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Era of donor aid is over, it’s time for partnerships

By Sarah Namulondo

Stefano Dejak, Italy’s ambassador to Uganda speaks to The Independent’s Sarah Namulondo about good governance, vision 2040 and the Uganda-Italy cooperation.

On June 2 you will be celebrating the Italian day, tell us about the significance of the Italian Day to the people of Italy?

It is a day that takes us back to the memories of the long processes of unification of our Country. Before unification, Italy had distinctive local identities, built in almost three thousand years. Those identities are still very strong today, but have adapted to the needs of the era of Nation-States in the 19th century, which created the first Kingdom of Italy turning, it into a Republic, with a referendum held on June 2nd 1946, our National day.


How do you celebrate this day?

In Italy we usually have public parades and pompous manifestations take place all around. This year, President Napolitano chose and suggested a very low profile commemoration, because of the financial crisis and austerity national policy. So no public parades or great manifestations are taking place all around Italy.

In other countries though the celebrations remain the same where delegations organise some commemorative initiatives in the spirit of the international partnership, and friendship and cooperation.

In these yearly celebrations, Italy gives special attention to countries where Italy plays a major role through peace keeping and humanitarian missions.

Tell us about the historical background of Uganda-Italy Cooperation?

Few know that before the British explorers came to Uganda some Italian explorers, like Giovanni Miani in 1859, reached the north of Uganda. Then you have the Duke of Abruzzi who was the first recorded climb onto the Rwenzori in 1906.

After that, in different ways, Italians came as missionaries, volunteers in aid development, and business. That is why here in Uganda Italians are so welcome, for having notoriously been the only foreign country that did not leave Uganda at its darkest times.

What is the nature of Italy-Uganda Cooperation today?

The Uganda- Italy cooperation is unique because it is based on 100 years of friendship and collaboration. Many Ugandans have benefited from Hospitals and Schools run by Italians; the first of which, Kitgum’s St. Joseph was founded in 1915 by Adriano Vignali.

Ugandans have met Italian Doctors and Teachers. That element explains the appreciation and popularity of Italians in Uganda. Now we are shifting from a cooperation based on pure aid to investments and economic partnerships. We already have great examples in Uganda, as the Bujagali hydropower dam built by Salini.

What are the key highlights of this partnership over the years?

The Italian cooperation in Uganda has been characterised by four key elements:

a)     based on collaboration and friendship

b)    providing real support to people priorities with tangible outcomes; health care, vocational education, support on livelihood –farming,

c)     in the most remote and poorer areas

d)    without interruption during insecurity and calamities

The Italian government has focused a lot on supporting Uganda’s health sector and the education sector.  Why?

Italy believes that quality healthcare and quality education are the cornerstones for any kind of human capital development. That is why in Italy we have the oldest universities and hospitals in the world.

How do you rate Italian investments in Uganda?

It is growing. Italian entrepreneurs have joined forces in founding the ‘Business Club Italia” last year and we promoted investments in Uganda in various events, including Presentations at our Federation of Italian Industries in Rome and the Milan Chamber of Commerce last December, thanks to the visit of  Uganda’s prime minister to Italy.

How else has the Eurozone crisis affected Italy?

It is a very deep crisis, started in the USA in 2008 and has affected all European nations deeply. Some countries like Greece and Spain were affected more severely. But I believe a crisis, in all human activities, provides a chance for a country to reinvent itself. The era which started in 1989 with European exports mainly directed towards Eastern Europe and the Far East is now giving space to new opportunities here in Africa.

Uganda’s governance situation has been an issue to donors. What concerns does Italy have?

Corruption is an unwelcome part of the transformation of the economies in many countries. It has a nasty cost to such a development. That is why we link it to the concept of good governance: the strength of democracy is that it provides the best guarantees for an equitable sharing of decision-making as much as of resource and wealth-sharing.

Corruption is a lethal enemy to both good governance and true development; it is, in fact, far more frequent in non-democratic political regimes than in truly democratic ones.

Where do you see Italy-Uganda cooperation in the next few years?

The cooperation is now changing because of many reasons: a rapidly modifying world society with different priorities; wide accessibility to IT; but, also, the longest lasting world financial crisis, which is shrinking dramatically available resources. We have to aim at a kind of cooperation in line with such changes.

The time of aid is shifting into a time of investments. Partners, instead of donors and beneficiaries, are the actors for a future sustainable social and economic development. Uganda is ready for that, while Italy is ready to provide the know-how as a relevant partner.

Social services, of course, continue to play a key role in the process but we need special attention to environment, renewable energy, and low impact production, water and soil preservation. Italians know how to do that best.

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