Focus : CHOGM 2007: Uganda set to reap more than she ever sowed

John Mugema has a sad story to tell since Uganda was confirmed to host The Commonwealth Heads of Government and Mission (CHOGM) conference, slated for November 2007.

John Mugema has a sad story to tell since Uganda was confirmed to host The Commonwealth Heads of Government and Mission (CHOGM) conference, slated for November 2007.

Mugema used to live in Kansanga, just two kilometers from the city centre and was operating a kiosk on the roadside. But Mugema has been forced to shift to Nakulabye, a semi slum on the western fringes of Kampala city. His kiosk was shattered by Kampala City Council authorities.

They decided to expand the road to Speke Country Resort Munyonyo on the beautiful shoreline of Lake Victoria, where the larger part of the conference will be held.

The whole region has their eyes set on Uganda. The three- days Head of States meeting is taking place in Kampala in less than two month’s time, to once again witness one of the most high-powered events in the world.

Heads of state and ministers of the 53 member nations of the Commonwealth will converge in the East African country to make important decisions which will positively influence the development of all member countries and beyond.

In order to make the city have a new look, Ugandan government entered into a joint venture with business tycoon Sudhir Ruparelia’s Meera Investments to facilitate the construction of the $30m ‘Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort,’ which is targeted to accommodate the visiting, Heads of State and also where majority of CHOGM proceedings are expected to take place.

Putting aside the already existing Kampala Sheraton, Speke Hotel, Grand Imperial, Hotel Equatoria, Serena and Hotel Africana, expansion work is taking place at Speke Resort Munyonyo on the shores of Lake Victoria, as well as the five-star Imperial Royale Hotel on Kintu road that is under construction by another city tycoon Karim Hirji. This hotel is expected to house the media center during CHOGM.

Kampala, Uganda’s capital is awash with dust and noise from both the proposed and ongoing construction of luxury five star hotels and isolated residential houses. CHOGM is the most popular word today among Kampala’s economic and political circles.

There’s a flurry of activity surrounding every construction site in the city with the word CHOGM spoken as many times as a mason asks for more cement from a porter.

The week-long meeting is expected to host over 50 Heads of State along with a small army of some 4,000 delegates and support staff.

With such an influx of VIP visitors, a massive building programme of top-end accommodation and the surge in hotel constructions to meet this demand appears to be just in time.

Hosting the CHOGM is an extremely expensive affair. Usually, CHOGM budgets in hosting countries range between US$35 to $50m.

But John Mitala, Head of the Secretariat of the Uganda Cabinet Ministers’ Sub-committee on CHOGM, says, “We have a working budget of between US $35million to $50million.

This does not include what the private sector is putting in because hotel construction is on”. Adding: “The presence of the Queen of England in Uganda is regarded by Ugandans as a great honor indeed, and will do much to strengthen the bonds between both countries”.

The theme for the conference, “Transforming Commonwealth Societies to achieve political, economic and human development”, is a clear indication that Uganda will greatly benefit from CHOGM long after the three days of the meeting.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni commented on the theme:  “In the Commonwealth, we have some excellent examples of countries which have transformed and modernised their societies politically and economically.

It is an experience we want to see replicated throughout the Commonwealth. I hope this CHOGM will develop an action programme for achieving accelerated political, economic and human development in our member nations.”

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon added: “My early consultations indicate this theme has a resonance not only with Commonwealth leaders, but also with other members of the Commonwealth family, including civil society, the business community and the youth.

All of them will be meeting in their own forums in the lead-up to CHOGM, and have been looking forward to this announcement and the call to action it reflects.”

Will CHOGM benefit Ugandans?

Could the Ugandan economy benefit from this multitude of high profile guests? Mitala says having 54 heads of state, including the Queen, “puts Uganda in good perspective. It also opens the Great Lakes Region to the wider world.”

He adds, “All these people will come to Uganda with their press who will give a different outlook of Uganda.”

President Museveni says the Retreat is an opportunity for the leaders of the Commonwealth countries to build consensus on often difficult issues.

“It also gives us leaders the opportunity to engage in a more informal atmosphere, where we can focus on issues with an open mind on matters of concern to all our citizens”. Museveni adds.

Ugandans started benefiting from the ‘CHOGM fever’, immediately after the country was announced as the next destination of the conference.

CHOGM has helped find immediate solutions to Kampala’s outstanding problem: Daily power shortages that have seen Uganda’s major industries cut down on production, or worse, relocate to neighbouring Kenya. Most recently, Cabinet had a special meeting to address power problems in the country.

The government of Uganda is very active finding means of increasing electricity supply in the major urban centres. Many Ugandans are now happy to have at least two to three days of uninterrupted power supply.

Uganda is set to benefit immensely from CHOGM. Work is well under way to improve the infrastructure and ensure the provision of ample and adequate accommodation for the expected 4,000 members who will attend.

The tourism sector will thereby also be boosted, benefiting from CHOGM well after the actual event is over. The country is also expected to attract the attention of many foreign investors. 

A recent report revealed that foreign investment doubled in 2006, and this figure is likely to be even higher for 2007 as the Ugandan Government is fully committed to further improve the investment climate. 

What type of delegates will attend the CHOGM conference?
Mitala says there will be priority guests like the Heads of State and government of the Commonwealth family who number about 54.

“From the list of sub conferences, like ministers, businessmen, youth forum, journalists and support staff of the Heads of State, we expect an average of between 4,000 to 5,000 guests.”

He says the organizers face certain challenges like power shortages, “but we are assured that different hotels and facilities will have standby generators.” The government of Uganda is also working on the power supply issue which should have improved by 2007.

President Museveni says hosting CHOGM will hold Uganda in esteem as a country capable of organizing international conferences long after CHOGM is ended.

Indeed, another important meeting prior to CHOGM is the 8WAMM, was held June 11 - 14 in Uganda under the theme “Financing Gender Equality for Development and Democracy.”

Women’s Affairs Ministers Meetings are held triennially. It is significant that the 8WAMM was also held in Uganda, offering potential for bringing women’s empowerment and gender equality to the attention of Heads of Government at CHOGM five months later.

There will be a few key areas that will need to be addressed in order to ensure a successful meeting. The main one is the energy crisis that has regularly burdened the country in the recent past, and somewhat hampered economic growth.

Despite these challenges, Uganda is still very much regarded as a country highly suitable for investment. Political stability and a general willingness and commitment from the government, the civil society and other national organisations to make things work will pull the country towards achieving some of its most important goals.

“Prosperity for all” may not be a truth for every Ugandan citizen yet, but the potential to achieve it is definitely on the cards.

May CHOGM 2007  help not only Uganda achieve its highest aims, but also assist every other member nation to excel and make a positive and long lasting difference in the lives of all 2 billion Commonwealth  citizens.