Lessons for Nordic companies aiming to set up in Uganda and beyond

Kampala, Uganda

Kampala, Uganda

The Uganda-based Nordic Business Association was established three years ago to promote investments from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark into the East African country. It offers support to new Nordic businesses entering the Ugandan market, in addition to consultancy, business development services and lobbying.

How we made it in Africa spoke to Rikke Adamsen, chairperson of the Nordic Business Association in Uganda, about the state of trade relations between the two regions, challenges Nordic business face in East Africa and how they can thrive.

How would you describe trade relations between East Africa and the Nordic region?

I don’t think trade relations are that strong yet. Many people back home still associate this market with the negative news headlines such as civil wars. When people hear that I live in Uganda they tell me ‘that is super dangerous’. These things keep them away and make them look at this market from an aid instead of business angle.

But there are investors who see opportunities. We have multiple Nordic companies already set up here and many of them want to expand across the region. We want to help such companies to both invest in more countries, and expand regionally faster.

There are also people who are simply unaware and need to be educated that this is a good market to come into. We really want to create more awareness about the opportunity in Africa among Nordic companies. But interest is growing. Recently, there was a big seminar in Denmark on investment opportunities in East Africa and it attracted 110 very big companies – some of them listed on the stock market. So companies are eager to hear about the opportunities here.

What sectors are of interest for Nordic businesses?

The Nordic region has a strong tradition for doing agriculture, and I believe they have much knowledge and skills to transfer. So we have several big investments here in agriculture. There is also a lot of investment in renewable energy – especially from the Norwegian side. Technology is also big, and there is potential in healthcare and the services market.

Generally, there is great potential for doing business here. Uganda is not well developed so there are many opportunities – and it is easier for businesses to set up here and then expand later to other parts of the region.

Tell us about some of the difficulties these companies face when they get here.

Back home people need to learn how to do business here because they can’t operate as they do in the Nordic region. Most investors would have looked at the market before they come here, but they still need a helping hand. They must build networks and relationships to find the right companies to partner with or potential service providers to work with – and I think that is a big challenge for many.

Some investors also lose a lot of time being taken round in circles. People tell them get this and get that and before you know it they have lost half a year doing nothing. There are a lot of people that cheat them.

At NBA we have all the professionals a company would need – such as lawyers and accountants that help investors in the setting up processes. And we also ensure that investors are charged the right fee for those services – not 20 times more.

What advice would you give Nordic investors on how to build a sustainable business here?

I’d normally tell them: if you think you want to do ‘fast-track’ money don’t come to Africa. But if you want to do sustainable business you have to be here, or have good people on the ground running the business. They really need to get their hands dirty.

You can’t fly in twice a year to check on the business. You have to be here. The quality of life here is good. I enjoy life here in Uganda, and if I didn’t like it I would have stayed home in Denmark. Of course everything is different, but you are a guest here so you have to adapt.

There are a lot of things to see, do and experience here. So you can both run your business and have a good social life too. There is so much countries here have to offer.