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“Ugandan farmers can reap big from oil”

Dónal Cronin is the Ambassador of Ireland to Uganda and Rwanda who has had a long career in development and governance work. In this two-part interview, he spoke to Oil in Uganda about Irish efforts to improve the state of governance in Uganda, as well as the opportunities that are right under the noses of Ugandan farmers, as the country’s oil and gas industry prepares for take-off in the not-so-distant future.

H.E. Dónal

H.E. Dónal Cronin

Oil in Uganda: Your government is one of the development partners that contribute to the Democratic Governance Facility which has been very central in supporting governance work in Uganda. Tell us about the program and your contribution to this facility

H.E. Dónal Cronin: Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) is a hugely important initiative. As a facility, it is one of the largest of its type in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It brings together a number of development partners around the table for us to be able to pool our resources and be coherent in terms of what we are supporting and how.

The whole aim of DGF is to be able to foster good governance, accountability and conflict resolution with the aim of advancing Uganda’s development.

The critical aspect of the DGF is that it works with partners such as civil society, the Parliament of Uganda and bodies such as Uganda Human Rights Commission and the Electoral Commission to enable them to advance their objectives, fulfill their functions and ensure that there is a high degree of transparency and accountability in Uganda.

All of these are implemented very much in cooperation with the partners that we work with, including government.

DGF is not a fund which tackles one or two specific issues across the board, it tries to work on advancing a number of agendas and that is why for us, it is a very exciting initiative and we are very happy to support it.

The support to Oil in Uganda is a good example, where DGF is supporting a home-grown initiative, which is playing an important role in raising awareness around the oil industry in Uganda at this very important time.

The project is able to engage with partners, bring information together, provide a platform for advocacy and learning from experiences elsewhere, reach out to stakeholders and add on to what needs to be a very vigorous debate in this country in relation to what  the oil industry is, what it is going to provide for the Ugandan people and  what its future direction will be.

That debate is healthy and good and can only add to the ownership that the people have of the resources that are underneath their territory.

How would you rate DGF’s performance so far?

DGF did not start from scratch, it built upon a very effective program called Deepening Democracy Program (DPP).

Actually I have the benefit of having worked with the predecessor of DGF and now I am back in Uganda to participate on the board of DGF and to see the inter-linkages between the two.

DGF is not what good governance in Uganda is about. It is a contributing factor to good governance and there are many streams and rivers that flow into that large lake-DGF is just one of them. It is a big one, an important one and very strategic but there are many others.

What is important for DGF, and as for any other program, is that there is good coordination and coherence and that there isn’t any replication or duplication; so that the resources being invested in issues such as voter education or civic education, on community platforms for dialogue, National Human Rights Institutions, and so on are well managed and used in the most effective way.

In DGF we find a mechanism to do so and also enable our partners to have a sustainable source of income that is attached to achievement of particular results at the end of the day. So that is the value of DGF.

It is not without its challenges of course. When you are managing a large program where many actors and many partners are involved, it is never going to be smooth sailing. However, what is important to a program like this is that the risks that are there are managed well, that there is full probity and accountability and that all stakeholders are kept on board and are aware of its direction.

DGF mind you runs until mid-2016, so what is important for us now is to look at what comes next and plan around that.

What challenges have you faced as a Facility?

I think the biggest challenge is that in its very nature, DGF has to be selective. It cannot try and sort out everything across the board and there needs to be a focus and strategic effort. Therefore, it is not able to have enough resources for all of the needs that exist.

There are many agencies within DGF who would like more funding, there are many agencies who are not part of DGF who would like to participate. So the challenge then becomes how do you decide what is important or not when you are setting your priorities? How do you decide what should be supported and what should not? And that is why the most important work of DGF is in trying to engage with partners to understand the context in which it operates and be able to respond in an effective way.

Donors have been supporting governance in Africa for four to five decades. I think what we have clearly learnt from past experience is that the governance agenda is not one where  we come with prefabricated solutions, or with models from other countries which can now be transposed magically into places like Uganda or Kenya.

The key and the critical thing is the local context and the incentives that are in place  and those which can  be found in any local environment, where power is and how it can be exercised, and how solutions need to be locally-grown rather than externally brought in.

DGF is all about trying to support local solutions for local issues. DGF is not about bringing models from Europe or elsewhere, it is about enabling people in Uganda to create their own model and to be able to say “This is what our problem is. This is what our challenges are. This is where our opportunity lies – and so we would like some support in terms of addressing that situation.”

It is about partnership and being able to listen. It is about moving at a pace which is realistic. It is a slow process – change is always slow. It is about empowering people and communities, the government and its institutions to be able to take control of their destiny and be able to bring about social change at the end of the day.

What achievements has DGF registered?

The DGF support has a number of sub-components in relation to Human Rights, transparency and accountability in the oil sector and a program on women and leadership in development.

There are programs on citizens’ rights and civil responsibilities in relation to vigilance for better service delivery, independent radio reporting, supporting the resolution of land disputes through legal aid and strengthening parliament’s capacity to perform its functions.

If you look back at last year, DGF supported 81 partners to deepen democracy, promote rights, justice and peace and strengthen accountability. From that support, 5,620 people received legal aid; 581 councilors at the local level received leadership training; and the number of community budget monitors reached 1,257 men and women who are now more aware of local development plans and budgets for their areas.

1,479 cases were referred to and investigated by DGF supported anti-corruption networks and that resulted into 151 prosecutions at the Anti-Corruption Court. These are real indicators of progress.

The African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, supported by DGF, provided treatment for nearly 1,500 torture clients over the last year in terms of rehabilitation, physiotherapy, psycho-social support, legal advice and a whole mix of clientele in relation to refugees coming into Uganda and people who are victims of torture within Uganda.

Will DGF end in 2016?

We don’t see these programs as simply one-off initiatives that wind up and then we start planning something quickly before the next election. What will be important for ‘DGF 1’ is to properly evaluate, look at the impacts of the stakeholders and the  projects they are funding to be able to see what lessons we have learnt and then to contemplate on the what next.

Besides the work you are doing through DGF, do you have any other initiatives as an Embassy targeting good governance of the extractives sector?

Yes, there are specific engagements that we have in relations to the extractives industry. We support, for example, national institutions towards better accountability.

We support the Office of the Auditor General to develop its forensic auditing capacity to be able to move fast and have the necessary skills and capacity in technology to carry out forensic audits.

We very much support Karamoja as a region. In fact, the majority of our financing is directed to that part of Uganda which is the poorest in the country in terms of depth of poverty.  There, we work with local governments, central government, local community leaders and groups to increase transparency and accountability.

We have had special interest in the extractives industry in Karamoja because there is lots of potential there as we now know.

There are a lot of opportunities in that region in terms of natural resources that are found under the ground but there needs to be a greater degree of preparedness and transparency in terms of how those resources are going to be used.

There are also many artisanal miners there and there needs to be a considerable approach on how that sector can be regulated, supported and advised on some of the pitfalls that we all know the extractive industry possesses.

You also support Traidlinks in Hoima, yet the local farmers are not really benefiting…

About Traidlinks, one thing that is very critical to their work in Hoima is that they were scaling up for an oil industry which in 2009, was said to become a boom in 2011/12.The enterprise centre which you find run by Traidlinks in Hoima was established with that timeframe in mind.

In fact, there has been a quieter period because most of the camps and oil activities slowed down because it was taking long for the bits and pieces to be in place like production licenses, land and compensation and the preparedness of the oil companies and the government in terms of legislation and overall policy framework.

All these are taking far longer than perhaps was expected back then. Probably no need to hurry because we need to get things right, but you have an enterprise centre which was scaling up for large activities which instead has reduced over the last two years.

The oil companies however do tap into local agriculture production. I saw it myself how producers and farmers bring in produce. However demand will upscale dramatically when production licenses are granted.

The preparedness for that is very important and there is still going to be need for properly certified, well sourced and traceable agricultural produce which meets the demands of the oil companies to be able to supply their market.

In some countries in Africa, they are importing beef steaks for $12 or $15 a steak, that is the ridiculousness that we need to act against. Uganda’s beef is the best you can find so the local producers should be ready to provide because there will be demand.

There is also another Irish company called Devenish and they have been working with a piggery cooperative in Hoima to develop a pork industry. It’s amazing that if you go to the shop to buy bacon or sausages in Uganda, you will find them in the freezer because they are from Kenya when in fact you have potential here.

The population of Ireland is 5 million, Uganda it is about 37 million, yet we produce more pigs than Uganda does.

Devenish is going to come in, working with Traidlinks and the local pig cooperatives, to establish a model pig farm and a feed mill to be able to provide the necessary feeding for the livestock. Hopefully by January or February next year, that will have commenced. So there are initiatives that Traidlinks has been involved in which hopefully will lead into real lasting impacts.

So in the meantime, what else will Traidlinks be doing?

Traidlinks is supported by Irish Aid and other partners like Trade Mark East Africa. They together with Self Help Africa have a current contract with Tullow Oil to do research on how  agricultural productivity can match with the upcoming oil sector.

There are many other aspects, it is not just about Hoima and the enterprise centre. They do sales missions to Burundi and Kenya under the successful MarketLinked programme, and support indigenous Ugandan companies to export to the region. They also have a link with the Rwanda Development Board.

They are also working with the Uganda Export Promotions Board and the Uganda Investment Authority as key partners.

There is a key  aspect for us which is trying to ensure that for Ireland, we are able to create links between Irish investors and industries with their counterparts in Uganda.

Actually we believe there is a huge amount of learning that is available for Uganda from Ireland and vice-versa. If you look at the areas that we concentrate on; agro-processing would probably come first because like I told you, we have a population of 5 million people but we produce dairy and beef enough for 50 million people every year. That shows you how export-driven we are. We are the 4th largest exporters of beef in the world!

Now Uganda has signed up for the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union and this is a golden opportunity to have a modern trade agreement in place to enable better access to Ugandan goods and services in Europe.

Other areas we excel in relate to ICT.  If you look at eight of the top ten IT companies in the world, they are headquartered in Ireland: Google, Apple, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. So how you get a small workforce equipped and skilled enough to be able to entice companies to locate there is a critical thing that Uganda needs to contemplate on as well in terms of potential opportunities.

Uganda has untapped tourism potential and for it to get tourists to come and spend money, and have a tourist industry which is feeding into the economy, you need to have top rate, top class, quality tourist products that  will bring people into the country.

At the end of this month, Enterprise Ireland which is equivalent to Uganda Investment Authority will be in Uganda for the first time to meet with local stakeholders to see what the environment is like and to be better placed to advise Irish investors on the opportunities that are available.

Questions put by Beatrice Ongode and Flavia Nalubega