Uganda, the landlocked Pearl of Africa, held an investor summit today as it joins the race to be East Africa’s tech destination of choice. The summit was led by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Monica Musenero; the presence of President Yoweri Museveni, who announced a $150 million fund for science and technology and 10-year tax exemptions for innovative companies, signaled that a tech push is now government’s priority.
“We are here to learn from you. Why aren’t you investing in Uganda?” asked David Gonahasa, founder of Tripesa and a champion of Uganda’s push for investment visibility. He posed his question to an impressive lineup of investors: Uwem Uwemakpan of Launch Africa, Tobi Oke of V8 Capital, Nela Duke Ekpenyong of Ingressive, Ryosuke Yamawaki, a Partner at Verod Kepple Capital Africa, and Eric Osiakwan of Chanzo Capital. Yewande Odumosu, fund manager at Hoaq Capital, Ruby Nimkar and Kunmi Demuren of Greenhouse Capital were also in the audience of some 200-odd people.
With over 400 portfolio companies, these investors have only two Ugandan investments between them. While Tobi Oke said Uganda’s lack of visibility is linked to how little investors know about the country, Eric Osiakwan pointed out the need for Uganda’s homegrown investors to show leadership. Dr Musenero, the minister of science and technology, took notes on her tab as the investors spoke.
“We want to make Uganda the best investment destination in the region,” the minister said after the investor panel. “My vision is to listen and capture.”
Some of that listening and capturing began before this week’s conference. David Gonahasa shared that the idea for an investor summit was born when a Ugandan delegation attended the Marrakech edition of the GITEX conference in May 2023. “Do we have something like GITEX in Uganda? Make it happen,” Gonahasa remembers the minister saying at the time.
It’s a good start but still far from what the Ugandan Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovations has in the works. “We may not start perfect, but we’re aiming for what will work best,” the minister told everyone in the crowd.
The Ugandan team’s self-awareness is important because debuts like this week’s investor summit are never perfect, an investor who spoke to me on the sidelines said. That investor was making a quick stop from neighboring Rwanda, Uganda’s East African rival and host of Norrsken Africa Week, a gathering of the continent’s ecosystem players.
While Uganda will eventually hope to upstage its landlocked neighbor, it can simply copy its blueprint by promising government support and tourist and investor-friendly policy to show that it is serious about a push into technology. If Uganda’s vision ever falters, it only needs to look at Rwanda’s results: Paystack announced its private beta there this week, months after Flutterwave set up its East Africa settlement hub in Kigali.
The blueprint for how startups can think about relatively small markets like Rwanda and Uganda is talk for another day. Ultimately, one thing is clear: Uganda’s decision to throw its hat into the ring is the kind of healthy competition the region needs. It’s tempting to say the region needs another Kenya, but what each country brings to the table is unique. Uganda’s standalone offering will continue to be more explicit in the coming months and years.