Should donors have a say in Uganda’s internal affairs?

Sunday September 23 2018

A group of foreign diplomats accredited to U

A group of foreign diplomats accredited to Uganda visit former FDC presidential flag bearer Kizza Besigye at his home in Wakiso District following his arrest after the controversial 2016 election. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA  

By FREDERIC MUSISI

A London-based think tank, the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), in a 2003 research mentioned Uganda as one of those countries where the government would necessarily be more open to donors than to its citizens.

In a promotional interview with the UK Guardian newspaper, the research editor Phoebe Griffith was quoted as describing Africa as being in “a double-bind”.

“Firstly, governing elites are so weak that their main concern is to stay in power rather than improve the lot of their people,” Ms Griffith told the Guardian.

More than 50 years after the first African country attained independence from their European masters and the continent remains entrapped in the imagination of foreign forces between two fragmented extremes.

Some scholars have argued that this is how Western powers get the right to meddle in affairs of African countries, after all the alternatives like China and Russia have since made their non-interventionist stances clear.
Worst of all, after all, majority of African governments bask in adulation of the “see no evil, hear no evil” principle. Next door DR Congo is a good example to start with.

In Uganda, the recent political events leave a lot to be desired. And it was not until the international community started speaking out publicly that the government’s public relations machinery started offering some answers.

The government spokesperson, Mr Ofwono Opondo, on Monday said Uganda takes objection to what he called the tacit approval of undisciplined behaviour by the European Union and some of its institutions or politicians in the country.

“We also object to the condescending tone contained in the language of this resolution. The matters referred to in this resolution such as the threat to the security of the President while in Arua on August 13, the 33 arrested in connection with this incident including the MPs and the regrettable loss of life of some of the people are all under investigation by credible and competent arms of the State and overseen by an independent judicial system in Uganda,” said Mr Opondo while addressing journalists at Uganda Media Centre in Kampala.

For good or for own interests?
Mr Opondo’s remarks were in response to the EU parliament which last week issued a stern warning to Uganda, accusing government of continued violation of human rights during and after the Arua by-election.

In a 14-point resolution dated September 13, the EU Parliament asked the Executive to respect the independence of Parliament and drop what they called trumped-up charges against Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi and all other 33 suspects implicated in the Arua fracas.

Prior to Mr Opondo’s remarks, President Museveni pointed a finger at foreign forces – ostensibly those that pointed a finger at his government in first place – for meddling in Uganda’s internal affairs.

One remarkable thing though is that prior to the foreign forces speaking out the government had denied torturing anyone the security outfits arrested in Arua.

“If indeed foreign governments are undermining the current regime through their financial support to the country, then why doesn’t government lobby the capitals to stop sending aid?” says Crispin Kaheru, the coordinator of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU).

Mr Kaheru adds that countries the government is implicating fund social service delivery, inject money in the economy, and fund governance programmes, “and does that mean that government is an agent of imperialist interests?”

In 2005, President Museveni in his address to the UN General Assembly said that whereas aid is available, it should not be accompanied with excessive meddling by the providers – a similar stance the government has exuded each time it is reprimanded by development partners over governance deficiency or human rights violations.

In the wake of the grand embezzlement scheme of about $13m in the Office of the Prime Minister in 2012, EU countries—the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Ireland and Sweden—took back-to-back decisions of suspending budgetary support to Uganda. The government swallowed a humble pie and embarked on a raft of reforms to restore donor trust, including paying back some of the swindled money.

According to retired ambassador Harold Acemah, “human rights are universal, therefore, one cannot say that violations in Uganda are a national issue”.

“As development partners, they have a right to express concern over anything that they deem inappropriate,” Mr Acemah says. “If government doesn’t want any of that let them start by rejecting their money.”

Ambassador Acemah says speaking out against something is not the same as meddling.

“If government had chosen to express its position through diplomatic channels, they should have put their position properly to the donors. Letting loose people like Opondo is quite unfortunate.”

On Monday, Mr Opondo said Uganda will continue to protect the rights of the majority to exercise their freedoms as well as the minority that want to express their views in a civil manner “against this radical and extreme element that derives its legitimacy from foreign backers”.

Relations between Uganda and the West (EU/US) had the back and forth wagging of tongues that ensued after the controversial 2016 presidential elections, to the point of the then US’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ms Samantha Power, describing President Museveni as “a risk to Uganda’s future stability”. The change in administration in Washington later that year further helped matters.

Important to note, however, is that throughout the exchanges the donor community keep emphasising how Uganda is a strategic ally on the security front in the Great Lakes Region and East Africa.
Uganda has the biggest peacekeeping contingent in Somalia and on the eve of signing the law in December 2013 had swiftly dispatched troops to avert a possible bloodbath in South Sudan after the two country’s main actors fell out.

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