In the land of the child soldier, business is king?
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images Speaking of Uganda and child soldiers, it so happens that Yoweri Museveni (pictured at left) was in Washington this week. In meetings with President Bush and Congress, the Ugandan president focused primarily on resolving the decades-long conflict in northern Uganda between the government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army. The two parties ...
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Speaking of Uganda and child soldiers, it so happens that Yoweri Museveni (pictured at left) was in Washington this week. In meetings with President Bush and Congress, the Ugandan president focused primarily on resolving the decades-long conflict in northern Uganda between the government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army. The two parties signed a peace deal last year, but the LRA leadership remains at large. Some hopeful signs emerged Tuesday when LRA negotiators agreed to meet with Museveni in Kampala for the first time since the war started.
But at the Wednesday reception for Museveni hosted by insurer AIG and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, all the talk was of investment and development. Sounding like he’d be thumbing through his C.K. Prahalad on the plane, the Ugandan leader hit all the right buzzwords about how to spread development and financial services into rural areas:
We have to make it much easier for our people to access capital… Even the poorest possess assets that can be monetized under the right conditions.”
He described Africa as the “forgotten continent” in the business world, a condition he blamed on misperceptions of the continent’s stability:
Investors don’t know that there are better business opportunities in Africa than in China, potentially. Investor ratings consistently exaggerate the continent’s problems and they assume that what is true of one or two countries is automatically true of all the rest. … To oversimplify and say, ‘oh there are all these problems in Congo, all of Africa has problems,’ is really ignorance.”
Museveni might be more convincing were he not in town mainly to brief the White House and Congress on an armed rebellion that has decimated a large portion of his country and claimed thousands of lives, not to mention the spillover effects on surrounding countries. True, Uganda consistently registers at least 5 percent economic growth and attracted $307 million in foreign investment last year, but the country’s economic situation is hardly a separate issue from the ongoing violence in the north. The war has cost Uganda $1.7 billion over 20 years or 1.1 percent of GDP every year, and perhaps more when you account for its lingering effects on a terrorized population. Until it is finally resolved, there’s no way to really know what Uganda’s potential might be.
Joshua Keating is a former associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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