Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Should the west stop giving aid to Uganda?

When I flicked through the pages of the Sunday Monitor, my eyes alighted on the following headline.
Can't the Western donors just learn a single lesson?

The full-page article by Timothy Kayegira starts, How come the West, even after their fingers were burnt by the stealing of the Global Fund money, still have not learnt the lesson of not giving Ugandan government officials aid in cash form?

The journalist, a Ugandan writing about his own country, points to the west withholding aid in 2005 because of Uganda's poor record on governance and also, later that year, the UN withdrawing the Global Fund for Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis because of embezzlement by senior government officials. Eventually the Global Fund was restored but, he says, the Ugandan officials simply set to and started pillaging again. Kayegira rightly points out what has become glaringly obvious, that every single day the newspapers carry stories of corruption and theft at every level in the system and by both organised syndicates and enterprising individuals.

Lying, cheating and thieving are now an integral aspect of Ugandan culture, it seems, judging by the newspapers. Over the last three days alone we have read the following 'little' stories, nothing to do with aid but typical of the kind of activity that anyone living here observes day in day out..
  • Dons at Makerere University have been selling degrees.
  • Headteachers are openly charging parents of P7 pupils at specific primary schools set fees to cover the cost of bribing UNEB (exam board) officials to release Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) papers to them in advance.
  • Thirty one people have been arrested for stealing drugs from the National Medical Stores, repackaging them and selling them back.
  • The National Agricultural Advisory Services provided Shs25m for a completely bogus project.
It is not that lying, cheating and thieving do not happen in other countries. Of course they do, but they are so blatant and unashamed here. And you can see the human casualties every time you walk down the street.

The UK itself has not been spared the antics of Ugandans who become its residents. The Nabuguzi family has conned the government of millions of pounds in a complex benefit fraud, thus nurturing suspicion and distrust of every single Ugandan asylum seeker in the country. The Ugandan High Commission in London, including the Ambassador herself, allegedly, has engaged in major tax fraud (to the tune of Shs8b or £2m), illegally selling on the open market  tax-free goods provided as a diplomatic privilege.

The biggest scandal, however, as you know if you read my previous post, is here in Uganda. It concerns the stealing of aid provided by Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark for the poverty-stricken ex-conflict areas in the north. Today Norway and Sweden announced they have now also withheld their aid, which was targeted at funding key initiatives in healthcare and democratic governance, including peace and security, private sector development schemes, research, water and sanitation and energy.

The Norwegian Minister of International Development said, 'This amounts to no less than stealing from the impoverished people of northern Uganda who have been subjected to conflict and misrule for years.'

Kayegira wonders why the west doesn't pay any attention to Uganda's notoriety as one of the world's most corrupt nations, but carries on pouring money straight into the robbers' swag bags. And so do we.

After all, only a couple of months ago the East African Bribery Index 2012 complied by Transparency International announced that Uganda was the most corrupt nation in the region. More than 50% surveyed believed that Uganda was extremely corrupt, compared to Tanzania at 48%, Kenya at 41%, Burundi at 27% and Rwanda at a magnificent 2%. The demand for bribes follows a similar pattern across the countries, with Uganda's Judiciary exacting the highest rates (Shs600,000 - £150).  A 2010 World Bank report ranked Uganda as among the world's most corrupt states, ironic given that it is among the top five sub-Saharan recipients of World Bank aid ($1.3 billion in 2011/2012).

Imagine my surprise then (not), when I embarked on my usual flicking through yesterday's paper to discover this headline.

Uganda to benefit from Shs50b EU grant to fight malnutrition

The eyes of government officials must have lit up at the possibility of all that 'lovely lolly' pouring down from on high and landing straight in their personal bank accounts.

Under the European Union (EU) scheme, Uganda will be one of four nations to benefit from the Shs49.5b grant to tackle acute and chronic malnutrition in Africa. The others are Burkino Faso, Ethiopia and Mali. Can there be any justification for support such as this being given to a country which systematically and deliberately diverts aid away from the poor, the young and the weak and gives it to the rich and powerful?

What are the facts about child malnutrition in Uganda? The 2011 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey notes the following.
  • 33% of children under five (2.4 million) are stunted, leading to irreversible cognitive damage.
  • Regional differences are significant, with the level of stunting lowest in Kampala (14%) and highest in Karamoja (45%). Surprisingly, the relatively affluent west and south-west also have very high rates (44% and 42% respectively).
  • 2.5% of children are wasted, with 2% being severely wasted - 210,000 malnourished children annually.
Children should not be malnourished in a country like Uganda which actually exports food. Looking through my files, it seems that some of the main factors are:
  • a lack of awareness among parents of the benefits of a balanced diet and how this can be achieved using local foods;
  • the vulnerability of rural communities to the increasing impact of drought, hailstorms and floods on crops as a result of climate change and deforestation; 
  • poor infrastructure, including a minimal train service and terrible roads, which sometimes results in food rotting before it gets to market;
  • twenty years of conflict in the north which have left good agricultural land fallow, and decades  of cattle raids in Karamoja which have decimated herds in a region with as good as no tradition of farming; and
  • the lack of any government programme for transporting, storing and redistributing food to meet periodic crises and local needs.
Children in other developing countries in the region, such as Tanzania and, further south, Malawi also suffer from malnutrition. However, even such poor countries can make significant improvements to the quality of life of their people if they make concerted efforts.

A few months ago, Save the Children published its comparative study Child Development Index 2012: Progress, challenges and inequality, under its strapline NO CHILD BORN TO DIE. The report described the enormous strides made by Tanzania in improving the lives and futures of children.

The Child Development Index (CDI) is based on an aggregate of three indicators that contribute to children's wellbeing and development:
  • health - under-five mortality rate (deaths per 1,000 births)
  • education - percentage of children not in school
  • nutrition - percentage of under-fives who are underweight
The data is drawn largely from UN and World Bank sources, supplemented by some national statistics.

Astonishingly, Tanzania has managed to move up 30 places in the CDI ranking. It has more than halved its child mortality rate and almost halved the proportion of underweight children. How has it done it?

Tanzania has increased its budgetary allocations to the health sector by an average of 21.8% over the last five  years. It has committed itself to increasing spending from 12% to 15% of the national budget by 2015 and doubling the number of health workers.

Uganda's health budget, by comparison, has fallen by Shs52.7 billion. It spends just 8% of its national budget on health.

In Tanzania, Complementary Basic Education provides alternative education to 8-13-year-olds to help them re-enter formal education. Tanzania also removed the Grade 4 exam 'which often acted as a barrier to educational progress'.

In Uganda, the PLE is alive and kicking and continues to damage the learning and destroy the educational hopes and aspirations of millions of children. Uganda has reduced its education spending from the planned 17% to 14%. Primary education is delivered through a rigid system which requires children to fit into schools rather than schools to accommodate children. It is left to NGOs such as Save the Children to develop informal and flexible approaches to education and then only in those places such as Karamoja where it has projects. Drop out rates from primary school are 17% in Tanzania and 68% in Uganda.

Tanzania has one of the worst rates of chronic malnutrition in the world (42%) and has set up a National Nutrition Strategy to deal with this. Action is taken by partnerships of international development partners, civil societies (NGOs) and other public and private organisations. The initiative is managed at the very highest level of government.

However, Uganda has made some progress, for example in reducing the rate of under-five mortality. Overall it has moved up the CDI by five points. Indeed, surprisingly, Kenya has moved down by the same amount (as has the UK, incidentally, though its overall position at 9th is still very high.). But other neighbours or near neighbours of Uganda are doing much better, and not just Tanzania. Malawi has gone up by 12 points, and Rwanda by 18 points.

We're back to the original question, Should the west stop giving aid to Uganda?

Even Ugandans are ambivalent about the answer to this question. To be honest, Uganda never appears very grateful for the aid it receives. If you put yourself in the shoes of an ex-colony, you might not feel all that grateful either, though Uganda had it easier than most. After all, Britain did suck resources and commodities out of its colonies and send them back home to Manchester and Dundee.

In July, the Telegraph published an article with the following headline and introductory text.

Britain pours aid into autocratic Uganda despite pleas of democratic opposition
Britain is pouring aid money into Uganda despite the pleas of the opposition - and even the autocratic leader says he doesn't want it.

The article states that Uganda will receive aid worth £101.5 million aid from Britain this year, with £22.5 million as budget support (aid which goes straight to the government), though ostensibly it is earmarked for health, education and administrative improvement. Foreign donors provide over a third of Uganda’s national budget, with Britain the second largest bilateral contributor.

The President, however,  is insulted by the idea that Britain believes that Uganda needs aid to help improve governance and capacity-building.

“Quite a bit of [aid] is used for non-core and arrogant areas such as the so-called ‘governance’ issues, capacity building etc,” he wrote in May. “I call these non-core and arrogant because the people of Uganda do not need assistance in governance.”

Readers may have some doubts about his claims given the corruption which creeps into every corner of his government and destroys the lives and futures of so many of his people, particularly children. However, they will be used to his extravagant claims about the donors he so dislikes (while happily taking their money). Last spring he accused the EU diplomats of spying. In July the government banned international and local NGOs from employing foreigners unless they could prove that no Ugandan matched the skills of expatriate staff, an impossible criterion to meet.

The Opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, wants Britain and other donors to stop giving budgetary support  unless democratic reform takes place.  He calls budgetary support 'scandalous'. He believes that any aid should be for specific projects, which are easier to manage and control and more difficult to pillage. To be fair, Britain has reduced by a third the amount of budgetary support it gives Uganda and has attached more strings to it. However, the story of donors periodically withholding aid because of Uganda's record on corruption at the highest levels and human rights violations is becoming monotonous. There is little sign of corruption getting any less or Uganda's record on human rights getting any better.

When the outgoing US Ambassador, Jerry Lanier, left Uganda, he made this statement, 'You have lost far more lives due to the failure of your health system than to foreign or domestic enemies and it is time to devote the same attention, energy and seriousness to the health of the Ugandan people as you do to their security.'

Lanier expressed his disappointment that the substantial US investment in Uganda's health system ($400 million every year) had achieved just 'paltry results'. His mention of 'security' is an oblique reference to $740 million which the President took from the Central Bank reserves to buy jet fighters, thereby destabilising the country's financial system. This was in addition to the earlier purchase (allegedly using some of Britain's aid money) of the latest Gulf Stream Executive Jet for himself at a cost of more than $50 million.

Back to the question, Should the west stop giving aid to Uganda?

Uganda’s population doubles every 25 years and now exceeds 34 million. National income is less than $500 per head, making it one of the poorest countries in the world. The corrupt elite are just that, an elite - a relatively small but bloated section of the population, say 10% across the country (just a guess). Should the 90% be made to suffer for the crimes of the 10%? Should the children be made to suffer for the crimes of the adults?

Children have no choices. Who is going to stand up for them? Can we tolerate a situation in which one third of a country's children are irreparably damaged, physically and mentally, through malnutrition? The fault, of course, is that of the government. I suppose we are back to the argument I rehearsed in my last post, to what extent are these children our children? And by our children, I mean this time the children of the world, the world as a village and Ugandan children being some of our children.

We see the casualties of the government's mismanagement all around us.There is a case for donors to move out of education  as The Netherlands did, because no matter how much money is poured in, it is making no difference and education is getting worse. Small-scale and manageable projects run by very tightly managed NGOs may be more effective. The Dutch moved on to providing aid for livelihoods development. People who can support themselves and their families with something to spare for education and health, will contribute to improvements in all manner of ways, simply because they can begin to demand better public services. Improving transport enables people to access markets, travel to jobs, go to school without having to board. Supporting women's projects helps their children to go to school, improves nutrition and contributes to community development.

On balance, despite many of my misgivings about how aid is used and abused in Uganda, I have to say that the world does have a moral duty to its children. They are innocent in all this. They are also the future. Damaged by their poor nutrition and health, damaged by their poor education, and suffering from, and observing violence and corruption all around them, the children of Uganda, the 17 million and rising, will be parents, citizens and workers too one day. What kind of a society is Uganda breeding for the future?

With reluctance, for I know that aid will continue to be stolen, I think we have to commit ourselves to these children and save as many as we can. However, this aid should be for specific projects, not for government.

In fact, the government shouldn't see a penny.

You may also be interested in the following posts:

How to survive until you are grown up

How the world is helping Uganda


Here are a small selection of projects in Uganda supported by donor nations.

Norway is giving $20 million for rural electrification. The work will connect 15,000 households and transform the lives of 100,000 people. The Norwegians also support programmes for energy/oil, environment/forestry, governance, gender and peace/reconciliation, particularly in northern Uganda as part of the Peace Reconciliation and Development Plan (PRDP) for the north.

Denmark - The Danish Refugee Council will provide support for farming among 40,000 refugees from DR Congo and Rwanda so that they are not entirely dependent on food from the World Food Programme. The Danes also support programmes in governance, employment, safe water, climate change and HIV/AIDS.

The Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) is giving $4.3 billion to vaccinate children against preventable diseases such as pneumonia and rotavirus (diarrhoea) . Two million under-fives dies from this disease every year. Contributors include the UK ($1.3 billion), Bill Gates ($1 billion), Norway, USA, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and The Netherlands.

Germany is giving Shs2.175 billion for women's development projects and building schools in Amuria, Wakiso and Mpigi (to be managed by the NGO Voluntary Action for Development)

Israel has offered to donate ambulances to health centres countrywide. It is building a dairy demonstration farm near Jinja for training small-scale farmers and increase milk production.

Ireland is building 21 more schools in Karamoja, in addition to the 13 already built. The Irish are also sponsoring 100 children to go to secondary school and providing help in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The World Bank has provided Uganda with $100 million to increase immunisation from 82% to 90%, increase the number of girls in government aided schools passing PLE from 45% to 46%, support the development of rural valley and tank dam and increase the number of paved roads in fair to good condition to 80% from 65%.

The EU (Uganda's biggest development partner) is providing 60 million euros to increase the number of lanes on the Northern Bypass in Kampala and construct six flyovers, to reduce congestion and improve transport in the suburbs. It will complete the reconstruction of the Masaka to Mbarara road as well as roads in Karamoja and across the country. It is combating climate change in Uganda through the Global Climate Change Alliance. It is also supporting the PRDP in northern Uganda. The EU is also to work with Uganda on research into the depleting fish stocks in Lake Victoria.

Japan has donated $5 million for relief and development programmes in Karamoja relating to mother and child health and nutrition to reduce stunting among children. It is a leading contributor to the World  Food Programme which provides relief to 100,000 refugees in Uganda. It also provides help for rural road network planning in northern Uganda and builds bridges and roads to help resettle internally displaced people.

USAID is supporting the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation for AIDS prevention and treatment.

UNICEF, in partnership with the Ugandan Scouts Association, has set up a free SMS social monitoring tool called Ureport to enable young people to speak out about what is happening in their communities and to feedback information which enables them to use their initiative and bring about change. So far they have been raising issues about health and sanitation and the quality of schools. UNICEF is also in partnership with Voluntary Service Overseas in providing support for teacher education through a network of volunteer teacher educators placed in the main core primary teachers' colleges.

Iceland is improving the literacy and numeracy skills of adults and the poor in the Lake Victoria area. 8.9% of Uganda's population (3,190,000 people) are illiterate.

Sweden is focusing on democratic governance, including peace and security, health, research, private sector development and international trade.

CARE International (an NGO) is funded by Denmark and Norway to combat the illegal timber trade in western Uganda, using community-based monitoring groups provided with bicycles and links with forestry officers and district police. They also train women in sustainable skills which enable them to support themselves and their famiilies. CARE also works with ethnic minorities such as the Basangora and Batwa, providing health services and houses.

Plan International is partnering with the EU to provide water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in eastern, central and northern Uganda. It also develops life skills among young people in Lira, northern Uganda

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) contributes to the EU-funded programmes improving food security and agricultural livelihoods in norther Uganda and Karamoja.

UKAID is working with the Private Sector Foundation Uganda to support economic growth, investment and employment in northern Uganda.

You may be aware from our previous post that a substantial amount of the aid provided by Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark has been stolen by the Office of the Prime Minister, threatening the future of some of these programmes.


  1. My goodness. What a comprehensive post. I was going to write about this but felt weary whenever I started.

    When the OPM scandal was unearthed and the donors started withholding I remember reading of government minister suggesting that Britain shouldn't be taking action as they were not one of the countries which had had money diverted to other quarters. I stopped breathing for a little while to consider this comment.

    Oh my.


  2. Your article says it all.Many thanks from a Ugandan doctor who(for security reasons)had to leave the country.

  3. Dear Joseph, thank you so much for your appreciation, which means a great deal to me. Uganda is such a wonderful country in so many respects. What is happening just now is tragic. Uganda needs its doctors and it is so sad that you have had to leave. We wish you all the best for the future, wherever you are now.