Where did all the generous development donations to Uganda go?

The rapidly deteriorating economic, social, cultural and ecological conditions as manifested in the diseases of poverty, ecological deterioration and a breakdown in moral values to make ends meet have raised questions about the destination of massive donor development (as opposed to security and defense) aid money to Uganda. Since 1987 when the government signed an agreement with the IMF that opened the door for contributions, donors (bilateral, multilateral, UN and NGOs) have generously extended a helping hand. Additionally, Uganda was the first country to get debt relief under HIPC (Highly Indebted Poorest Countries) initiative on the understanding that the funds released would support critical poverty eradication programs such as primary education, primary health care, rural feeder roads, agricultural extension and water supply.

Donor funds were released on the basis of meeting aid conditionality (including zero-tolerance for corruption), drawing up, monitoring and evaluation of comprehensive rehabilitation and development programs.

Regarding development programs, Uganda developed excellent blue prints that received international recognition and praise for their quality in design and comprehensiveness. Here are the objectives of five of these development programs that were prepared in consultation with all stakeholders including development partners.

In 1995, the government adopted a National Population Policy to influence future demographic trends and patterns especially fertility, mortality and migration by the year 2000. The overall objectives are: (a) expanding Primary Health care (HPC) coverage; (b) sensitizing the population about the relationship between family size, health and welfare; (c) improving the status of women; (d) enhancing the provision of care for children’s welfare and development; (e) raising the educational attainment rate of females aged 13-24 years in post-primary and higher levels of learning from 12% to 18%; (f) increasing literacy rate from 40% to 60% among women and from 60% to 80% among men; (g) increasing provision of safe drinking water to the rural population from 19% to 38% and; (h) reducing the proportion of households without toilet facilities from 28% to 14%.

In 1996, the government adopted Uganda National Plan of Action for Nutrition (UNPAN). The plan provides a framework for addressing food and nutrition issues in the country. The overall objectives are: (a) to guarantee national food security through increasing food production and ensuring adequate nutrition, food processing and preservation, marketing and distribution and supplementary food aid; (b) to eliminate micronutrient disorders, promotion of breast-feeding, nutrition education and efficient monitoring systems and; (c) to protect consumers against food contamination, adulteration, unsafe and deceptive or misleading packaging and labeling.

In 1997, Uganda developed the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) for total eradication of absolute poverty. The plan has been revised and updated to accommodate new developments. The goals of the plan are: (a) to consolidate national security, deal with consequences of conflict, and improve regional equity; (b) to restore sustainable growth in the incomes of the poor; (c) to build strong social and economic infrastructure; (d) to enhance human development; and (e) to use public resources more efficiently (including free from corruption).

In 2000, the government adopted a Plan for Modernization of Agriculture (PMA) for eradicating poverty in Uganda. The objectives are: (a) increase incomes and improve the quality of life of the poor subsistence farmers through increased productivity (using modern inputs such as farm equipment to replace a hand hoe) and increased share of marketed production; (b) improve household food security; (c) provide gainful employment through the secondary benefits of PMA implementation such as agro-processing factories and services, and (d) promote sustainable use of natural resources by developing a land use and management policy and promotion of environmentally friendly technologies.

The implementation of these laudable programs required the formulation of a decentralization policy to empower local population through democratization, participation, accountability, responsibility, efficiency and effectiveness.

In 1997, the Local Government Act was enacted to eliminate the shortcomings of centralized government that stifled local initiatives, misappropriated revenues raised from local population, promoted inefficiency in resource utilization and ineffectiveness in service delivery to local population. These deficiencies created fertile conditions for the survival of dictatorship.

The objectives of decentralization policy adopted in 1996 are: (a) to transfer real power to the local government and thus reduce the workload on remote and under-served central officials; (b) to bring under control (political, managerial and administrative) the delivery of services of local people to improve effectiveness and accountability and to promote a sense of people’s ownership of local government programs and projects; (c) to free managers in local government from constraints of central authorities to allow them to develop organizational structures that are tailored to local conditions; (d) to improve financial accountability and responsible use of resources by establishing a clear link between the payment of taxes and the provision of the services they fund and; (e) to improve the capacity of local councils to plan, finance, and manage the delivery of services to their constituents.

The above programs paved the way for resource mobilization and the donor community responded generously sometimes giving more than requested for some programs (S. Mallaby 2004). For example, between 1997 and 2000 Uganda received a healthy external assistance averaging $700 million per annum. In 1997 and 1999 external assistance reached $723 and $713 million respectively. This generous donor money combined with revenue from export earnings and billions of dollars from remittances by Ugandans living abroad should by now have lifted all Ugandans out of absolute poverty and its offshoots of hunger, disease, illiteracy and large family size.

Sadly, Uganda has scored very poorly in all these areas although development partners continue to register Uganda as a success story and stable country.

According to the latest Human Development Report (2010) Ugandans living below the poverty line of $1.25 a day (absolutely poor) stand at 52 percent. And 20 percent in the lowest income bracket are reported to have become poorer. Unemployment of youth stands at some 85 percent 60 percent of them university graduates, over 33 percent of Ugandans go to bed hungry every day, forty percent of children under five are undernourished and maternal mortality has shot up from 527 in 1995 to 920 per 100,000 live births in 2005 (APRM 2009). Primary school dropout stands at over 80 percent and environmental degradation is threatening to turn Uganda into a desert within 100 years (FAO). By any measure this is a very poor record more than ten years since the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) began.

Since the donors and the government have together and separately monitored and evaluated the implementation of these programs regularly, it would be helpful if they could shed light on where all the generous development donations have gone, remembering that Uganda has been the darling of the west for 24 years.