I vividly recall my negative perception about Uganda ahead of my arrival in December 2021 as the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Uganda. Much of it was formed through watching such movies as The Last King of Scotland and Operation Entebbe about the dictator Idi Amin, as well as literature describing it as one of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and a place riddled with a lot of corruption.
Unfortunately, this is the impression most people outside Uganda have of the country, and it is still continuing to be brought out by such incidents as the outbreak of the Ebola virus and the dilemma on the succession of the presidency.
Nevertheless, having lived in Uganda for over a year now, I realise how narrow my previous views were. Now when I think of Uganda, positive images come to mind much quicker than the negative ones.
The potential of Uganda in becoming a beautiful pearl one day is becoming increasingly clear.
Since arriving in Uganda, I have interacted with government officials and the diplomatic corps, travelled to various Official Development Assistance (ODA) project sites of Korea, visited a number of universities, traditional markets, and I have definitely discovered the beautiful side of this country.
With the annual temperature averaging at the pleasant 15-28 degrees Celsius, Uganda has been nominated as a must-visit tourist attraction by the CNN. It boasts of amazing heavenly nature such as the third largest mountain in Africa Mount Rwenzori, the bountiful wild animals and the source of the stunning River Nile.
Indeed Winston Churchill was ahead of his time when he recognised this beauty by referring to Uganda as the “Pearl of Africa” in his publication My African Journey (1908).
In order to create a majestic pearl of perfection, a clam must endure for a long time without disgorging the impurities. This applies to Uganda as well. Despite its pains and conflicts from the long period of colonisation and civil wars, today Uganda has very high potential for development.
Uganda showed strong signs of GDP growth with the annual rate increasing to 5~6% before the COVID19 Pandemic. Beginning 2025, 230,000 barrels of oil are expected to be exported daily from Uganda through Tanga, Tanzania. It is projected to be worth a quarter of the total GDP of Uganda.
In addition, the political and economic influence of Uganda continues to expand through the East African Community (EAC). Uganda is a youthful country with the average age being 16 (Korea’s is 43), and its ability to communicate fluently in English also further raises the potential for global development.
Since 1987, the Korean government has been supporting the socio-economic development of Uganda continuously through ODA, with the aim of helping Uganda achieve maximum growth potential. Our government has selected Uganda as one of our core partner countries.
We are strengthening our cooperation with the main focus on the Health, Education and Rural Development sectors, following the mid-long term national planning of Vision 2040 and National Development Plan III of the government of Uganda.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Uganda and Korea.
Reflecting on the history of our bilateral relations, we wish to use this anniversary as an opportunity to deepen our ties.
We are in the process of pursuing agreements on investment guarantee and prevention of double taxation in order to transit from our current one-sided assistance to a sustainable bilateral economic relationship centred on trade and investment.
Uganda is a pearl which is hidden, still unfamiliar to the world. As such, only those who recognise the true value of Uganda will be able to appreciate its beauty.
As the Korean government prepares for the 2024 Korea-Africa Special Summit, we hope that the event will prompt the reemergence of the hidden pearl of Africa.
The author is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea in Uganda
This article was first published by the edaily newspaper of Korea.