WASHINGTON, May 15 (UPI) -- As Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni begins his third term, Asian investors driven away during the dark years of successive dictatorships are returning to stake their claim in a rising economy.
"Stability has attracted new Asian groups -- with an influx of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, who have produced good results for the economy at the moment," Perezi K. Kamunanwire, the new Ugandan ambassador to the United States, told United Press International.
Museveni, who won the February 23 presidential election with 59 percent of the vote, acknowledged regional concerns that include insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during his May 12 inauguration speech. However, he focused primarily on plans for dealing with corruption and further streamlining the economy.
As Uganda continues to open up its markets for investment, there are hopes that returning Asians and an infusion of foreign capital will smooth the path to a desirable level of political stability.
Ambassador Kamunanwire said that "Uganda was one of the beneficiaries of Asian commitment at the turn of the last century," before the economy was "destroyed by bad politics from the mid-60's to 1986."
Indians were first brought to the country to work as laborers on the Uganda-Kenya railroad line; many then stayed on to establish small businesses and eventually became an integral part of the national and international market as traders.
But this came to an abrubt halt in 1972 when brutal dictator Idi Amin threw the Indians out of Uganda.
"Since Indians were a big factor in economic development, the whole economy went down," said Kamunanwire.
Amin was driven out of office in 1979, when Ugandan nationalists and Tanzanian troops forced him to flee. The country was gripped by dictatorship until 1986, when President Museveni took office.
Today, Kamunanwire says inflation has been reduced to 8 percent from 250 percent in 1986, and economic growth is averaging 6.4 percent.
"The numbers speak for themselves, Ugandans are very supply driven -- as soon as anything is available it sells out very quickly," said newly posted Ugandan Ambassador to India, Nimisha Madhvani.
Even with an 80 percent rural population, Uganda also has the "best mobile phone system in the world," according to Kamunanwire. An American-based company, for example, has made it possible for Ugandans to get market value for farm produce as a cell phone text message.
A primarily internationally based private sector has driven this evolution, with Germany-based Deutsche Telecom, British Vodaphone and South African MIM taking advantage of a fertile investment climate.
"(An) incentive for investors is they can come, make their money, and take it abroad if they wish," said Kamunanwire. "We have an open capital current account, making us more advanced, in some ways than countries like India and China, which have yet to do so. And our free approach to foreign exchange, without interest, has encouraged even more people to come."
Asked whether vestiges of state corruption could sour Uganda's appeal to foreign investors, the ambassador was resolute: "Harsh punishment is reserved for people whose dirty hands steal from our cookie jar. There aren`t many (cookies) to begin with, so it will be noticed if any are missing.
"President Museveni has made purging corruption and improving transparency one of his top priorities, and our levels of foreign investment are a testament to outside confidence in our system."
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