Jeroen Verheul, former Ambassador of the Netherlands in Uganda, discusses Uganda’s investment appeal.
European Times: What are the tasks of an Ambassador of the Netherlands in Uganda?
Jeroen Verheul: Besides development cooperation, which is the main focus of the Netherlands’ embassy here in Kampala, my work includes also trade promotion from the Netherlands to Uganda and vice versa. This can be through match-making between Dutch investors and Ugandan companies and entrepreneurs, as well as providing information to potential investors about business opportunities in Uganda.
European Times: What are some sectors of particular interest to Dutch investors?
Jeroen Verheul: During a trade mission in June this year, ten Dutch companies came to Uganda to look for business opportunities. Six of the companies were targeting agriculture, which is the sector that has traditionally attracted Dutch investment in Uganda; while two were interested in the construction sector; and the other two were offering consultancy services. In the past, several Dutch companies have invested in Uganda’s flower and vegetable industry, cheese production, solar energy, coffee-processing and trading, tourism and consultancy.
European Times: Which sectors do you believe have the most growth potential?
Jeroen Verheul: Agriculture, ICT, tourism and infrastructure all have excellent prospects, but there are many more. The East African Community initiative which aims at widening and deepening co-operation among the five partner states in this region has been a major factor in the expanding trade activities. Still there is a lot of untapped potential for example in transportation over Lake Victoria, and in developing more useful routes to use for export, like the Northern Corridor. In the tourism sector, there have been several Dutch investors in Uganda, but there is still a great potential in this sector.
European Times: What are some of the challenges for investors?
Jeroen Verheul: Infrastructure is one of the main challenges in Uganda. Not only transport infrastructure, but also electricity and access to financial services. One major challenge for Uganda is the international image, which is often still negative. But times have changed, the country is stable and has further developed; it has had an economic growth of more than 5% in the past years and the prospective is equally good. But this is still unknown to many people.
European Times: Why would investors be interested in Uganda instead of in neighbouring countries?
Jeroen Verheul: Uganda has an investor-friendly climate, businesses are developing fast, it has a strategic location in a fast-growing region. A very fast-growing population including a vast pool of labour and a rising middle class, means an expanding domestic but also regional market.
European Times: What is your personal message to potential foreign investors in Uganda?
Jeroen Verheul: Uganda is a wonderful country with high potential. Compared with surrounding countries, most investment opportunities in Uganda are untouched and the resources are great. The government is working hard to make Uganda known as a friendly place for foreign investors, who will be received with a smile by the generous, hospitable and welcoming English-speaking Ugandans.
Ambassador Jeroen Verheul has left Uganda after five years of service and will be succeeded by Alphons Hennekens who was the Netherlands ambassador in Bangladesh.