By Denis Jjuuko
Every time I make a trip to Arua and like most people who travel to that part of the country, I stop over in Pakwach to enjoy some of the most delicious fish you will ever find. The fish is very small in size and is usually sold on the roadside. It is a ready to eat crunchy snack commonly known as Nang-Nang. It is probably tastier than Nsenene (grasshoppers).
I doubt that many Ugandans have ever tasted this delicacy. So as I enjoyed the fish on my last trip to Arua in January this year, I remembered what somebody had told me. Sometime last year, I received a call from West Africa. On the line was Dennis Aliga, an acclaimed investment banker and former advisor to the ruler of Dubai. In the 30 minutes or so we were online, Aliga spoke fondly about West Nile and the potential of the region. He had lived in Dubai and worked with the rulers there and saw how that desert was transformed. Aliga, who was born in West Nile even though he is a global citizen now thinks that parts of Uganda including his native West Nile can easily become as developed as Dubai. He thinks the region is ripe for investment.
To that effect, Aliga and his friends have set up a web portal, West Nile Web, which identifies opportunities in the region. It also has a directory of who is doing what in West Nile. The potential of West Nile is of course mainly untapped starting with the fish I think you can only get if you make the trip. Why isn’t this fish on the shelves of Capital Shoppers or Quality Supermarket?
But West Nile isn’t only about fish (even though there is also Angara fish). There is much more. The region borders two countries — South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Murchison Falls National Park is partly in West Nile as well as the River Nile that cuts through it. There are many religious sites, which have potential for tourism as well as virgin land suitable for agriculture. West Nile is also known for its honey. There is an airfield for small aircraft, which could easily be upgraded to a major one to serve this part of the continent. I think it is such opportunities that triggered Aliga to spend some of his money on a portal from which information can be got about the region.
But my major issue is that all those things mentioned that make West Nile a potential hub for investment aren’t unique to it. There are many opportunities in all major parts of the country. Karamoja has the same potential and that is why the BMK Group is building a branch of Hotel Africana there. But generally we don’t seem to have the country divided up and each region being seriously promoted to what it can offer best.
The Internet gives us opportunities to do such promotions. However, we have over 120 districts in Uganda and countless municipalities and town councils. You hardly find any that is doing any systematic promotion of what is available in their area. There are many Members of Parliament as well, what are they doing as groups to support their regions? Politics should be about attracting investment especially in a country where university graduates migrate to some countries to work as maids. I see groups like Buganda Parliament Caucus, Acholi Parliamentary Group and the like but I am yet to learn of their plans beyond making grandiose political statements. Can’t political rhetoric most times be replaced with ideas that can spur development?
And like we have seen with Aliga using his personal resources to promote investment in his region, why can’t other individuals do it? Look at Ssese Islands, a Google search as I wrote this article returned no website that is focused on the most beautiful part of our country. I read a tweet from a Nigerian lady who came to Jinja and declared it the Adventure Capital of Africa and got many retweets. The politicians from Busoga don’t say much about it. You only here one abusing the other! And the local governments? You don’t hear much from them either.
We also have ministries for regions like Karamoja, Luweero, and Bunyoro yet there isn’t a single web portal dedicated to presenting opportunities in those regions. There isn’t a single investment forum or conference on development focused on particular regions and presenting what each of these regions could offer. In fact some businesspeople in these regions, once they get money they rush and build apartments, rentals and small hotels in Kampala. This is because nobody tells them how their regions are good for investment beyond the wholesale shops. Investors need to start looking at these regions and decide where to invest. Of course the government is responsible for doing all that but like we have seen with the West Nile Web, individuals too can do something.
The writer is a media consultant and businessman. firstname.lastname@example.org
*Internet photo of Nang Nang fish