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Despite M23 Rebellion, DRC Remains Uganda’s Major Export Destination

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains Uganda’s major export destination despite the vast country grappling with armed rebellions.

According to latest statistics released by Uganda’s Ministry of Finance, the East African Community (EAC) remained the top destination of Uganda’s exports in December 2023, accounting for 37.6% of the total market share. 

“Among the EAC Partner States, D.R.C received the largest share of Uganda’s exports, constituting 24.2% of the total exports to the region,” the Performance of the Economy Report released this Thursday noted.

Following the EAC, the Middle East and Asia emerged as the second and third top destinations for Uganda’s exports, accounting for 30.9% and 15.8% respectively.

Uganda’s main exports to DRC are manufactured products (construction materials such as cement, iron bars, iron sheets, beers, bottled water), palm oil, rice, sugar, refined petroleum, baked goods and cosmetics.

Others are dry cassava and cassava flour, fish (salted , smoked and silver fish), vegetables (amaranth, egg plant, okra), grains and pulses (ground nuts, beans, maize).

In 2022, Uganda’s Trade Minister Francis Mwebesa said the total trade between DRC and Uganda had increased from US $ 479.17 million in 2016, to US $ 687.1 in 2021, indicating a growth of over $200m in five years. 

“Between 2016 and 2021, total trade between Uganda and DRC grew by 43%; and by an average of 7% annually,” said Mwebesa.

Insecurity

Dedan Abasa, a Ugandan trader in Kasese district, says Uganda can do better if the security situation in DRC improves.

“If we were fully assured of security, especially in Beni and Ituri where millions of people live in towns, we would be able to sell more of our merchandise there,” said Abasa, adding, “But the situation remains risky and unappealing for many traders.” 

In North Kivu where M23 rebels are waging a deadly rebellion against Congolese forces, Ugandan exports remain low. 

In 2020, Uganda agreed with Kinshasa to build 223 kms of road network running from the Ugandan border deep into DRC territory to boost bilateral trade and also address the country’s strategic security.

UPDF Engineering Brigade opening security roads in DRC in December 2021

The construction and upgrading of the national road from Kasindi (Kasese) section (border) to Beni (80kms) and the integration of the Beni-Butembo Axis (54 kms) to national road started in 2021. 

This was possible because UPDF and Congolese forces were able to dislodge the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) fighters from their strongholds in Ituri and Beni. 

The Ugandan government was also expected to construct another road from Bunagana in the South Western district of Kisoro through Rutshuru up to Goma (89 kms) in DRC.

Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said then that the project would “benefit the government and people of Uganda through the economic interconnectivity that would provide improved mobility and ease of business.”

Uganda went further to deploy road construction equipment inside Bunagana, DRC only for the M23 rebels to resume their insurgency. 

The equipment was quickly returned to the Ugandan side as the rebels seized Bunagana and neighbouring towns. 

Since then, the road construction project has been on halt. 

$1BN exports 

The M23 insurgency disrupted Uganda’s trade with DRC as traders looked for alternative and less dangerous routes to export their merchandise to Congo.

In May 2022, DRC’s Ambassador to Uganda, Jean Pierre Masala, said DR Congo remained a huge market for Uganda with a population of 107 million people.

“In Kinshasa alone, we have a population of 18-20 million people,” said Masala.

He also disclosed that in the month of January, 2022, Uganda’s exports to DRC rose to a staggering $71m.

“This means in 12 months, it (exports) will be about $1bn. This is a motivation for the private sector,” said Masala.

Uganda Airlines runs flights to DRC’s Capital, Kinshasa. 

The Finance Ministry said within the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates remained the leading destination, absorbing 98.3% of Uganda’s total exports to the region.

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