What you need to know:
- The EU Ambassador to Uganda asked the government to reopen the Democratic Governance Facility.
The European Union (EU) has expressed worry about the continued suspension of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), asked the government to hold rights violators accountable and named six priority areas of cooperation with Uganda over the next five years.
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Speaking at the 72nd anniversary of the European Union Day at his residence in Kololo, an upscale Kampala suburb, on Monday night, Ambassador Attilio Pacifici, the head of EU Delegation in Uganda, said some agreed projects suffered setback despite sustained engagement.
“A case in point is the DGF, a flagship project financed by several European countries to support civil society, non-State actors and government institutions…many high-level meetings held to identify a way forward to unblock the project are yet to yield results,” he noted, adding, “This is worrying to us as we believe there is scope and need to support civil society and human rights defenders and to cooperate more to improve access to justice, gender equality, education ...”
DGF is a £100m (Shs441b) kitty that Sweden, Austria, Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Ireland set up in 2011, initially as a five-year project, and later renewed for a similar period, to bankroll state and non-State institutions to bolster rule of law, equitable and sustainable development to insure Uganda’s future.
However, President Museveni said neither Cabinet nor himself was consulted and they did not authorise operations of the Fund, directing Finance Minister Matia Kasaija in January 2021 to immediately suspend DGF whose financers he accused of cherry-picking beneficiaries to undermine Uganda’s sovereignty and advance foreign interest.
“How and why did the Minister of Finance unilaterally make such a major decision with far reaching consequences, let alone one whose effect is to surrender the sovereignty of the people of Uganda to foreigners? Was this a reason of subversion, corruption, or criminal intelligence, or all of these? Why wasn’t Cabinet and I consulted?” he noted in his directive to shut DGF operations.
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The Fund has remained closed to-date, crippling many civil society organisation, despite on-and-off flickers of hope during negotiations that the government was committed to lifting the freeze.
At the EU Day celebration, Ambassador Pacifici asked Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, who represented government, to use her office to fix a delayed meeting between President Museveni and EU diplomats as a follow up to that of November 2020.
Citing the plethora of human rights that Uganda was tasked to improve by the Universal Periodic Review, the envoy said government should “walk the talk” on democracy and end torture and rights abuses by state security forces.
“We noted in the past years instances of unlawful behaviours such as excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies (and even cases of torture); illegal detentions, violations of fundamental freedoms, environmental offenses … this fuels misgivings [and] distrust towards State institutions and grievances,” he said, referring to President Museveni’s commitment to hold violators to account.
One case cited by rights groups was the brital suppression of the November 2020 protests in Kampala in which the government admits security forces shot dead 54 citizens. Only a couple soldiers have been convicted, leaving most victims without justice or compensation, mirroring the fate of those killed during the 2016 UPDF assault on the Rwenzururu palace.
Lately, satirical writer Kakwenza Rukiribashaija, who has since fled into exile in Germany, became a symbol of state torture after he emerged from army detention with what he said was a maze of whip marks on his back.
Prime Minister Nabbanja said: “I have taken note of all the concerns in your report. I will also inform the Head of State that you want to meet him and I believe he will accept your invitation.”
Speaking after the host strongly voiced EU’s unequivocal opposition to what he described as Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified” invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, Ms Nabbanja said: “This day celebrates peace, unity and solidarity in Europe and by extension peace in the world. However, is unfortunate that we are re celebrating this day when there is conflict going on between Russia and Ukraine. We hope that the parties involved can give peace a chance.”
Uganda, incoming chair and next year’s host of the Non-Aligned Movement, has chosen a neutral position on the war pitting Russia with the West, and abstained from a United Nations vote to condemn Kremlin and require Russia’s withdrawal of its troops.
On Monday, Ambassador Pacifici said the priority areas of cooperation for EU with Uganda over the next five years include green and climate transition, sustainable/inclusive growth and jobs, and democratic governance and social inclusion.
We noted in the past years instances of unlawful behaviours such as excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies (and even cases of torture); illegal detentions, violations of fundamental freedoms, environmental offenses … this fuels misgivings [and] distrust towards State institutions and grievances,” Ambassador Attilio Pacifici, the head of EU Delegation in Uganda