The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gen Abubaker Jeje Odongo, has on Thursday, met and held talks with the Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.
Odongo is in Russia on an official visit.
In his opening remarks, Lavrov expressed pleasure in receiving and hosting his Ugandan counterpart in Russia. He said Odongo’s visit reminds him of his recent trip to Uganda.
The top Russian diplomat visited Uganda in July last year during his African tour to strengthen ties with the continent and seek support against Western pressure over Moscow’s special military operation in Ukraine.
“I have fond memories of my visit to the hospitable Republic of Uganda back in July 2022 and our fruitful talks with President Yoweri Museveni. We consider the development of bilateral partnership, which stretches back several decades, to be a priority,” Lavrov said on Thursday.
“In 2022, we marked the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our countries. I believe that today we have a great opportunity to discuss all areas of our cooperation ahead of this event, both as part of bilateral cooperation and at the global stage, including regional processes underway on the African continent,” he added.
At the end of July, Moscow will host the second Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg where it will seek to further cooperation between Russia and African nations in areas of, among others, military, economic, and political cooperation. Today, Lavrov expressed optimism that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni will attend.
“We hope that President Yoweri Museveni will attend the second Russia-Africa Summit, which will be held in St Petersburg in late July, like he did the first summit. In autumn 2019, the President of Uganda visited Sochi, where he held talks with President Vladimir Putin,” said Lavrov.
The inaugural Russia-Africa Summit in 2019 in Sochi, saw leaders and representatives of Africa’s 54 countries participate, Uganda inclusive and will again participate in this year’s Summit.
But what are some of the key areas of interest for Uganda?
Assert Uganda’s neutrality position on Russia-Ukraine conflict
Uganda wants to reaffirm its neutrality view of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and also communicate its sovereignty regarding its Foreign Policy.
Since imposing sanctions on Russia by the U.S and Russia, with attempts to isolate it as a ‘punishment’, for launching a Special Military Operation in Ukraine in February last year, pressures have been mounted on countries in the world, to support them and export control packages against Moscow.
Uganda, on several occasions, abstained in UN General Assembly votes regarding the same. In August last year, President Museveni said, Uganda will continue cooperating with Russia, since it is not Kampala’s doctrine to inherit other countries’ enemies.
“We want to trade with Russia, we want to trade with all countries of the World. We don’t believe in being enemies of somebody’s enemy, no. We want to make our own enemies not to fight other people’s enemies, this is our doctrine,” Museveni said.
He reiterated the same at joint press conference with a European Union delegation, two days later, Museveni defended the country’s relationship with Russia. “How can we be against somebody who has never harmed us?” Museveni asked.
“If Russia makes mistakes, we tell them,” Museveni said, citing his participation in student demonstrations against the crushing of the Prague Spring by the Soviet Union in 1968.
“But when they have not made a mistake, we cannot be against them,” he added.
Museveni had earlier that month, in meeting with the U.S Ambassador to the United Nations H.E Linda Thomas-Greenfield at State House Entebbe, told the U.S to desist from involving Africa in sanctions imposed on Russia.
“We are also appealing to the U.S that if they really want to help Africa, they should consider separating us from the sanctions in a war where we are not participating,” he noted.
The President reiterated the same last year while responding to a question by Plus News reporter, Kungu Al-mahadi Adam. He said: “Why are we taking that stand (neutrality) on Russia-Ukraine conflict, it is because it is the correct one. We know the history very well. I have talked to all these leaders about our stand and it is the correct one.”
Now that is the position Uganda would like to reecho to the World. Uganda wants to communicate to the world powers that African states also have the back to determine the direction of their Foreign Policy.
Russia’s re-engagement with Uganda
Uganda seeks to cement the already flourishing relations with Moscow particularly in trade and military.
Russia is Uganda’s number one source of military equipment. Moscow has also been helping the country with technology and knowledge transfer in the military sector.
In 2011, Museveni purchased six Sukhoi Su-30MK2 fighters from Russia amidst protest from government officials, including then Central Bank Governor Emmanuel Mutebile. The planes cost about $740m at a time when inflation had skyrocketed to above 30%.
Russia exports to Uganda averaged about $50m for most of the years in the last decade but went up unusually again in 2020 by five-folds. This is the year after Museveni returned from Russia in 2019 for the first Russia-Africa summit.
Uganda looks at the summit as an avenue to attracting Foreign investors to Uganda.
President Museveni has in the recent past visit UAE, USA, UK among other countries courting investors the areas of energy, Agro-processing, tourism and hospitality, real estate, aviation, banking, mining, health and education sectors to prioritize Uganda.
In the past decade, Uganda has also tried to attract Russian private sector players with no success. In 2015, a consortium led by Russian companies was a surprise winner of a contract to construct a $4bn oil refinery. The company however walked away from the deal months later.
Uganda could use this Summit to ask Russian investors to take advantage of the many untapped opportunities available in the country.