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The government of Ireland opened an aid programme in Uganda in 1994, at the beginning of a boom period for the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy. Over the following 14 years the programme’s annual budget increased steadily as Ireland moved towards the UN target (for donor countries) of spending 0.7 percent of gross national income on overseas development aid. The economic troubles that beset Ireland in the closing years of the 2000s prevented further expansion of the overall aid budget, which has since flat-lined at approximately EUR 640 million per year (0.54% of GDP). However, Uganda remains one of the main beneficiaries of Irish aid, with inputs worth around EUR 33 million each year. Spending is expected to stay at this level for the foreseeable future.
Ireland contributes funds to multilateral development agencies (the World Bank, regional Development Banks, European Union and UN agencies) and supports development projects implemented by NGOs in more than 50 countries worldwide. But its bilateral spending is largely concentrated in ten countries, all but two of which are in Africa. Mozambique and Tanzania head the list of major recipients, followed closely by Uganda.
According to an Irish Aid representative in Ireland’s Kampala Embassy, Irish development aid is concentrated in countries of need but also reflects historical relationships. The countries with the largest programmes are those that have had a significant Irish missionary—and, later, Irish NGO—presence. Most of these countries have also experienced a major trauma, such as famine in Ethiopia or, in Uganda’s case, civil war. The Irish Aid programme that opened in Uganda in 1994 was intended to assist with national reconstruction and stabilisation efforts.
Irish Aid has long operated as a directorate within Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs. In an administrative re-structuring in 2011, international trade was combined with the foreign affairs portfolio in a new Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Irish Aid, says the representative, is now one plank of an integrated Africa strategy that attempts to cement diplomatic, trade, investment and cultural linkages with an overall pro-growth orientation.
An African Strategy paper published by the Department last year clarifies that: “This does not mean that Irish development cooperation, which is a central element of our foreign policy, will become tied to commercial or other economic links. It will not. However, the outcomes of this cooperation are leading, over time, to a more advanced relationship, where mutual political, economic and development interests carry a more equal weight.”
A major focus of Irish Aid’s programme in Uganda over the last decade has been support for education, especially basic education. This has included primary school curriculum and teacher development, information and communication technology programmes, and some support for adult literacy.
Ireland has also given substantial support to the Karamoja region, in the context of the government of Uganda’s Peace, Recovery and Development Programme. Irish Aid currently supports a social protection pilot programme in the region, together with a livelihoods programme implemented by an NGO consortium, and an ongoing schools construction programme. The agency plans to continue efforts to overcome chronic poverty in Karamoja through support for ‘non-traditional’ livelihoods.
In addition, Irish Aid continues to work in Uganda in the Justice, Law and Order and HIV/AIDs sector, amongst others.
Irish Aid’s first direct engagement in Uganda’s oil sector, in 2010, was to co-fund, with the UK’s Department for International Development, a two-year project, implemented by International Alert, to “harness the potential contribution of oil for peaceful development.” Project activities include research and monitoring of oil exploration and production, increased dialogue among stakeholders and providing information services and community ‘sensitisation’ in oil producing regions.
This, together with funding support for the multi-donor Democratic Governance Facility, fulfils what a recent Irish Aid strategy document describes as an ongoing commitment to “support . . . non-state actors for strengthening demand-side accountability in the sector.”
At the same time, Ireland and other donors have been exploring ways to support Ugandan job creation and ‘local content’ in the oil and ancillary industries—and, specifically, to strengthen vocational training for the oil sector. To this end, Montrose International, a UK based consulting company with a subsidiary registered in Uganda, was contracted to assess options for support for relevant vocational skills training.
Montrose is still finalising its recommendations but, according to the representative, the likely focus of any new programme will be on practical skills such as welding, where Uganda generally falls short of the work standards that the international oil industry demands. The target beneficiaries could include training institutions that are keen to upgrade existing facilities and courses. The programme, the representative emphasises, will work closely to harmonise with priorities already established by Uganda’s Ministry of Education.
Irish Aid has also been a major benefactor of Traidlinks, a non-profit organisation established in 2006 by business leaders in Ireland to support private sector development in Africa. With Irish Aid support, Traidlinks has offered mentoring and export promotion services to African businesses in a wide range of industries. It is now, with funding from Tullow Oil—the Irish company that has come to play such a prominent role in oil exploration in East Africa—opening an ‘Enterprise Centre’ in Hoima. The centre aims to promote oil-related business opportunities for Ugandans. A key starting point is work with local farming households to increase the range and raise the quality of their produce in an effort to develop reliable supply chains for oil camps.
Click here to reach the website of the Republic of Ireland/Irish Aid in Uganda