President Obama’s participation in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya not only turns a spotlight on efforts around the world to promote and support entrepreneurship, but it also turns a spotlight on sub-Saharan Africa, bringing attention to the potential for economic growth and investment in the region.
Speaking at an event for the African Growth Opportunity Act, which is U.S. trade legislation that aims to help bolster Africa’s economies, the president said the continent “has the potential to be the next center of global economic growth.”
“Despite its many challenges – and we have to be clear-eyed about all the challenges the continent still faces – Africa is a place of incredible dynamism, some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, extraordinary people, extraordinary resilience,” President Obama said.
To mark the President’s visit, BlackEnterprise.com spoke with Ugandan Prime Minister Rohakana Rogunda as he joins such notables as Oprah Winfrey and Jesse Jackson to celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day at the United Nations in New York. The Prime Minister is also promoting foreign investment and entrepreneurial efforts in Uganda.
The U.S. has treaded carefully in the region when it comes to investing and trade, due in part to some of the country’s internal socioeconomic challenges.
Last year, the U.S. imported about $50 million from Uganda, but concerns about bureaucracy, infrastructure, power supplies, and energy costs are still big red flags for investment. The World Bank ranks Uganda 150th out of 189 nations in its Doing Business report, which measures the ease of doing business in a country.
Uganda is trying to jump start its ailing economy with efforts that would make it easier for foreigners to do business there and by reducing its high levels of unemployment and poverty with initiatives to promote and support entrepreneurs.
Uganda has the world’s largest percentage of people under the age of 30 – 78% – according to the State of Uganda population report by the UN Population Fund. (Worldwide, there are about 1.2 billion 15- to 24-year-olds. About 200 million are in Africa). Youth unemployment in Uganda, however, is the highest in Africa. A study called Lost opportunity? Gaps in youth policy and programming in Uganda, puts youth unemployment at 62%. The African Development Bank says it could be as high as 83%.
The Prime Minister discussed the country’s turnaround efforts with BlackEnterprise.com.
BlackEnterprise.com: How significant is President Obama’s participation in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit to entrepreneurial efforts in Africa, particularly your country?
Rogunda: We truly welcome this visit. It will benefit and strengthen Africa’s relationship with the U.S. with regard to trade and investment, and it will provide valuable promotion to entrepreneurial efforts. It’s important to see Africans and Americans working together on this.
One of the purposes of the President’s visit is to promote entrepreneurship in the area. How much emphasis is your government putting on entrepreneurship as a way to stem unemployment?
It’s a very high priority of ours. We’re training young people in entrepreneurship. We’re making money available to help startups through programs like the Youth Venture Capital Fund. We have seen that a number of young Ugandans have got good ideas and skills, but what they have been lacking is capital. The government put the fund together to empower the young people who have good business proposals to get access to money. They have to have a business proposal which is examined. They also have to pass a preliminary test. The government then makes funds available depending on the size and scope of the project. The critical point is that the money they get is adequate to succeed. Once they create businesses, they can create jobs. It has had significant impact and many young people have demonstrated that they can create jobs for themselves and for other youth.
What are you doing to ease concerns and perceptions about doing business in Uganda?
The government is embarking on major reforms to make it easier for investors to do business in Uganda. We are reducing the number of licenses needed for businesses. We are creating a one-stop center that will let foreign investors get what they need to start a business within a day or two. You go to the center, which is run by the Ugandan Investment Authority, and they can assist with immigration requirements and the necessary licensing. We are also starting online registration for businesses and online information that is available for businesses and investors.
Entrepreneurs – and potential foreign investors – also express concerns about the high cost of necessities like electricity, transportation, and telecommunications. What are some of the things your government is doing to address these issues?
We are working hard to review costs and create a favorable environment for investors. We are trying to make power and other utilities much more accessible by assuring that industries, for example, have power and other services that are competitive with the rest of the region.
What would you like to say to potential investors?
I would really say, first of all, that the government of Uganda and Africa are taking security concerns seriously, and that investors should feel confident and safe to invest their businesses in Uganda. The government will give them as much as possible. The U.S. should do more to support and encourage that message, and there should be a summit in Washington. We are glad that President Obama is visiting Africa. All of this will improve confidence among American investors and bridge the gaps.