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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How the world is helping Uganda

Every so often we come across an interesting development project and discover, when we look closely, that the financial support has come from an individual country like the USA, UK, Norway or Ireland or from the European Union (EU) as a whole.  

A typical example is Kiwoko Nursing College, which we visited because the Directorate of Education Standards with which we work is responsible for inspecting vocational establishments of various kinds. The nursing college is next door to the hospital and both were originally Church Missionary Society foundations, although they now receive public and donor funding from various sources.  

The attractive and well-kept Nursing College site
Having toured the main buildings, we were interested in some recent developments: a study centre for the nursing college, with computer suite and library, and a separate training centre for medical laboratory technicians.  There at the entrance to each building was a plaque, indicating who had provided the money for the development.

Library
Study centre plaque.
Laboratory for training medical technicians.
A three-way partnership which includes AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation)
Many industrialised countries support developments in Uganda and a huge number of Ugandans benefit as a result.  
  • Since 2000, Ireland has given more money to Uganda than to any other country, for example supporting education, the Poverty Action Fund, governance and HIV/AIDS.

  • Japan has developed a Northern Uganda Development Program which supports the resettlement of internally displaced people, improves roads and trains government officials.

  • Germany supports northern Uganda by helping to develop modern energy services which decrease pollution and, hence, climate change, increase efficiency (eg through energy efficient cooking stoves which reduce consumption of firewood), improve quality of life and support local businesses and vocational training.

  • The EU, the single biggest donor, is developing water, sanitation and hygiene services in both rural and urban areas across the country.  It also helps young people to develop vocational skills for employment.

  • A number of countries provide support to the Ugandan government for roads development. Partners include the African Development Bank, the World Bank, Denmark, Norway, Japan, Ireland and the UK. 
A couple of days ago the UK's Department for International Development published its Operational Plan for the next four years.  The UK has committed £390 million in development aid to Uganda: a fair whack and a 16% increase on previous spending plans. Of this sum, the biggest share (£122m) will go to health, followed by wealth creation (£102m). £78m will used for fighting poverty and hunger, £74m will target governance and security and £13 million will be used for humanitarian aid.

So, in practice, what exactly are UK taxpayers paying for? The highlights make interesting and, to be honest, pretty impressive reading.  They include: 
  • helping 1.35 million women get access to modern family planning services;

  • getting over 100,000 school drop-outs back into school, including 66,000 girls;

  • providing four million men and women with safer, better and cheaper ways of  saving and borrowing money;

  • helping 400,000 people in Karamoja move away from reliance on emergency food aid;

  • providing cash grants to another 600,000 chronically poor households, whose circumstances prevent them from working for a living; and

  • working with Ugandan businesses and government to make the most of opportunities created by regional trade across East Africa.

 Ms. Rintoul, who heads the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) in Uganda, said:  “While the UK Coalition Government has committed to keeping its promise on levels of aid, this decision has been taken at a time of increasing pressure and austerity in the UK.  It is therefore imperative that the money we are giving to Uganda is used efficiently and transparently and delivers tangible and worthwhile results for Uganda’s citizens.”

The point Ms Rintoul is making is very important.  Readers of this blog will know a bit about our frustrations with the blatant corruption within public services in Uganda and the devastating effect this corruption has on the lives of the most vulnerable in the country: the poor, the sick, the young and the women.  However, we hope you have also picked up something of our pride in some of the work which is being done by the governments of developed nations.  The UK’s funding is intended to help meet the needs of the country’s poorest people, address underlying causes of poverty (i.e. not just apply Elastoplast) and tackle the constraints of economic growth.  The aid will target the health sector in particular, where the funding can make the biggest impact in improving the lives of women and girls.  You may recall the disgraceful statistics for women’s health, particularly during pregnancy and childbirth. 

Ms Rintoul said, “In addition, we shall help address the underlying causes of poverty through job creation, offering financial services, access to education and employment for women and girls, and by increasing accountability and transparency.”
Ms Rintoul said that future funding will depend on how successful the government is in tackling corruption and ensuring efficiency.  While increasing overall levels of aid to Uganda, the UK government has significantly reduced the proportion which is delivered through budget support, a mechanism which will enable it to exert greater control over where the money goes.  In other words, it will be more difficult for corrupt politicians to put it in their pockets.   The UK’s reduction in budget support to Uganda is therefore one response to western concern about the Ugandan government’s poor record on tackling corruption - and protecting human rights.   Although at least 20% of the aid is expected to be channelled direct to the government, this is a notable reduction on the figure of 40% or so a year or two ago. More of the aid will go into project support which is more easily monitored. After all it was only in November last year that the UK slashed £7.5 million from its budget support to Uganda following the Ugandan government’s reluctance to deal with the CHOGM corruption scandal.  Scarcely any of the high-level officials involved have been taken to court for misappropriating the funds.  As is usual in such scenarios, it is the tiddlers who get caught while the big fish swim away.  Coincidentally, Vice-President Bukenya who was replaced only last week, was suddenly issued with a legal summons, though some newspaper reports state that there were far more serious offenders.  However, that is by the by.
The new aid allocation is part of a global review of the UK’s bilateral aid. You may wonder why Uganda should deserve such a generous package.  Well, who knows.  We can only guess.  Why not have a look at a map.  To the west is DR Congo, a volatile country with enormous mineral wealth.  Uganda itself will shortly become an oil-producing nation.  To the north is South Sudan, about to become independent from its northern Big Brother, which has also, unfortunately, just decided to invade some of its territory.  Some instability, then, on the northern border of Uganda. 

Further to the north and east is Somalia, one of the most unstable countries in the world.  ‘A failed state’ is the usual term applied to Somalia.  It exports terrorism around the world, including to the UK.  Uganda and Burundi are currently carrying out peace-keeping operations in Somalia.  Every so often Ugandans read about the deaths of soldiers in Somalia in the same way that Britons read about the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan.  Last week, the heads of state from Uganda and Burundi were meeting the Somali head of state at the very pleasant Speke Resort in Kampala.  We know: we had to go through the most amazing security checks to get to the pool!  One of the outcomes of their discussions was that perhaps the Somalis didn’t need the Ugandans and Burundis there anymore.  Who knows how genuine that statement was, or whether it was just another ploy to get a bit more money from the USA and Europe.  We, however, tend to be less cynical and are just glad that because of western aid more Ugandan children will live and fewer mothers will die.  And, perhaps, a few more European and American women and children will live too.

Anyway, the UK’s aid to Uganda does not come without a price, whatever the motives behind it.  That price is back at home: a significant backlash about the justification for extending aid at a time when the UK itself is suffering.  Not many Ugandans realise or care about the pressure which right wing politicians and voters put on any UK government, whatever its political complexion, which is committed to providing aid to developing countries.  This pressure is particularly heavy just now because of the UK’s own financial problems and the cuts to public services which British citizens are experiencing right across the country. The UK apparently has the third biggest budget deficit in Europe. 

So, it is all very interesting just now.  Just think about it.  Only last week, papers across the world reported that President Museveni was blaming the BBC, and other international media companies, of being ‘enemies of Uganda’s recovery.’  And here is the UK the following week providing substantial resources to save the lives of Uganda’s citizens and help them to get jobs so they can feed their children.  As even the Daily Mail had to admit, Britain is expected to be the only major country to meet an international target to spend 0.7 per cent of its annual income on aid by 2014, an increase of 34% overall, £12billion.  It’s a strange, strange world, but sometimes, just sometimes, one is proud to be British.


PS. You may also like to read the book The Man with the Key has gone by Dr Ian Clarke, which describes the early years of the Kiwoko hospital which he founded at the heart of the Luwero Triangle shortly after the bush war.



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