1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Ugandan government and authorities vocally welcome FDI, and advocate for its job creation benefits. Furthermore, the country’s free market economy, liberal financial system, and close to 45-million-person consumer market attract investors. However, rampant corruption, weak rule of law, threats to open and free internet access (including a five-day complete internet shutdown for political reasons in January 2021), and an increasingly aggressive tax collection regime by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) create a challenging business environment.
The 2019 Investment Code Act (ICA) established both benefits and challenges to FDI. The ICA abolished restrictions on technology transfer and repatriation of funds by foreign investors, and established new incentives (e.g., tax waivers) for investment. However, the ICA also set a minimum value of $250,000 for FDI and a yet-to-be-specified minimum value for portfolio investment. Additionally, the ICA authorized the Ugandan government to alter these thresholds at any time, thereby creating potential uncertainty for investors. Under the ICA, investment licenses carry specific performance conditions varying by sector, such as requiring investors to allow the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) to monitor operations, or to employ or train Ugandan citizens, or use Ugandan goods and services to the greatest extent possible. Further, the ICA empowers the Ugandan government to revoke investment licenses of entities that “tarnish the good repute of Uganda as an attractive base for investment.” The government has yet to revoke any investor license on this ground.
In October 2019, the Ugandan government passed the Communications Licensing Framework (CLF), which requires telecommunication (telecom) companies to list 20% of their equity on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE), with the aim of increasing local ownership and reducing the repatriation of profits. In 2020, MTN Uganda and Airtel Uganda, which together control about 70% of mobile telecom market share, renewed their operator licenses for $100 million and $75 million respectively. In two years, both companies will start the process of listing on the USE, in compliance with the CLF.
The Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) facilitates investment by granting licenses to foreign investors, as well as promoting, facilitating, and supervising investments. It provides a “one-stop” shop online where investors can apply for a license, pay fees, register businesses, apply for land titles, and apply for tax identification numbers. In practice, investors may also need to liaise with other authorities to complete legal requirements. The UIA also triages complaints from foreign investors. The UIA’s website ( ), the International Trade Administration’s website ( ), and BidNetwork’s website, the Business in Development Network Guide to Uganda ( ), provide information on the laws and reporting requirements for foreign investors. In practice, investors often ultimately bypass the UIA after experiencing bureaucratic delays and corruption. For larger investments, companies have reported that political support and relationship-building from high-ranking Ugandan officials is a prerequisite.
President Museveni hosts an annual investors’ roundtable to consult a select group of foreign and local investors on increasing investment, occasionally including U.S. investors.
Every Ugandan embassy has a trade and investment desk charged with advertising investment opportunities in the country.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Except for land, foreigners have the right to own property, establish businesses, and make investments. Ugandan law permits foreign investors to acquire domestic enterprises and to establish green field investments. The Companies Act of 2010 permits the registration of companies incorporated outside of Uganda.
Foreigners seeking to invest in the oil and gas sector must register with the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) to be added to its National Supplier Database. More information on this process is available on the Embassy’s website (select – Registering a U.S. Firm on the National Supplier Database): ( ).
The Petroleum Exploration and Development Act and the Petroleum Refining, Conversion, Transmission, and Midstream Storage Act require companies in the oil sector to prioritize using local goods and labor when possible and give the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) the authority to determine the extent of local content requirements in the sector.
All investors must obtain an investment license from the UIA. The UIA evaluates investment proposals based on several criteria, including potential for generation of new earnings; savings of foreign exchange; the utilization of local materials, supplies, and services; the creation of employment opportunities in Uganda; the introduction of advanced technology or upgrading of indigenous technology; and the contribution to locally or regionally balanced socioeconomic development.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The UIA one-stop shop website assists in registering businesses and investments. In practice, investors and businesses may need to liaise with multiple authorities to set up shop, and the UIA lacks the capacity to play a robust business facilitation role. According to the 2020 World Bank Doing Business report, business registration takes an average of 25 days.
Prospective investors can also register online and apply for an investment license at . The UIA also assists with the establishment of local subsidiaries of foreign firms by assisting in registration with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau ( ). New businesses are required to obtain a Tax Identification Number from the URA, by clicking the “My TIN” link at or through the UIA. Businesses must also secure a trade license from the municipality or local government in the area in which they intend to operate. Investors in specialized sectors such as finance, telecoms, and petroleum often need an additional permit from the relevant ministry in coordination with the UIA.
Under the Uganda Free Zones Act of 2014, the government continues to establish free trade zones for foreign investors seeking to produce goods for export and domestic use. Such investors receive a range of benefits including tax rebates on imported inputs and exported products. An investor seeking a free zone license may submit an application to the Uganda Free Zones Authority ( ).
The Ugandan government does not promote or incentivize outward investment nor does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
4. Industrial Policies
The Public Private Partnership Act of 2015 creates a legal framework for the government to partner with private investors, both local and foreign, to finance investments in key sectors. The government has undertaken joint ventures with foreign investors in the oil and gas sector and for infrastructure projects.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Uganda Free Zones Authority (UFZA) ( ) regulates free trade zones, which offer a range of tax advantages. The government’s process in awarding free trade zone status is generally transparent. In January 2021, UFZA commissioned a $12.7 million public free zone at the Entebbe International Airport with seven production units and trade facilitation offices. This follows UFZA issuing a September 2019 license for designers and developers to launch a free zone focusing on blockchain, distributed ledger technology, and other developing technologies.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The ICA does not impose any direct requirements regarding local employment or specify mandatory numbers for local employment in management positions. The broadness of its provisions, however, arguably leaves the door open for enforcement of local employment requirements. The Petroleum Exploration, Development, and Production Act and the Petroleum Refining, Conversion, Transmission, and Midstream Storage Act require investors in the oil sector to contribute to the creation of a local skilled Ugandan workforce. The National Local Content Bill, which is currently undergoing parliamentary review after being rejected by President Museveni in October 2020, would require companies to petition the Ugandan government for permission to hire a non-Ugandan, on the basis of a claim that no qualified Ugandan is available. Additionally, the bill would require companies to have a Ugandan deputy for every non-Ugandan senior manager and to submit a clear plan to localize these positions to the governing authority.
While the UIA has significantly improved its processing of work permits and investment licenses for foreigners, bureaucratic hurdles, inconsistent enforcement, and corruption can still make obtaining visas and work permits onerous and expensive. All foreign investors must acquire an investment license from the UIA.
In as much as there is not yet a general localization law in Uganda, some sector-specific laws impose localization requirements. The petroleum laws require foreign oil companies to prioritize the use of local goods and labor when available, and the MEMD has the authority to determine the extent of local content requirements in the sector. The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act, which regulates government procurements, also imposes thresholds on the contracts for which a foreign company can apply. In the petroleum laws, MEMD has the responsibility to monitor companies in the oil sector to ensure they are meeting the local content requirements. Additionally, the Office of the Auditor General carries out audits of the oil and gas sector to ensure adherence to local content requirements. These performance reviews can form grounds for granting incentives or enforcement of the restrictions. Since the 2013 oil laws were passed, no company has been punished for breaching local content rules. Investment incentives in Uganda are quite controversial because they apply on a case-by-case basis, even though the ICA lists seven grounds for granting investment incentives.
While there are no general requirements for foreign information technology (IT) providers to give the government any source code or information related to encryption, the National Information Technology Authority Act allows the Minister for Information, Communication, and Technology to order an IT provider to submit any information to the National Information Technology Authority (NITA). Similarly, the Computer Misuse Act allows the government to “compel a service provider…to co-operate and assist the competent authorities in the collection or recording of traffic data in real time, associated with specified communication transmitted by means of a computer system.” These regulatory requirements apply to all IT providers, both foreign and local. There are no measures to prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside of Uganda. In 2017, however, the Bank of Uganda interpreted Uganda’s cyber security legislation as providing it with the mandate to require financial institutions to relocate their data centers to Uganda to provide the government with access to customers’ digital financial information. Citing customer privacy concerns, financial firms remain in negotiations with the Bank of Uganda over this policy.
Uganda has generally adequate laws to combat corruption, and an interlocking web of anti-corruption institutions. The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority Act’s Code of Ethical Standards (Code) requires bidders and contractors to disclose any possible conflict of interest when applying for government contracts. However, endemic corruption remains a serious problem and a major obstacle to investment. Transparency International ranked Uganda 142 out of 180 countries in its 2020 Corruption Perception Index, dropping five places from 2019. While anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and political parties, in practice many well-connected individuals enjoy de facto immunity for corrupt acts and are rarely prosecuted in court.
The government does not require companies to adopt specific internal procedures to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. Larger private companies implement internal control policies; however, with 80% of the workforce in the informal sector, much of the private sector operates without such systems. While Uganda has signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention, it is not yet party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and does not protect non–governmental organizations investigating corruption. Some corruption watchdog organizations allege government harassment.
U.S. firms consistently identify corruption as a major hurdle to business and investment. Corruption in government procurement processes remains particularly problematic for foreign companies seeking to bid on Ugandan government contracts.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contacts at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:
Contact at “watchdog” organization:
10. Political and Security Environment
Uganda has experienced periodic political violence associated with elections and other political activities. Security services routinely use excessive force to stop peaceful protests and demonstrations. There are no prominent examples in the past ten years of such violence leading to significant damage of projects or installations. There has been an uptick in crime over the past several years, and political tensions increased dramatically in the run up to, during, and in the wake of the 2021 general elections.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Over 70% of Ugandans are engaged in the agriculture sector, and only 20% work in the formal sector. Statistics on the number of foreign/migrant workers are not publicly available; however, given the abundance of cheap domestic labor, there is minimal import of unskilled labor. Conversely, there is an acute shortage of skilled and specialized laborers.
While there are no explicit provisions requiring the hiring of nationals, there are broad standards requiring investors to contribute to the creation of local employment. The Petroleum Exploration, Development, and Production Act of 2013 and the Petroleum Refining, Conversion, Transmission, and Midstream Storage Act of 2013 require investors to contribute to workforce development by providing skills training for workers.
Ugandan labor laws specify procedures for termination of employment and for termination payments. Depending on the employee’s duration of employment, employers are required to notify an employee two weeks to three months prior to the termination date. Employees terminated without notice are entitled to severance wages. Ugandan law only differentiates between termination with notice (or payment in lieu of notice) and summary dismissal (termination without notice). Summary dismissal applies when the employee fundamentally violates his/her terms of employment. Uganda does not provide unemployment insurance or any other social safety net programs for terminated workers. Current law requires employers to contribute 10% of an employee’s gross salary to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). The Uganda Retirement Benefits Regulatory Authority Act of 2011 provides a framework for the establishment and management of retirement benefits schemes for the public and private sectors and created an enabling environment for liberalization of the pension sector.
The Employment Act of 2006 does not allow waivers of labor laws for foreign investors. Ugandan law allows workers, except members of the armed forces, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The National Organization of Trade Unions (NOTU) has 20 member unions. Its rival, the Central Organization of Free Trade Unions (COFTU), also has 20 member unions. Union officials estimate that nearly half of employees in the formal sector belong to unions. In 2014, the Government of Uganda created the Industrial Court (IC) to arbitrate labor disputes. Public sector strikes are not uncommon in Uganda; however, there were no strikes during the past year.
Uganda ratified all eight International Labor Organization fundamental conventions enshrining labor and other economic rights, and partially incorporated these conventions into the 1995 Constitution, which stipulates and protects a wide range of economic rights. Despite these legal protections, many Ugandans work in unsafe environments due to poor enforcement and the limited scope of the labor laws. Labor laws do not protect domestic, agricultural, and informal sector workers.
Uganda’s monthly minimum wage remains $1.64. In August 2019, President Museveni rejected the Minimum Wage Bill, which would have increased the monthly minimum wage to $36.00, and returned it to parliament for review. Museveni continues to argue that increasing Uganda’s minimum wage would undermine FDI and international competitiveness.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
|Host Country statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other|
|Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)||2020||$37,500||2020||$37,730|| https://www.imf.org/external/
|Foreign Direct Investment||Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||N/A||N/A||2019||$42||BEA data available at
|Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||BEA data available at
|Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP||N/A||N/A||2018||41%||UNCTAD data available at
|* Source for Host Country Data: Uganda Bureau of Statistics Statistical (UBO) Abstract 2020|
|Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||$9,294||100%||No Data Available|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
The UBOS does not publish specific country sources of inward investment so there is no effective comparison with the IMF data. The IMF data above, however, indicates that two tax havens, The Netherlands and Mauritius, are among the top five sources of inward investment in Uganda.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.