Pearl of Africa may help fill post-Brexit trade gap

Posted on Posted in News

With Brexit threatening to destabilise trading links with Europe, talk is growing around building bridges with nations further afield.

Commonwealth states have been mentioned-as potential partners to grow trade with, as well as India, China and – pertinently with the new President - the United States.

But in a new twist, it’s being Suggested that Leicestershire should look to a country we have strong recent historic links with Uganda.

Some say the city and county are perfectly placed to make the most of opportunities with the East African nation - a growing economy with a population of 37 million and rising – in light of the many Ugandan Asians and their descendants who live here.

About 10,000 Asians took refuge here in 1972 following their expulsion by Idi Amin.

Many successful business people were forced to leave their homes, arriving with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

Like many African countries, Uganda - with a footprint roughly equal to the UK— is not without its problems.

There has been political unrest, sporadic violence and a few acts of terrorism, but according to the Foreign Office around 15,000 British nationals visit Uganda every year, and most visits are trouble-free.

The Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, based in Kampala, says there are now investment opportunities in everything from food and pharmaceutical processing to tourism, rural electrification, manufacturing, transport, packaging and forestry.

Shahid Sheikh OBE

Doing business with the East African state was top of the agenda during a recent official visit to Leicester by Professor Joyce Kakuramatsi Kikafunda, Uganda’s High Commissioner of the Republic of Uganda to the UK and Ireland.

Businessman Jaffer Kapasi, from Oadby, helped host the high commissioner’s visit, having been made an honorary consul general for Uganda several years ago.

His family was among those forced from Uganda.

He now runs his own accountancy firm, is a director of the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce, and a founder member, past president, vice president and now patron of the Leicestershire Asia Business Association (LARA).

Four decades ago, Uganda was seen as nothing but trouble for thousands of Asians forced to flee the oppression of Idi 'Amin. Today it is a potential land opportunity. Business Editor Tom Pegden reports

Mr Kapasi was granted an OBE in 1997 for services to business.

He said: “Uganda is having the opposite of Brexit right now - merging its currency with Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya.

“There are lots of new opportunities out there in terms of trade.
“The country is experiencing GDP growth of 6.5 per cent, and the population is growing hugely, and because of their own common market there are opportunities in terms of business and trade.

“Really there are lots of opportunities there.

“We are going to suffer [because of Brexit] for quite a while before we adjust so this is one way to work with a former commonwealth country.

“English is the main language there, and there is free trade so you can transfer your profits back home.

“Industry there includes agriculture, with cotton, coffee and fruit, as well as tourism, with lots of national parks.”

During her visit, Prof Kikafunda took in Leicester University where she met Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Boyle to discuss potential education partnership and the transfer of knowledge and technology Skills.

She also spoke with Professor Sarah Dixon, pro-vice chancellor international, and Suzanne Alexander, director of the international office.

Ms Alexander said: “Her excellency was very interested to hear about the university’s distance learning programmes, and that 30 Ugandans are currently studying for Master’s degrees, mainly in management – related subjects.

“And she acknowledged the important contribution of such graduates as potential wealth creators in regard to development of new business and job opportunities, which is a high priority for the Ugandan government.”

The high commissioner was also a guest at Clifton Packaging in Meridian Business Park, set up by a family which fled Uganda, and visited the Golden Mile in Belgrave, where many Ugandans settled

Mr Kapasi said: “One of the opportunities she saw was how Clifton Packaging can help with food production there, for processing and ex-port.”

Clifton managing director Shahid Sheikh said he was chasing ways to invest in and support Ugandan entrepreneurs and share the business knowledge he has gained in Britain.

His family launched Clifton Packaging in 1981, and the big break came in 2001 when Burton Biscuits called upon them to make re-sealable, four-sided, stand-up packs for their Jammie Dodgers.

Today it designs, develops and makes every conceivable plastic, flexible packaging you could think of – from squeezable, stand-up, baby food pouches, to pourable cooking mix pouches, crisp packets and shaped kids’ treat packs.

Mr Sheikh tries to visit his family homeland once a year.

He said: “I think Brexit should be about opportunities not problems and that should resonate globally.

Shahid Sheikh OBE

LAND OF OPPORTUNITY: Uganda capital Kampala.

So in terms of Uganda we were born there and kicked out but now want- to put back what we have learned here, for the next generation to benefit.

“We want to share all our experience in packaging and food products and set up factories and help entrepreneurs understand the essence of business.

“Before they kicked the Asians out, it was the sweet spot of business in Africa – the pearl of Africa – se we know it’s a good place to do business, especially in the food industry.

“Uganda also has oil so who is to say it won’t become another Dubai in 10 years’ time?

“People there realise they’ve got to do something because the Chinese are moving into Africa now for the mineral opportunities while the Middle East is seeing Africa as a land bank to grow food to feed its own people.

“I’m saying we should support Uganda.
“We have a brand here called BABA – Buy African, Build Africa – created by my late brother Khalid Sheikh, born out of what we have experienced in Africa where the majority of products are imported. For instance, they have fresh fruit, but have never realised that dried fruit has premium value in the UK – they are missing out on that extra added value.

“It is the same with taking a potato and adding value by peeling, cutting, frying and packaging it and turning it into crisps.

“As a result, the West is buying in bulk and adding that value itself.

“Uganda has its own products. and if it learns how to package them it can add shelf life and export them.

“We want to set up factories and a centre of excellence in food and packaging.

“We are already working in other parts of Africa, but Uganda is missing out. We have tried in the past, but that fell flat so we went elsewhere.

Mr Sheikh would not be drawn on how much he would like to invest in Uganda, but was considering his projects and looking for existing projects and opportunities to support.

He is now trying to arrange a meeting with President Yoweri Museveni.

Shahid Sheikh OBE

Ugandan Asians arriving at Stansted Airport on September 18, 1972 after being expelled by dictator Idi Amin.