Workers at a Multiplan factory in the GOSB Industrial Zone. INDEPENDENT/Peter Nyanzi Uganda gears up for large scale trade, investment ties with European manufacturing giant
It is gratifying to find a foreigner abroad who knows a great deal and speaks well about your country. The names of several Ugandan towns - some of which many Ugandans have never been to - roll with ease off Ersin Eren's tongue. Over the years, he has been in Uganda on several occasions and has come to interact with Ugandan businessmen and government officials across the country.
"Uganda is a country we are looking at as very important partner," says the bubbly gentleman who chairs the Turkish-Uganda Business Council. Speaking to a group of Ugandan journalists in Istanbul recently, Eren said he will later this month lead another delegation of Turkish businessmen and officials for another visit to Uganda aimed at further entrenching Uganda-Turkey business relations.
The idea is to bolster bilateral ties, which will culminate into a huge investment push in the next few years.
This is all part of an ambitious agenda that was launched a few years back and which is running according to plan according to the officials. The Turkish government through its Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK), set out to prepare the ground for robust Turkish investments first by setting up an Embassy and an office for Turkish Airlines for daily flights to Entebbe.
These, as well as construction companies (Mapa and Kolin), have been achieved - since 2010. Next on the agenda is setting up a hospital, a commercial bank, and a five star hotel. With the ground set, large scale investments will be rolled out in agriculture, energy, cement, oil, among other sectors. This year, modalities for the setting up of a five-star hotel and a branch of the Bank of Turkey will be finalized. Turkey, according to Eren, is looking at Uganda as a 'hub-country,' from which they will be able to reach the region and Africa as a whole.
Another objective is to improve trade between Uganda and Turkey, Europe's 7th largest economy, which in 2013 was worth about $30 million (about Shs 75 billion). This journey of building business relations spans more than a decade.
Over the years, the Turkish Business Council, and DEIK in conjunction with the Turkish Ministries of the Economy and that of Foreign Affairs, have been working at entrenching bilateral relations with Uganda through the Uganda Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UCCI) and the Union of Chamber and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB).
They have been doing this through business forums, delegation visits to either country, meetings and seminars aimed at bringing the business communities together for the mutual benefit of both countries. Turkey aims to enable Uganda get a bigger share of its $25 billion foreign direct investment worldwide. "On the other hand, our additional aim is to increase the share of Ugandan products in Turkey's import market," said Eren.
It has also been down to sharing experiences and good practices. Indeed, Uganda has a great deal to learn from Turkey. The government there has invested massively in infrastructure; a measure that has made traffic jams a rare thing in the capital. Flyovers enable traffic to flow smoothly in every corner of the huge city.
Trams, trains and buses have made mobility easy and cheap. Because Istanbul and Turkey form the intersection between Europe and Asia, huge commercial trucks roar on the roads as they connect the inland to massive ports and train stations. Also, because of the Trans European Motorway that runs through the country, Turkey has become a haven of opportunity and an important hub for trade between the two continents.
But it is from the massive industrial zones - numbering about 150 across Turkey and 15 in Istanbul - that Uganda has to pick its most important lessons. One of these is GOSB, a massive industrial zone in Istanbul, which since 1985, has become the largest conglomeration of foreign investors in the country.
Currently, more than 130 companies, 37 of them foreign giants, are engaged in mass production within GOSB. Turkish products, which range from cars to candy are exported to global markets - bringing in valuable foreign exchange amounting to $25 billion.
Nazim Yuvuz, a GOSB board member, wouldn't hesitate to describe Turkey as a land of "great opportunity and rewards." He said Turkey presents unique opportunities unheard of in the rest of Europe because of its well- structured infrastructure, a supportive investment policy framework, central position and comparably cheap labour. "This country will be a leader in investment and trade in this region in the very near future," he says emphatically.
From the evidence on the ground, one would be deceiving oneself not to be believe him. That is why Erbil Akgun, the general manager of Turkish Airlines in Uganda, is positive about Uganda's future given the significance of the Turkish investments that are in the pipeline.
He says already, Turkish investments in Uganda are making a difference. They include construction, manufacturing, healthcare and education, restaurants, among others. On the other hand, the number of Ugandan business people who ply the Istanbul route has risen, taking advantage of European standard goods such as clothing, furniture and electronics at very affordable prices only comparable to those in China.
Indeed, Turkey is aiming to loosen China's grip on the East African market as well as that of traditional European and North American trading partners. It has a big advantage given the cheaper but very high quality standards of its products and services. The huge and virgin market in Africa also appears to be a major attraction for Turkish investors, more competitive than the European market and less protected than the Asian markets. It's a big opportunity for Uganda.