Inside Uganda’s murky deals with foreign investors:

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk at all,” the American billionaire-internet entrepreneur, Mark Zuckerberg once famously told a Stanford University conference eleven years ago, the quote now acclaimed among investors.



Uganda has been down that risk path countless times and barely any lessons have been learnt.

In the latest series, Parliament last week on Thursday hastily passed the Executive’s proposal to sink Shs207b of taxpayers’ money in Roko Construction Ltd, which has been saddled with debt, through the acquisition of 150,000 preference shares. The 53-year-old firm has for long been dogged by fraud, waste and governance issues.

Discussions for capital injection through Share Subscription Agreement (SSA) into the troubled company were first laid bare early this month before Parliament. The matter was referred to the Committee on Finance, Planning, and Economic Development, to scrutinise the request.

As at the end of May, according to the committee report issued last Wednesday, Roko’s debts had soared to Shs202b, and other contingent liabilities totalled Shs130b.  

The committee agreed to the capital injection on basis that the company is still “commercially viable”, but on condition that the company be expeditiously audited by the Auditor General, the SSA be amended to include a reporting arrangement to Parliament on the company’s performance six months after the bailout, and the company lists on the stock exchange in two years—the move that should apply to all corporations in which government shares.

Opposition MPs, on the other hand, in their minority report recommended that Roko shouldn’t be given the bailout.

The MPs also argued that due diligence be undertaken, after which the government acquires equity in form of majority shares of up to 51 percent of any amount of share capital. Based on the current share capital,  the government would require only Shs16b.

Towards 7pm last Thursday and without quorum in the House, Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa, who presided over the session, altered the order paper to include this item. He revealed that the Executive had informed him that if Roko is given this saving grace in terms of a capital injection, there were fears that it might fold. Mr Tayebwa then put the matter to a vote, sending the House into acrimony. With scarcely any quorum, he purported to have the motion giving Roko a bailout approved.

Contested method

With the appointment of DP leader Norbert Mao as Justice minister filtering across newsrooms, this provided the perfect cover to conceal the Roko bailout deal, which was passed without the requisite quorum.

It is alleged that several journalists present were allegedly given an inducement ranging between Shs200,000 to Shs400,000 to let the story pass. A journalist at one of the media houses who spoke on anonymity revealed that this involved not only the distribution of the money, but the deletion of videos that broadcast journalists had earlier on filmed.

The Leader of Opposition, Mr Mathias Mpuuga, addressed journalists in regard to these concerns, but this was largely ignored.

“What happened last Thursday only happens in a banana Parliament like ours,” Butambala County MP Muwanga Kivumbi, also the Shadow Finance minister, told this newspaper. 

Four years ago, in May 2018, the Uganda Development Corporation (UDC), the holding company for government enterprises, sank Shs20b into the share purchase of 10 percent and later another Shs45b for 22 percent shares in the Atiak Sugar Factory in Amuru District.

The factory commissioned in October 2020 is owned by Horyal Investments Holding Company Ltd co-owned by business woman Aminah Hersi. The business venture was conceived to maximise sugar and power production and use the by-products from sugar production and molasses to produce ethanol for domestic and regional markets.

Currently, UDC holds 40 percent shares in the factory. The parliamentary committee on Trade heard mid-last year that government had sunk Shs101b in the venture, which went into share purchase and servicing shareholding loan, including installation of equipment and completion of construction works, which were supposed to be completed by Horyal Investments Holding Company Ltd.

Last December, Parliament approved another Shs108b as a supplementary vote to fund the mechanisation of the sugar factory. Last month, the factory suspended sugar production due to reduction in the supply of sugarcane to the factory.

Roko is not the only eye opener, Mr Kivumbi opined: “Look at Atiak? Parliament resolved that government buys equity and Shs100b was allocated, but we were told the money was used as seed capital to among others, buy equipment. What the money we approved for was different from it eventually did.”

“Look at how Uganda Telecom Ltd, which was a large company, was treated? We have even forgotten about that one. Look at how they sold the Uganda Commercial Bank?”

Stinking deals 

The Atiak-Roko deal came barely two months after a parliamentary ad hoc committee laid bare revelations of how 82.05 acres of prime land, part of the former Nakawa-Naguru estates was distributed after the ruinous failure of earlier plans to establish a satellite city.

According to designs presented to President Museveni, the much-vaunted blueprint would include recreational facilities, places of worship, Nakawa Division headquarters, a 5-star hotel, a referral hospital, an international school and a proposed shopping mall, and low to high-level condominiums.

The investors, the Comer Group owned by billionaire brothers Luke and Brian Comer in partnership with a hitherto unknown local company OpecPrime Properties, had been given land measuring 166 acres in 2005 with approval of Cabinet. The Comer Brothers walked away in 2017 citing the messy local politics and marginal economic prospects because Ugandans are poor to afford the proposed luxury homes.

Mr Comer revealed that the would-be project financers, the Dutch-based Netherlands Development Finance Company, were discouraged by the way Ugandan authorities handled the eviction of about 1,714 former tenants who had been cornered into signing a Memorandum of Understanding detailing that they would be given first priority to occupy the first 1,000 units of the flats/apartments once erected.

While the Comer Group has a track record in real estate development across the United Kingdom, there were questions in regard to the Uganda venture right from the onset. Afraid of critical reporting by the media, several top editors in major newspapers were promised condominiums in the satellite city to halt any ‘damaging stories.’

The project encountered the first headwinds in 2009 when investigations by then Inspector General of Government, Ms Faith Mwondha, halted the redevelopment on ground that OpecPrime and Comer Brothers were allocated the two estates in a fraudulent manner.

Asked about the problems plaguing the project during a December 21, 2008 press conference at State House, President Museveni said “investors should not pay for the mistakes” of government officials.

In a previous interview with Irish newspaper, the Independent, in 2015, the Comer brothers revealed that they were introduced to President Museveni by former British heavyweight boxing champion, Lennox Lewis.

The proverbial curse that has previously plagued similar projects at the former Shimoni Demonstration & PTC, and the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation land in Nakasero caught up with the satellite city.  “You see such things happening and you wonder where the technocrats that are supposed to guide government are? Where is the Ministry of Finance? Where is the Solicitor General who clears agreements? But what is the state of mind of the President who blesses these deals,” Mr Kivumbi opined.

“What we have seen so far is an eye opener, but the level of decay in government runs too deep.”

Any lessons learned?

Oftentimes either money or land is lost while the extent of the social-economic disruptions and losses is hard to quantify. But the common thread across these deals usually conducted at the behest of commission agents is that barely any due diligence is conducted on the investors as some turn out to be brief-case firms.

The proposed Nakawa-Naguru satellite city bears parallels with Akon City, the “futuristic” city powered by a cryptocurrency called “Akoin” pitched to President Museveni and his technocrats by the Senegalese-American singer-record producer, Akon.

The Akon city in Uganda, similar to one he pitched in his home country in West Africa six years ago, but has never taken off, is expected to be complete by 2036. 

In 2014, one Ugandan living in the United States, Mr Moses Katakanya, a computer programmer, pitched a business deal of setting up a computer factory in Uganda to American businesswoman cum international consultant Toresa Lou. Through contacts, a meeting was secured at State House on October 16, 2006, barely a year after the Nakawa-Naguru project had been blessed.

Immediately, the President was tickled with the idea of establishing the first computer and mobile phone plant in the country and even committed to scouting for more markets within the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa bloc.  The investors passing as Global Epoint and Avatar Technology Inc demanded enough land to accommodate the future plant. After 50-acres of land was allocated and a lease secured in the Namanve Industrial Park, the computer factory plans fell apart.

Three years ago, after Parliament contentiously approved the Ministry of Finance’s $379m (Shs1.4 triliion) security to a shadowy private investor to finance and construct a world class hospital along Entebbe, a project which has for the most part been mired in controversy, there is barely anything to show on the ground.

The Ministry of Finance had in its budget for this FY2022/2023 sneaked in Shs319b for the same project, but this vote was blocked by MPs.

Seven years after businessman Hamis Kiggundu made his pitch for the redevelopment of Nakivubo Stadium and Park Yard Market to President Museveni at State House Entebbe, the story is not any inspiring. Mr Kiggundu requested the President that government, through the Education ministry in liaison with the Uganda Land Commission, grant him a lease of 49 years to build and manage a business centre on the land.

The new stadium was expected to be completed by 2020 and have an estimated sitting capacity of 35,000 spectators, according to reports, but this is yet to be done.

The Pakwach District Woman MP, Ms Jane Pacuto, who is also the vice-chairperson of the parliamentary Finance committee, said: “I don’t think it is bad for the Head of State to source for investors. The systems and regulations are in place, but there is a tendency of rushing things and we all know how it goes.” 

Ms Pacuto added: “This way of doing things is not good; It affects service delivery, and sometimes we are dealing with borrowed money and don’t get value.” Lately, it is common for officials or commission agents to secure appointment with the presidency to introduce investors to him. Hardly a week passes without a group of “foreign investors” and technocrats posing for a photo. Some pundits have since christened State House, a “clearing house.”

Ms Pacuto argued that if the systems functioned independently, there would be no need to involve the president.

Ms Bireete argues that “we don’t benchmark or self-evaluate about what has worked or failed, even when we keep doing the same things the same way”.

“Our laws are clear.  They provide for consultation on everything, but orders stem from State House. There is nothing new under the sun until the day the system will change,”  she added.

What The law says...

In 2019, the government amended the Investment Code Act, which repealed the 1991 law, detailing changes in approach to attracting investment and dealing with potential investors by strengthening the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) as a one-stop investment centre.

According to the Act, it is mandatory for foreign entities in Uganda to register with UIA for which failure to comply results into a fine of Shs20m or a term of imprisonment of four years, or both. 

Section two details mechanisms for an investor to be granted incentives such as tax holiday, while Section 17 deals with registration of investors; an application for registration shall be accompanied by among others, a certificate of registration of the business, business plan which shall include—the name of the investment and detailed information on the type of investment, the action plan, date of commencement of operations, and detailed information on raw materials sourced in the country or in the locality where the investment is to operate.




From ideological pan-Africanism to pun-Africanism of convenience:

Really in this African constitutional merry making, there is no declaration of rule for life. Where a leader is likely by constitutional law to stay put in republic governance until the end of his or her life. The intention to die in State Office. That would be breaking the law of the land:



Written by Dr Jimmy Spire Ssentongo



Museveni is one of the preachers of pan-Africanism

One of the most attractive concepts among black African elites is ‘Pan-Africanism’.



Its appeal mainly arises out of its emotive connection with black identity and its evocation of painful memories of all that has happened to the black person ever since we came into contact with people from outside Africa. It attracts trans-border solidarity, held together by common colour and related histories.

In earlier years of pan-Africanism, when the likes of Du Bois, Senghor, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Kaunda told us about the need to unite as ‘black people’, the urgency was felt. Negritude, with all its valorisation of blackness, made immediate sense – attracting an orthodoxy that was easy to preach all across the black world.

Though differences set in along the way and immensely crippled the wave, pan-Africanism has somehow lingered on into the 21st Century in various forms. The danger with everything attractive is that, if not well guarded, it soon gets overtaken by fakes. Even in the world of merchandise, almost every good product has a couple of duplicates in its shadow. And fakes often out-scream the genuine, quickly becoming more popular among the gullible and those of low means due to their ‘affordability’.

This has been the fate of pan-Africanism among some African leaders. It has turned into a buzzword to be thrown around every time they are critiqued or confronted about their excesses.

Here is where one may ask: What sense should we make of President Museveni’s recent outbursts against ‘foreign actors’ and proclamations of being pro-Africa? Is this a pan-African proclamation that we should rally behind and celebrate? What should we make of his bashing of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on his 2016 inauguration?

It would be crucial to read all these outbursts and assurances within the context of their assertion. While the statements might be appealing in themselves, what motivates them? Why are they uttered in those particular circumstances?

Western bashing majorly takes on two shades: one, those that speak back to the ‘West’ simply for its unnecessary and patronising interference in African affairs. Two, those that tell off the ‘West’ and draw on pan-African sentiments only when the latter talks about their excesses at home (Africa).

I would refer to the latter category as pan-Africanists by convenience or opportunistic pan-Africanists. While they might hold some genuine records in fighting imperialism, they cleverly use this as a curtain to cover their anti-African acts. Pan-Africanism becomes that house they run to every time they are confronted for their ugly side.

It is not new to Africa that when leaders develop excessive tendencies in protection of their grip onto presidency, they tend to heighten their pan-African rhetoric. Their life presidency schemes are shrewdly dressed up in pan-African robes. We saw it in the last years of Idi Amin, Mobutu, Gaddafi, Mugabe, etc. Yet many of the same people are in bed with the ‘West’ when it is silent or supportive to their dictatorship.

I like using the analogy of a man who batters his wife and children, but a very quick to cry interference when neighbours threaten to take action to save his children from him. As though to say, ‘as the father, I am entitled to my violence against my family’.

No outsider (foreigner) should lecture me about how to treat my family. To him, a good neighbour is like the African Union – the club of like-minded peers that just looks on indifferently as he brutalises his family.

Do you expect such a family (the wife and children) to look at the neighbour as an aggressor? Do you expect them to cheer on the head of their house as he thumps his chest swearing to teach the foreigners a lesson? Is the head of family’s swearing against the neighbour done out of love for his people? 

There is indeed so much that the ‘West’ does against Africa through double-dealing. Many of the weapons used by African governments to intimidate, kill and mime African dissenters are supplied by the ‘West’. In many of their dealings with Africa, their interests are primary. It is rarely diplomatic altruism. They facilitate the oppressors as their mouths condemn the same. They will dismiss elections as totally undemocratic yet attend the endorsement of outcomes, in the name of not spoiling diplomatic relations.

Nevertheless, when your government is oppressive, it becomes difficult to appreciate foreign threats. It is partly the reason why even when government tagged Bobi Wine as a project of foreigners, few Ugandans cared. Even if it were true, it was a choice between two evils. And, in the immediate, people need jobs, food, healthcare, education, freedom, hope … Nationalism is only a means to these ends, not an end in itself.

If Western powers came back to colonise African countries, I doubt that many ordinary Africans under dictatorships would be bothered. Some people have had it real rough in the hands of ‘their own’ and may not mind whichever colour or origin delivers. By deed, tragically, a couple of African leaders have made colonialism attractive.

What patriotism or pan-Africanism lectures would make sense to the hundreds of desperate young boys and girls filling our airport on a daily to run out of frustration in Uganda into disguised slavery in the Middle East? What rhetoric of telling off the ‘West’ can they relate to?

On the contrary, many are praying for a chance to flee to those countries for survival. Pan-African speeches from rulers presiding over greedy kleptocratic governments that hardly care about the plight of struggling masses are just painful hypocritical noises to listen to.

The best pan-African leader is one who, in the first place, ensures that there is equity in distribution of national resources, that his people access good healthcare, education, have hope for their future, security, employment, and freedom to express their desires and choices. Short of this, pan-African proclamations are full of emptiness.

The author is a teacher of philosophy.


Mr. Jimmy Spire Ssentongo had me nearly lost my mind when he wrote pun instead of pan on the well known word of Africanism. But thanks to google. the meaning is now clear.

Pun means; "a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words which sound alike but have different meanings."
And then we have the meaning of

Pan as: In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Pan (/pæn/; Ancient Greek: Πάν, romanized: Pán) is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds, rustic music and impromptus, and companion of the nymphs. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr.


Even in the Pan-African country of Uganda, where the much loved President, Idi Amin ruled with his own dictatorial constitution, that phrase of "a life President in Uganda", became impossible and caused this country to go through several successive brutal civil wars.