This year, Iceland commemorates a centenary of sovereignty and independence with the passage of the Union Treaty with Denmark that came into effect on December 1, 1918.
Iceland then formally entered the community of nations and began its shared journey with Western countries that enjoy freedom, democracy and an open economy.
Iceland as a nation has come far in the past 100 years. The monarchy was abolished when Iceland became a republic in 1944. It no longer depends on subsistence sub-arctic agriculture. It has moved from the establishment of a robust fishing industry to a more diversified economy with renewable energy-intensive industries, tourism, high-tech and knowledge-based industries. Iceland is now an advanced welfare State which strives to help those in need.
Despite its tiny population of 350,000 people who live in a harsh climate on a remote island in the far North, Icelanders believe they have a meaningful role to play and a responsibility to promote peace and positive development on the international arena. We have expanded our sovereignty, as well as shared it.
Iceland is a founding member of Nato and a member of the United Nations since 1946 and a strong supporter of the rules-based international order without which small sovereign nations could be severely challenged.
International development cooperation is an integral part of Iceland’s foreign policy. The strategy for International Development Cooperation focuses on the overarching Sustainable Development Goals, the promotion of human rights and gender equality, peace and security, as well as the fight against poverty, social injustice, disparity in living conditions and hunger. It coordinates Iceland’s foreign policy with regards to global economic, environmental and security matters. Iceland’s development cooperation focuses on poor and unstable countries, with emphasis on the nexus between humanitarian aid and development cooperation.
Bilateral development cooperation between Iceland and Uganda started in 2000. It follows a path charted by the current Country Strategy Paper (CSP) with the aim to improve people’s quality of life by means of empowerment, capacity building and knowledge transfer. The goal is sustainable development, economic growth, equality, independence, democracy and the advocacy of human rights. To this aim, the government of Iceland allocates $6m (Shs22.2b) annually into Uganda, which is substantial for such a small nation. In addition, Icelandic NGOs receive funding every year and recently, the government called on the private sector to join its efforts.
The current CSP (2014-2019) focuses on improved livelihood in fishing communities at the district level, with Kalangala and Buikwe districts as the two main development partners. The linkage between resource depletion and livelihood concerns, necessitates the introduction of improved fisheries management, increased and more diverse employment opportunities in fishing communities, as well as improvement in health and education services. The results are tangible. In Kalangala, the pass rate in Primary Leaving Examinations has increased from 75 per cent in 2005 to 96 per cent in 2017. In Buikwe, the primary school completion rate is 75.5 per cent, up from 40 per cent in 2011 and safe water coverage now stands at 77 per cent up from 58 per cent in 2015. These are just few examples we take pride in.
In addition, the CSP recognises the importance and supports administrative and managerial capacity building within the district local governments. Furthermore, gender equality, human rights and environmental sustainability are recognised as cross-cutting issues in the CSP and are integrated into all development activities. A new CSP for 2020 – 2023 is expected to have a similar focus as the current CSP.
Our bilateral cooperation with the Ugandan government, the district leaders and local NGOs such as Water Mission Uganda, Busoka Trust and WOMENA in the past 18 years has been fruitful. Iceland has the intention continue to contribute to positive development in Uganda and the journey towards middle income status for the citizens. We believe it is possible and that it is an important goal.
Ms Ramette is Iceland’s Ambassador to Uganda.