerals, agriculture, housing, health, tourism and vocational training.
Since the 1960s, Russia has offered scholarships to more than 4,000 Ugandans, helping to build Uganda’s human resources, according to the foreign affairs ministry.
President Yoweri Museveni has made official visits to Russia, in August 2009 and December 2012 and together with Russia’s president Vladimir set up a Joint Permanent Commission.
Russia has pledged to support Uganda to build a national space technology research centre in Uganda to provide solutions to challenges in agriculture, wildlife, border security, among others.
Russia is the latest major power to establish a formal summit for African leaders, after China, India and Japan, which hold periodic summits to discuss development cooperation.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called on Russia and Africa to double bilateral trade to over 40 billion U.S. dollars in the next four to five years.
Putin said that the Russian-African trade more than doubled in the last five years to exceed 20 billion dollars, which he thought was “too little,” while speaking at the plenary session of the first Russia-Africa Economic Forum here.
“I believe that it is within our power to at least double the volume of trade in the next four to five years,” said Putin during his meeting with state leaders, other senior officials and business people from Russia and Africa.
Russia will do its utmost to link African free trade zones with the Eurasian Economic Union through expanding trade missions and providing support to businesses, Putin said.
“The development of close business ties meets our common interests, contributes to the sustainable growth of all our states, helps to improve the quality of people’s lives and solves numerous social problems,” he said.