Wednesday, December 19, 2012


A host of countries have suspended aid to Uganda following the unearthing of a scam that saw billions of shillings going missing in the Office of Prime Minister(OPM).

If you have not been around, officials in the OPM helped themselves to billions of shillings in monies meant for the reconstruction of northern Uganda, in a scheme amazing in its simplicity that makes you wonder how come it was not detected ages ago.

The long or short of it operations officials accounts were credited with more monies than were necessary to carry out projects with the surplus being paid back to senior officials. That the ministry was crediting personal account for official work was enough to raise eyebrows but was explained away as due to the lack of banking services in the Karamoja area of the country.

A good case to subsidise a bank branch in the area to funnel government aid, if ever there was one.

And that is how the aid suspension came about.

Theft is wrong and you cannot fault the donors on pulling the plug. The money they give us is their own tax payers money and the donor government’s inaction following such revelations of theft can cause them quite a bit of discomfort from their constituencies.

"The suspension was  prompted more than the repercussions that may come from their electorate’s concern than that the people of northern Uganda were not benefiting from their charity...

Harsh yes, but the world of geopolitics pays little heed to moral issues unless there are political consequences.

It is no surprise that corruption runs rampant in Uganda, any aid bureaucrat who has been here six months can’t have failed to come up against it. In fact a few years ago there was a report that estimated that up to sh300b a year goes unaccounted for. So any aid cuts were long overdue, so why didn’t they happen sooner?

Whereas Uganda has systematically scaled back its aid dependency over the last two decades, donor budget support accounts for about a quarter of the budget.

The fact that all the money is not put up by one government does not diminish the leverage that comes with these handouts.

But also because there are multiple donors their priorities differ and therefore its unusual to see concerted effort. As often happens if one donor pulls out the hole can often be filled up by other donors.

That the donors are looking to achieve other aims other than lifting the down trodden of the world is obvious when you look at aid from the EU. Not only does the EU provide support but its individual nations do so as well. The logical thing would for the EU countries to pool all the money they have individually earmarked for aid and disperse as one, getting more bang for their buck, but no it does not happen like that.

"They argue that individual governments have their own pet projects and therefore retain the right to run parallel aid programs. But isn’t it that each donor government wants to be able to exert its own influence on governments and therefore the sometimes uncoordinated troop movements?...

Each government panders to its own constituents – businessmen, pressure groups and even the vaguely quantified “national interest”. These other interests often over ride concerns over the theft of a few million dollars.

The truth be told, Uganda has not been a particularly “bad boy”.

Tearing their hair out at the extent of corruption in the Daniel arap Moi government in neighbouring Kenya one diplomat lamented that corrupt officials there were “eating like gluttons” and “vomiting on the shoes” of donors. 

In private they express similar sentiments about Uganda but they are not so exasperated that they unleash the sentiment for the world cameras – yet.

Again there are greater considerations that inform the actions of governments than moral shortfalls.

"Going by the same logic, the recent aid suspensions amount to a slap on the wrist and one can expect we will be back to business as usual by this time next year.
This is not thumbing our noses at the donors, it’s just the way the world works...

It is bad enough that we continue to rely on donors to cover our budget shortfalls. But it is bad upbringing to expect the donors to come in and clear out our mess.

Government puts more energy into presentations to western capitals for aid than it does in deciding our taxes – a hangover from a time when donors carried more than 50% of the budget.

That needs to change.

Government needs to come around to the fact that Ugandans provide three in every four shillings to the budget and in the wake of newly found donor moral indignation – however tainted, they need to take Ugandans more seriously.

How this can happen is a story for another day.

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