By Steven Akabwayi
“Uganda and China have established deep-rooted and unshakable political mutual trust that have seen remarkable achievements in bilateral Economic Cooperation” These were President Museveni’s remarks in 2019 in an interview with People’s Daily an official Newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
After approving the national vision statement in 2007 that aimed at “ a transformative Ugandan society from a peasant to a modern prosperous country within 30 years”.
Uganda’s National Planning Authority in conjunction with other government institutions and relevant stakeholders developed the Uganda Vision 2040 and launched it in 2013 to have the above statement materialize.
The Uganda Vision 2040 is being implemented under short and medium-term National Development Plans (NDPs) With its fundamentals encompassing infrastructure of all forms including energy, transport, and water among others.
As the Belt and Road Initiative marks 10 years since its flagship in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the initiative has already had tangible impacts on the ground not only within Uganda but also across other neighboring East African Community countries.
The Belt and Road initiative envisions bringing together world economies through an overland of infrastructure, trade, and investment,people-to-people exchange, and connecting cultures.
Within its first decade, the Belt and Road initiative has helped bankroll a boom in Uganda’s infrastructure establishing mega hydropower projects, roads, and airport expansion among others despite Uganda’s national budget constraints.
In his 2019 visit to China to attend the Forum on China-Africa Cooperative (FOCAC) a summit that brought together over 40 African heads of state, President Museveni and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping signed a memorandum of understanding within the cooperation framework of the BRI.
This development aimed to serve as a strategic and policy foundation for the Belt and Road initiative cooperation between China and African countries in particular Uganda and China.
On infrastructure development, it would be unjust not to mention the magnificent Kampala-Entebbe express highway that is regarded as Uganda’s gateway to the world given its connectivity to the largest International Airport in the country.
The Entebbe -Kampala express highway has eased transport from Entebbe to Kampala and vice verse the distance that has been taking two hours on average has been narrowed to less than 30 minutes.
In 2019, President Museveni launched the Isimba hydropower plant another major project that falls under the Belt and Road Initiative in Uganda. During its launch, President Museveni hailed China for being a reliable development partner for Africa and Uganda in particular.
He pointed out that the technical and financial muscle extended to Uganda by China in building this power plant distinguishes China as a genuinely committed development partner.
The Isimba hydropower plant added 183 megawatts of electricity to Uganda’s National Grid an increase of 18.6% to the country’s generation capacity.
Uganda is also gearing up to Commission Karuma power plant which is said to be the largest power project in Uganda, the 600 MW project was flagged off in December 2013 at a price of U.S. dollar 1.7 billion and is expected to lower the price of electricity in the country, connect rural communities to the National Grid and bolster Uganda’s match towards industrial revolution a key component under Uganda vision 2040.
The Belt and Road Initiative impacts have not exclusively materialized in Uganda but also across other East African countries, since gaining their independence, regional integration has been widely regarded as a vital component for facilitating economic development by East African countries.
In this year’s independence speech, President Museveni emphasized his longing desire for East African intergeneration as a critical component for development.
“Since independence, our grandfather Julius Kambarage Nyerere was telling us to integrate otherwise we wouldn’t develop but people were asleep they didn’t know what he was talking about”, President Museveni said.
“We need regional socio-economic, and political integration. This is to support wealth creators, we wealth creators need regional integration, the parasites who consume don’t care and only talk about tribes” he added in another bitter statement.
As one way of achieving the integration goal, the East African Community bloc has pushed for the establishment of a single market supported by an internal free trade movement, and monetary union, that will eventually lead to a political federation.
This has precipitated the need for infrastructure improvement and expansion as a key pillar towards achieving optimal integration.
As far as infrastructure is concerned in the East African Community, China has been a key player through connective finances and technology exchange.
Some of the recent famous projects that have been launched under the Belt and Road Initiative in East Africa as a whole include the Bagamoyo port in Tanzania which aims at enhancing Tanzania’s maritime capabilities and facilitating regional trade.
There is also a standard gauge railway in Kenya connecting port Mombasa to the capital Nairobi, the Lamu Port that aims at connecting Kenya with South Sudan and Ethiopia among other projects.
Steven Akabwayi is a research fellow at the Sino-Uganda Research Centre