Hunger, foreign debt and Uganda’s fairytale budgets


“President Museveni (pushing bicycle) demonstrates irrigation techniques to smallholder farmers in Luweero District. The event attracted derision nationally.” PHOTO/Nairaland

Despite the evidence of worsening poverty, the government felt sufficiently confident in this year’s budget speech to move the target date for attaining middle-income status forward by two decades. Originally planned for 2040, the new status will now be attained in three years. Agricultural output is going to be increased, educational outcomes improved and corruption eliminated. Just like that.

An abiding image of Uganda in April 2017 is of a group of elderly people squatting around an anthill, men and women, patting it with bunches of greenery to coax the termites out. They then pluck up the termites and eat them, not as the seasonal delicacy usually caught by young people on moonlit nights but as a primary source of nourishment.

Contrast this with the brass band dressed in brand new navy blue and white dress uniform, with silver buttons everywhere, trooping around for over an hour while dignitaries including members of the diplomatic corps arrive in luxury vehicles. They are there for the reading of the budget for 2017/2018.

Put these images against the backdrop of foreign debt; the public had earlier been given to understand that 60 per cent of the revenues for 2017/2018 are earmarked for debt repayment.

The diplomatic corps, many of them Uganda’s creditors, attend almost like shareholders at an AGM, there to oversee their investment in the country. In 2014 Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID), Uganda’s second largest donor, pledged aid to Uganda amounting to £101.5 million ($135 million at today’s rates). Of that £22.5 million went straight into the government Treasury; ring-fenced for health, education and civil service reform. DfID have known for decades that ring-fencing does little to stop the government from dubious spending such as invading foreign countries and having bullet-proof convoys and brass bands attending His Excellency.

It has not been conclusively established how much goes into private bank accounts but the country ranks very low on the Corruption Perception Index. Foreign governments are fully aware that loans and aid advanced to the Ugandan government for development are at serious risk of embezzlement. An extensive report on financial scandals current in 2010 was sent from the American Embassy in Kampala to the US Department of Justice and Secretary of State on 5 January 2010. The health and education sectors, both heavily dependent on donor grants, featured among the twelve entities and activities named. Total losses, where quantification was possible, amounted to $112 million. In other words, almost equal to the UK’s pledge of aid for 2014 (losses by the Ministry of Education, one of the biggest victims of corruption, were not quantified).

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