Uganda’s investment climate continues to present both important opportunities and major challenges for U.S. investors. With a market economy, ideal climate, ample arable land, young and largely English-speaking population, and at least 1.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil, Uganda offers numerous opportunities for investors. Uganda’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.5 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2018/2019. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had projected 5.5 – 6 percent growth in FY 2019/2020, though the combined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, the current locust infestation, and the negative economic effects associated with Uganda’s impending elections are likely to reduce this figure. Uganda maintains a liberal trade and foreign exchange regime. Foreign direct investment (FDI) surged by a whopping 80 percent to USD 1.75 billion in FY 2018/2019, driven by the construction and manufacturing sub-sectors. Uganda’s power, agricultural, construction, infrastructure, technology, and healthcare sectors present important opportunities for U.S. business and investment.
President Yoweri Museveni and government officials vocally welcome foreign investment in Uganda. However, the government’s actions sometimes do not support its rhetoric. Closing political space, poor economic management, endemic corruption, growing sovereign debt, weak rule of law, and the government’s failure to invest adequately in the health and education sectors all create risks for investors. U.S. firms may also find themselves competing with third country firms that cut costs and win contracts by disregarding environmental regulations and labor rights, dodging taxes, and bribing officials. Shortages of skilled labor and a complicated land tenure system also impede investment.
An uncertain mid-to-long-range political environment also increases risk to foreign businesses and investors. Domestic political tensions have increased in the run-up to the 2021 elections as 34-year incumbent President Museveni faces new challengers and a disenfranchised youth demographic that comprises 77 percent of the population.
On the legislative front, in a move aimed ostensibly at reducing the repatriation of hard currency profits, in October 2019, the government approved the Communications Licensing Framework which imposed a 20 percent mandatory stock listing requirement on mobile telecommunication service providers. The same framework also requires telecommunication infrastructure companies to sell 20 percent of their equity to Ugandan citizens.
|TI Corruption Perception Index||2019||137 of 180||https://www.transparency.org/cpi2019|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||116 of 190||https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/
|Global Innovation Index||2019||102 of 129||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2017||USD 42 million||https://apps.bea.gov/international/
|World Bank GNI per capita||2018||USD 620||https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The government generally welcomes foreign portfolio investment and has put in place a legal and institutional framework to manage such investments. The Capital Markets Authority (CMA) licenses brokers and dealers and oversees the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE), which is now trading the stock of 18 companies. Liquidity remains constrained to enter and exit sizeable positions on the USE. Capital markets are open to foreign investors and there are no restrictions for foreign investors to open a bank account in Uganda. However, the government imposes a 15 percent withholding tax on interest and dividends. Foreign-owned companies may trade on the stock exchange, subject to some share issuance requirements. The government respects IMF Article VIII and refrains from restricting payments and transfers for current international transactions.
Credit is available from commercial banks on market terms and foreign investors can access credit. However, the high yields on GOU-issued (risk-free) securities pushes up interest rates on commercial loans, undermining the private sector’s access to affordable credit.
Money and Banking System
Formal banking participation remains low, with only 20 percent of Ugandans having access to bank accounts, many via their membership in formal savings groups. However, only about five million Ugandans have bank accounts, while more than 24 million use mobile money to conduct basic financial transactions. Uganda’s banking and financial sector is generally healthy, though non-performing loans remain a problem. According to the Bank of Uganda’s 2019 Financial Stability Report, Uganda’s non-performing loan rate stood at 3.8 percent at the end of June 2019. Uganda has 26 commercial banks with the top six controlling at least 60 percent of the banking sector’s total assets, valued at USD 8.6 billion. The Bank of Uganda regulates the banking sector, and foreign banks may establish branches in the country. In February, the Financial Action Taskforce added Uganda to its “Grey List” due to the country’s insufficient implementation of its anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism policies. As a result, Uganda’s correspondent banking relationships will face increased oversight, increasing transaction costs, and potentially jeopardizing some correspondent banking relationships. Uganda does not restrict foreigners’ ability to establish a bank account.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Uganda keeps open capital accounts, and there are no restrictions on capital transfers in and out of Uganda. If, however, an investor benefited from tax incentives on the original investment, he or she will need to seek a “certificate of approval to “externalize” the funds. Investors may convert funds associated with any form of investment into any world currency. The Ugandan shilling (UGX) trades on a market-based floating exchange rate.
There are no restrictions for foreign investors on remittances to and from Uganda.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
In 2015, the government established the Uganda Petroleum Fund (PF) to receive and manage all government revenues from the oil and gas sector. By law, the government must spend a portion of proceeds from the fund on oil-related infrastructure, with parliament appropriating the remainder of revenues through the normal budget procedure. At the end of 2019, the PF had a balance of USD 20 million. The 2019 Auditor General’s report concluded that the absence of a policy regarding the management of the PF has led to inefficient and ineffective spending and investment decisions. In 2019, the GOU established the Petroleum Investment Advisory Committee (Committee) to oversee the investment of PF funds, however, the Committee did not pass the proposed Petroleum Investment Reserve Policy (Policy), which aimed to establish the investment guidelines. In the absence of the Policy, PF funds continue to be allocated to the national budget.