Sunday November 4 2012

Can’t the Western donors just learn a single lesson?

Health Minister Christine Ondoa (2ND L) inspects an equipment at the Naguru hospital constructed with funding from the Chinese government.

Health Minister Christine Ondoa (2ND L) inspects an equipment at the Naguru hospital constructed with funding from the Chinese government. Photo Stephen Otage 

By Timothy Kalyegira

In 2005, a number of Western nations and donor organisations cut off or reduced aid to Uganda because of the poor governance record of the NRM regime.
Later in the year, the UN withdrew the Global Fund for Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis after it was discovered this money had been embezzled by several senior government officials.

The cutting of aid in 2005 did not teach the Uganda government a lesson. But it also does not seem to have taught the donors a lesson. The donors restored the Global Fund to Uganda and Ugandan officials also promptly resumed their embezzling of these donor funds, even without a single change in behaviour by the government.

The Irish embassy in Kampala has a political and media section. Every single day of the year from January 1 to December 31, Ugandan newspapers publish reports and news on corruption, nepotism and embezzlement of public funds. But foolishly, the Irish government cannot learn from having had its fingers burnt in the past at the hands of the NRM.

The US State Department diplomatic cables leaked to the Wikileaks website clearly showed that the American government knows what is going on in Uganda - all the corruption, the abuse of power, the rigging of elections.

But every few weeks, we receive press releases from the US embassy in Kampala announcing a new round of funding for various sectors, funding they apparently know is going to be embezzled. But they still go ahead and fund the various government programmes.
And give it a few months and we shall hear that the Irish government has restored their aid to Uganda --- and those Ugandan officials who steal it will also resume their stealing.

In my opinion, it serves the Irish government right for their aid to have been stolen by officials in the Office of the Prime Minister. If the Dublin government does not have better things to do with its taxpayers’ money than to hand it to a government with a proven track record in corruption, then it is only logical for Ugandan officials to steal this aid and put it to better use by buying private houses and expensive cars in Europe for their families.

Here are a few questions for the donors. If the NRM government and its top officials can embezzle from an important constituency like the Western donor nations, what are they doing to the domestically collected revenue over which they have total control?
Two, if money intended for Aids patients and the suffering population in the north and northeast of the country can be openly stolen, what shall the same government do when it comes to general elections?

In other words, if there is so much public money to be stolen by virtue of one being in charge of government, and it follows that such people will do everything within their means to remain in power, why do the Western embassies in their reports on the conduct of Uganda’s elections not see that obviously every election we have had since 1996 has been massively rigged?

Increasingly, it looks as if Uganda is caught in the vice-like grip of something that normal rational discussion cannot explain or understand.
The West is not what it once was and is as helpless as any ordinary Ugandan citizen to do anything about the corruption in Uganda.

I have specific reasons to believe that these western donors and their diplomats in Kampala are also part of the swindling of this aid to Uganda. There is a thriving black market in aid, visas and so on in many African countries, and involving officials and diplomats at Western embassies.

I am glad that the Monitor Investigations Editor, Mr Chris Obore, in his commentaries on KFM’s D’Mighty Breakfast show, has made the point that we need to focus on the West’s hand in the rampant corruption in Uganda.

Most of the oil exploration deals that Uganda has signed with Western drilling firms have a certain element of corruption and mafia-like secret dealings to them.

Why is Chinese aid to Uganda never stolen?
One might ask, for example, why although China’s aid, investment and donations to Uganda have seen and are still seeing an increase over the last several years, we never hear that Chinese aid to Uganda has been embezzled by the same corrupt government that has made a habit of steal donor money.

Is it that the Chinese are better than the West at ensuring that their aid is accounted for? Are they better than the West at supervising their aid programmes? Is Chinese aid directly invested in concrete material and infrastructure and so while one can steal thousands of dollars in Western cash aid, one cannot uproot a hospital or sports stadium and carry it on one’s back?

How come the West, even after their fingers were burnt by the stealing of Global Fund money, still have not learnt the lesson of not giving Ugandan government officials aid in cash form?

Might it be that the West or its relief officials and diplomats in Kampala know that aid in cash is easy to steal or manipulate and so even when we embezzle it, they insist on giving it to us in cash next time, because they too participate in the stealing of their own aid money?

Someone needs to investigate this. Somehow, it always seems that the aid that is stolen is from the West but we either never or rarely hear of aid from China, Japan or South Korea stolen.

So, here we are, with money consistently being swindled by the Uganda government. Now, imagine what will happen to Uganda’s oil. Does anyone in their right mind imagine that having allowed national hospitals, roads and schools to fall into disrepair, having swindled Gavi and Global funds for critical sectors of Uganda’s health, the Uganda government will somehow find the sensitivity and sense of duty to make sure that Uganda’s oil revenue is well accounted for?

Anybody who might have had any illusion that the recent discovery and start of drilling for oil in the Albertine area will bring bountiful blessings to Uganda and at last create the prosperity many have prayed for since 1962, should not be disabused of this false hope.

The African curse
Uganda is well on the way to the classic “oil curse” that has bedeviled many African countries since the 1970s. After the September 2009 Buganda riots, the outdoor town hall radio talk shows called “Ebimeeza” were banned by the government. Uganda has been able to go on without them mainly because they did not change much.

In general, with all that is going on in Uganda, the media, civil society and the political opposition have all found themselves helpless to reverse the tide of corruption and breakdown of the public ethic, other than simply play the role of frustrated commentators.

Apart from the guaranteed Oil Curse that is just around the corner, at this juncture with Uganda having recently turned 50, we might have to start exploring the possibility of another more traditional curse on Uganda --- the Biblical or divine curse.

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