NAM Summit to open Uganda’s door for meetings and conference tourism

By Felix Oketcho

The clock is ticking as Uganda prepares to host the 19th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and G77 Summit this January 2024. Besides President Yoweri Museveni taking over as chairman, it is Uganda’s monumental golden opportunity to host an international conference of that magnitude but exploit other opportunities going forward for instance lobbying for future meetings and conference tourism, blostering commercial diplomacy, and trade to mention a few. 

Already Over 120 global leaders are expected to converge in Kampala for these high-level diplomatic gatherings. It is Uganda’s time to leverage our diplomatic position to influence decisions in our favour, especially the idea of commercial diplomacy that is needed to attract investors into our country.

The government has done well by investing sh86.4 billion into the construction of a conference hall at Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort, the designated venue for the dual summits. This should not be a one-off deal but leeway for more meetings and conference tourism Uganda should host to boost the country’s tourism sector and stakeholders’ businesses. 

The summit will provide a platform for global cooperation and solidarity and for advancing our common goals however Uganda go beyond showcasing her hospitality industry to the world. 

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The Non-Aligned Movement is a forum of 120 countries that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. After the United Nations (UN), it is the largest grouping of states worldwide.

On the other hand, the Group of 77 at the United Nations is a coalition of 135 developing countries, designed to promote its members’ collective economic interests and create an enhanced joint negotiating capacity in the United Nations.

With the theme “Leaving No One Behind” the Third South Summit will look to instil a new dynamic to the cooperation among the 134 Member States of the Group of 77 in a more competitive world.

The Summit aims at boosting South-South cooperation including in the areas of trade, investment, sustainable development, climate change, poverty eradication, and digital economy, with a focus on addressing global economic disparities.

Uganda, therefore, needs to use the two summits to advocate for the interests of developing countries and enhance mutual economic cooperation.

The Movement remains a vital pillar of support for developing countries’ shared quest for peace, security, development, and justice in international relations.

On the other hand, the NAM summit will be held under the theme, ‘Deepening Cooperation for Shared Global Affluence,’ which fits in well with the four core principles of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) Government of Democracy, Patriotism, Social-Economic Transformation and Pan-Africanism.

Fostering the much-needed solidarity among NAM member states and promoting a multipolar world is the other targets that we hope to achieve from these two summits.

In short, strengthening the South-South cooperation and enhancing diplomatic influence, should be our core expectations from these summits.

The 18th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement was held October 25–26, 2019 in Baku, Azerbaijan. The summit was attended by a delegation from more than 120 countries.

The Non-Aligned Movement was guided by the Panchsheel principles and the principles were as follows: Respect for the principles enshrined in the charter of the United Nations and international law. Respect for the sovereignty sovereign equality and territorial integrity of all states.

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a forum that is not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. After the United Nations, it is the largest grouping of states worldwide.

Drawing on the principles agreed upon at the Bandung Conference in 1955, the NAM was established in 1961 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia through the initiative of President of Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito, President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser, Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, President of Indonesia Sukarno, and President of Ghana Kwame Nkurumah

After the breakup of Yugoslavia, a founding member, its membership was suspended in 1992 at the regular ministerial meeting held in New York during the regular annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. 

As of October 2019, the organization consists of 120 member states, including the non-UN member state of Palestine, as well as 17 other observer countries and 10 observer organizations.

Approximately, two-thirds of the United Nations’ members are represented at the Non-Aligned Movement, and they comprise 55% of the world’s population.

How Nam is important to Uganda’s Tourism industry 

Tourism in Uganda is an increasingly important contributor to our economy. The 1.5 million international arrivals, combined with a growing number of domestic tourists, generated 7.75% of GDP and 6.7% of total national employment in 2018 however COVID-19 was a disaster for the tourism industry in Uganda.

In the financial year, 2018/2019 tourism earned Uganda’s GDP 5.6 trillion Ugandan shillings (US$1.60 billion or €1.3 billion as of Dec 2019) from 1.6 million tourists (World Bank 2019). Compared to neighbouring countries, tourism is still a developing sector for Uganda to catch up to them.

Furthermore, Tourism is a key growth sector in Uganda, generating $1.53 billion in revenue and contributing nearly 10% of GDP and 6.3% of total employment (Ministry of Tourism, 2018) however, tourism in the country has grown slowly and the sector performs far below its potential.

The tourism industry includes hospitality (accommodation, restaurants), transportation (airlines, car rental), travel facilitation and information (tour operators, travel agents, tourist information centers), and attractions and entertainment (heritage sites and theme, national, and wildlife parks).

Tourism offers hundreds of new job seekers in Uganda gainful employment and entrepreneurship for guides, tour operators, hospitality workers, and marketing professionals, among many others. 

Tourism is also opening up new opportunities for women and youth and before the pandemic employed about 600,000 people in Uganda. While a significant proportion of tourism jobs were lost due to COVID-19, but there are signs of recovery.

Tourism in Uganda holds the key to increased job creation, increased foreign exchange earnings, enhanced domestic revenue mobilisation and services-led economic transformation. To realize its full potential, a multidimensional approach is needed to bring together stakeholders and offer targeted support.

Gov’t needs to increase Tourism budget allocation

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According to the Ministry of Tourism, the recurrent budget stands at shillings 7.15 billion for 2023/24 reduced by shillings 21.19 billion in financial 2021/22 to increase the number of tourists coming to Uganda from 1.5 million tourists the country got in 2019 to 3.5 million tourists in 2028 and to increase the foreign exchange earnings from the sector from $1.6b in 2019 to $5.19b by 2028.

Lastly, Uganda is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet with millennia of history and thriving cultural traditions. But it remains an underrated tourist destination. From the royal trails across the kingdoms Buganda, Tooro, Bunyoro-Kitara, and Busoga to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Kasubi Tombs, the art galleries in Kampala, and the Nyege Nyege music festival near Itanda Falls on the Nile, there is a world of activities that offer unique and memorable experiences.

Developing these products and others could broaden Uganda’s appeal beyond gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which is currently the most popular attraction. Broadening the menu of tourism attractions and experiences in Uganda is critical to bringing in more tourists and increasing the potential earnings for Ugandan businesses and the private sector beyond Nam Summit. 

The Writer; Felix Oketcho is Chief Executive Officer of Elix Promotions Ltd.

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