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Democracy in Uganda debate

8th January 2019

Harriett Baldwin responds to a debate in Westminster Hall on democracy in Uganda.

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

It is very good to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) on securing this debate. In all the contributions to this debate, the strong friendships that exist between parliamentarians in the UK and parliamentarians in Uganda, between people in the UK and people in Uganda, have come through loud and clear. He set the tone of the debate in that spirit of friendship. I pay tribute to his work, over many years, providing healthcare to the corner of Uganda that he so descriptively told us about. A number of hon. Members spoke with great personal passion and from experience through their own links to, and friendship with, Uganda. As I go through my remarks, I will try to pick up on the questions asked in the debate.

The UK shares Uganda’s ambition to move from low-income to middle-income status. As long-term friends and partners, we believe that Uganda’s success really matters to us in the UK. Our strong, genuine friendship and partnership enables us to develop a wide range of mutual interests and to speak frankly to each other about issues ​of mutual concern, whether in a bilateral context or in the Commonwealth meetings. In recent years, political contact has been revitalised. President Museveni visited the UK twice last year, not only for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, but for the illegal wildlife trade conference. Over the last two years, 11 UK Ministers have travelled to Uganda, including myself, and I know that the International Development Committee was there very recently as well.

First, I want to pick up on the point that the hon. Member for Stockton South made about the Kasese massacre and bring him up to date on that. In March 2017, the UK, along with EU missions, released a statement deploring the violence and calling for a comprehensive independent investigation. The UK and EU partners continue to raise concerns over the lack of progress on the investigation with the Government of Uganda, including in the recent article 8 dialogue with President Museveni.

When I visited in October, I met with some of the more than 1 million refugees, who have been referred to in the debate. Uganda has a very progressive refugee policy. In Uganda, 82% of refugees are women and children. The country enables those refugees to live in much the same way as its own citizens. When I was in Uganda, I was pleased to announce up to £210 million of funding to help those refugees and to help Uganda to provide refugees with nutrition, vaccinations and schooling. I also saw how the new biometric system for refugee registration is helping to verify refugee status and reduce fraud.

A number of hon. Members raised the question of how we deliver aid within Uganda. I reassure colleagues that this is always done with trusted partners. Wherever we find concerns, as we did recently with the UNHCR report, we take steps to suspend future payments until we are sure that the method by which we are delivering our support is free from corruption. We are very concerned when we discover that there has been a reduction in the money that is getting to the frontline, to those who need it most.

On the point about the conditionality of aid, I beg to differ with the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), because we allocate based on need and reaching the very poorest. That is the spirit in which we deliver our development assistance. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) asked about the proportions in terms of the percentages. I reassure colleagues that there is no Department for International Development money spent on any military training. Some 40% of what we spend goes to human development, including education. Some impressive statistics were read out and are available on our website. Nearly 30% is spent on economic development. About 25% is spent on humanitarian assistance and about 6% is spent on addressing governance and security—if I have time, I shall go into more detail on that. About 1% is spent on climate and the environment.

We believe that Uganda is making important efforts to help to address the conflicts from which those refugees have fled. We welcome Uganda’s role in brokering the 2018 South Sudan peace deal, for example, the success of which will depend on Uganda’s continuing work to support its implementation. We should also remember ​that Uganda was the first country to provide peacekeepers to the African Union mission to Somalia. Uganda remains the largest contributor of troops to the AMISOM mission. I pay tribute to Ugandan peacekeepers, who work for security and stability in Somalia, often at great personal risk. Colleagues may wish to enquire further about the work of the Ministry of Defence in this area, but the training that we do is to support those missions. The work that we do alongside the United States is to train the troops for the AMISOM mission and to provide some counter-IED capability. There are frequent P3 meetings to discuss that joint work, but that is the focus of the training. All of that training includes a human rights training element.

Regarding trade and development, we are working hard in partnership with Uganda to boost its economic development, improve healthcare and education, and create jobs, all of which are needed if Uganda is to realise the huge potential of its young and growing population. We are doing that through DFID’s economic development programme and by providing UK export finance. In terms of export finance, we have already provided £210 million through the Department for International Trade for the construction of Kabaale international airport, and UK companies are helping to deliver nearly $1 billion-worth of infrastructure projects in Uganda, with an emphasis on championing local content and skills transfer. In his first year, Lord Popat, the trade envoy, has seen an increase in trade between our countries of 60%.

Our continued support, and our desire to increase UK investment in Uganda, will rely on strong institutions that uphold the rule of law and democratic principles, which gets to the heart of today’s debate; that deliver professional, expert advice to support the business environment; and that tackle corruption. That would benefit all Uganda’s citizens, not only foreign investors.

In terms of the wider democratic issues that have been raised, clearly, as a sovereign, democratic nation, Uganda’s political and economic choices are matters for the Ugandan Government and people. As the hon. Member for Stockton South has advocated, however, we believe that coherent and effective institutions will underpin Uganda’s development. As a parliamentarian, I pay tribute to the examples that have been given and the bravery of people who put their names forward for Parliament.

That is why, during the 2016 presidential election, the UK worked with the international community to support the electoral environment in Uganda. Our programmes will continue to support democratic accountability at local and national levels ahead of the next round of elections. It is also why we have spent more than £30 million since 2014 on helping to strengthen the institutions of Government that buttress democratic freedoms and advocate the equal treatment of all Ugandans under the terms of their constitution and laws.

Clearly, a free and accountable civil society is a vital part of any successful democracy. We salute the resilience of the media sector and the willingness of journalists, bloggers and citizens to voice their opinions. I urge the Ugandan Government to embrace and encourage such genuine meaningful debate.

Similarly, democratically elected representatives must be free to voice their opinions during election campaigns and once they have been elected. We heard the concern ​of Ugandan MPs from across the political spectrum expressed in a parliamentary debate last month about the treatment of Mr Kyagulanyi, and their calls for him to be able to operate freely and for an investigation into the cancellation of a number of his concerts. That follows his arrest and that of other opposition figures, and allegations of torture by the Ugandan security forces, at the time of the Arua by-election in August 2018.

Our high commissioner joined EU colleagues in calling on the Ugandan Government, political parties and civil society to work together to investigate the allegations swiftly and transparently, in accordance with the rule of law, and to emphasise that there could be no impunity. As a long-standing and close partner of Uganda, we will continue to emphasise that strong institutions and a ​functioning democracy are essential to its aspirations for trade, investment, jobs and growth. We will continue to raise concerns with the Ugandan Government, while building a long-term partnership that supports those aspirations.

I am a bit confused about the time remaining, but if I have more time, there is more that I could add.


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