JOHANNESBURG — Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has called for stronger trade relations among African countries and lamented the high cost of buying products and services outside the continent.
Museveni on Tuesday began a state visit to South Africa in a bid to encourage better economic ties between Uganda and Africa’s most developed economy.
He met with President Cyril Ramaphosa accompanied by members of his cabinet who were scheduled to meet with their South African counterparts and sign various trade and bilateral agreements.
Making brief remarks ahead of the meeting with Ramaphosa, Museveni emphasized the importance of intracontinental trade, while highlighting some of the challenges that were making this difficult to achieve.
Among some of his priorities were the procurement of coal from South Africa to be used to transform Uganda’s high-grade iron ore into steel, Museveni said.
“Our part of the world, as you can see, is very far from the ocean, 1,000 miles,” he said.
“Bringing steel products from China, India and Ukraine, in the past, is very expensive, the freight alone is bigger than even the cost of the product itself,” said Museveni. “So it is very important that we develop an inland steel industry for Uganda and those areas around there. We need coal from South Africa.”
Museveni said it is important for the continent to be peaceful in order for intracontinental trade to be successful.
“This will be a free trade area only if it is peaceful. But now the whole place is in chaos,” he said.
Ramaphosa said South Africa sees Uganda as an important partner in East Africa and lauded its contribution to “regional economic and political integration as well as regional peace and stability.”
The South African leader said that “as a continent we need to continue to work towards the peaceful resolution of conflict and emphasize dialogue over military confrontation. … South Africa remains deeply concerned about recent developments in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. We strongly condemn the upsurge of conflict, being fuelled by armed groups.”
South Africa and Ugandan ministers signed bilateral and economic agreements in various sectors including tourism, transport and agriculture.
Museveni and Ramaphosa were scheduled to address a South Africa-Uganda business forum later on Tuesday.
Uganda is South Africa’s 15th-largest trading partner in Africa and the second-largest in East Africa, according to South African government figures.
Between 2017 and 2021 total trade between the two countries reached a peak of $162 million.
South Africa’s exports to the Republic of Uganda amounted to $169 million in 2018, while its imports from Uganda increased from $6.8 million in 2017 to $17.5 million in 2020.