Kampala- Indian prime minister Narendra Modi jets in the country today for a two-day State visit en route to South Africa for the 10th Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) Summit.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary, Ambassador Patrick Mugoya, said top on Mr Modi’s visit are discussions on bilateral relations, including signing of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) in areas of cooperation between Uganda and India.
The MoUs cover energy, visa waiver for holders of diplomatic and official passports, cultural cooperation and exchange programmes, film production, defence, ICT and establishment of a regional materials testing laboratory in Uganda.
“It is an important visit in the Uganda-India relations at the highest level,” Mr Mugoya said in a telephone interview yesterday.
It is the first state visit to Uganda by an Indian prime minister in 21 years.
As part of cementing ties, India will extend two credit lines to Uganda, $141m (Shs523b) for extension of electricity lines and construction of substations, and $64m (Shs237b) for agriculture and diary production.
Mr Mugoya said government has been negotiating the two loans “for some time.”
After bilateral talks with President Museveni at State House Entebbe, Mr Modi will later in the evening address and engage the Indian community in Uganda at Kololo Independence Grounds.
Mr Modi, who will jet in from neighbouring Rwanda, is visiting Africa for the second time.
His first visit was in July 2016 when he visited Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa, on a charm offensive mission to counter efforts by other Asian powers, particularly China.
Earlier in 2015, Mr Modi convened the India-Africa summit, the third of its kind, in New Dehli to strengthen ties with African countries.
The summit was attended by some 19 African heads of State, including President Museveni.
Mr Museveni has visited India thrice — in 1992, 2008 and 2015 — in official capacity, and four times in private capacity.
In 2017, Indian vice president Mohammad Hamid Ansari visited Uganda and donated medical supplies — drugs and equipment worth $3b (Shs10b).
In April this year, President Museveni and Mr Modi met briefly on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London.
Tomorrow, Mr Modi will address the India-Uganda business forum at Kampala Serena Hotel and afterwards address Parliament. He will depart for South Africa at midday.
Mr Mugoya said during Mr Modi’s visit, the two sides will also discuss ways of bridging the current trade imbalance in India’s favour.
Bank of Uganda statistics indicate Uganda imported goods worth $774m (Shs2.8 trillion) as of 2017 and exported goods worth $38m (Shs141b).
From India, Uganda majorly imports pharmaceuticals, veterinary products, oils, distillation products, electrical, iron and steel, stationery products, among others.
Mr Modi is the second high profile Head of State to visit the East African region in less than 12 hours.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Rwanda yesterday en route to South Africa to attend the BRICS Summit which kicks off tomorrow under the theme: ‘Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.’
Currently, China ranks as Africa’s largest trading partner, overtaking the United States, with trade estimates of $220b in 2014.
India’s trade with Africa, on the other hand, averaged at $24b in 2015/2016, according to the Indian Chamber of Commerce but was expected to shoot to $117b by 2020 on account of the strengthened economic ties.
BRICS is an association of five major emerging economies aimed at furthering trade dialogue and countering developed economies.
Mr Mugoya said Uganda has been invited at the summit as the “Africa outreach segment” together with Togo, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Gabon, Angola and Ethiopia.
“Reaching out to us (Uganda) to participate in their dialogue shows that they recognise our development path,” he said.
History of relations
Uganda and India established diplomatic ties in 1965, although there existed a long-standing relationship as early as the 1900s when the British colonial administration brought in thousands of Indians to work as labourers on construction of the Mombasa-Kampala railway line.
Ties between the two countries, however, encountered headwinds in the 1970s when then President Idi Amin embarked on nationalising the economy and expelled some 60,000 Indians.
The ties were later normalised in the 1980s after President Museveni assumed power and a number of Indians returned. There are conflicting figures on the exact number of Indians currently living in Uganda.
Some sources point to more than 30,000 Indians but for several years now, they have been demanding to be recognised and gazetted in the Constitution as a tribe, citing their immense contribution to the economy.