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EU won’t look away if things aren’t right in Uganda

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Attilio Pacifici in September made a year as Head of Delegation of the European Union in Uganda. He talked to The Independent’s Ronald Musoke about the EU and Uganda relations.

What have been some of your impressions of Uganda since you arrived in September last year?

Actually, this is not my first time in Uganda. I first came here 25 years ago. Uganda was my very first posting when I joined the European Commission in late 1992 and I worked here from 1993 to 1997.

So, let’s start with the comparison of the Uganda you first saw 25 years ago and now?

The most striking thing is that the Uganda of then was a difficult country in terms of security. I remember Kampala was a very unsafe town. I remember my first night in Kampala was marked by a shooting which went on for four hours in my neighbourhood. I was quite surprised even though I had been to very complicated countries like Mozambique. The situation has dramatically changed. You now feel safe and comfortable going everywhere in town. Kampala was a relatively small town. I remember seeing constructions just starting and shops re-opening. I remember the striking green between Kampala and Entebbe on either side of the road. There were coffee plants, very few houses, and a lot of forests everywhere. I think there were about 17 million Ugandans in those days and now there are more than 40 million. That is a big change.

How was the EU involved then in getting Uganda back on its feet?

There was really a vibrant atmosphere and many things which needed to be built. I remember the beautiful cooperation we had with the President to refurbish Ggaba I and build Ggaba II— the water works that serve Kampala. We also made big efforts when supporting the Uganda Wildlife Authority to rebuild what is now perhaps one of the backbones of Uganda’s economy—the tourism sector. We trained rangers working in the national parks; we helped to restock the national parks with animals and we helped create all those conditions which have allowed people to build lodges in Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, and Bwindi National Park. We also offered a lot of help to start private investments which are now crucial for the present and future of the country as well as support to rebuild key infrastructure such as roads. I participated in meetings with the World Bank to see how best we could remove physical and non-physical barriers along the Northern Corridor. Soon, there came up another project—the Northern Bypass. I remember walking with the city engineer—Abraham Byandala—metre by metre along the alignment proposed for the Kampala Northern Bypass. All these projects have now come to fruition and people are enjoying them.

Fast forward to 2018, how would you describe the current relations between the EU and Uganda?

We have very vibrant relations and I am very happy about that. There are some temporary misgivings which need to be addressed. Partners don’t have to agree on every single thing they do but they have to be able to talk through those issues.

On Sept. 13, the EU Parliament dedicated part of its session to call out the government of Uganda following the recent politically charged events in the country that left some Opposition MPs critically injured. Why did your Parliament move this particular resolution?

I think there are two issues here. The first one is; why did the EU Parliament do that? And then, what are the consequences of that resolution? Like I said earlier, dialogue is important between human beings in general but between close partners, it is even more important. Now, the European Parliament (and Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Parliaments) have obligations to fulfil in the context of the binding agreement we signed 20 years ago (Cotonou Partnership Agreement). So with this mandate in mind, the EU Parliament is observing what is going on in every country party to the agreement. When they notice that what one of the implementing partners is doing is not satisfactory or is not in line with the agreement, they say so and request parties to address the issue. This is what happened in the aftermath of the Arua by-election. So what the EU Parliament did is normal, is not surprising, and is in line with the role they have in the Cotonou Partnership Agreement.

How then, do you respond to the government of Uganda’s assertion that, the EU Parliament’s resolution on Uganda represented a “tacit approval of undisciplined behaviour” of some Ugandans by the EU?

It is impossible for me to comment on the substance of the EU Parliament’s resolution but what I can note is that, the EU Parliament has been very careful with this situation. Usually when something happens in one of our partner countries, they look into the obligations of the parties involved and usually it is the strongest party in the situation which is reminded of its duties and responsibilities. This party is usually the government— the executive.

Would the EU consider sanctions in future if you fail to get satisfied by the ongoing investigations of what happened recently?

The EU Parliament does not have the power to impose sanctions but they have the power to request action. Are we talking about a situation right now here which could justify action along the lines taken for other countries? At the moment I don’t see it.

But the EU Parliament noted that they are keenly following the investigations of what happened in Arua?

It is very difficult to speculate about the future but what I can say is that if you have a situation in which there is a major violation of the terms of the agreement that binds us together, then what can you do? You have to enforce the terms of that agreement. So if you have a situation, like we had in the past in Burundi, we used Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement which is an instrument requiring parties to have a “reinforced” political dialogue. In the case of Burundi, the conclusion was that there was disagreement and the action taken was the suspension of development cooperation. The same incident happened in Nigeria in the 1980s. Are we talking about that kind of situation in Uganda? I do not see it.

You have argued that you currently enjoy “vibrant” relations but would it not be proper to say the recent statements—both from the EU Parliament and Uganda government officials represent deteriorating relations?

“Vibrant” means a lot of things but in a situation where someone has to consider all possible scenarios, this could be one scenario. But like I said, we have an instrument to address possible misgivings and I am convinced— and this is what I gather from our partners—that there is will to use dialogue.

In the recent rebuttal to the EU Parliament’s resolution on Uganda, the government spokesperson threw jibes at the EU saying you are jealous of Uganda’s blossoming relations with China. Are you?

If I may respond with a question: Why should we be jealous of China? We have a good relationship with the government. What is China taking away from us or from Uganda? I think Uganda is very right in having as many development partners as possible—India, China, the EU, the US, the EAC, and the AU. You cannot and should never focus your relationship on one partnership only. There are areas in which India can be much more useful to Uganda than the Europeans can ever possibly be. China, same way. The Netherlands is a small country in Europe but they are a country with the highest agricultural production— even more than the U.S. How do they do that? They have found ways to improve production, to reduce damage caused by pests and to increase yields. They have created a special link between university researchers and farmers. Can’t Uganda get much greater benefits with The Netherlands— which by the way is happening—than with any other country in Europe or with China or India? I think the answer is yes and why should anyone be jealous of that?

For a long time, the EU has valued President Yoweri Museveni’s leadership not only in Uganda but also in the Great Lakes region. Aren’t you afraid of losing a trusted partner in Museveni if you continue critiquing him?

Are we really too critical of him? To me being frank and candid is not something that should put our relations at risk. When we had our last discussion in the meeting with President Museveni, for instance, we raised a number of issues. One of them is still topical—taxation of social media. We said Mr. President; maybe there are other ways to raise revenue. On the death penalty, the President said, ‘I don’t think the EU’s approach is the right one, but tell me; why do you think my approach is wrong and yours is right?’ So we spoke even about that and in the end the President said, you know what, I will keep my options open. Is it not right among friends to raise all issues? We have no interest whatsoever in creating tensions and misgivings in Uganda but we will not close our eyes if we see something which obviously is not right because this would not be in the spirit of an open and mutually respectful partnership.

Away from Uganda, what do you make of the squabbles between Uganda and Rwanda and how do you suggest these two neighbours resolve their ongoing disagreements?

It is difficult for me to comment because I only read this in the press. But during discussions with friends and colleagues in Uganda and Rwanda, someone once said, is there a better ally for Rwanda than Uganda or for Uganda than Rwanda in this region? Obviously these two countries are bound together. An open and frank dialogue is the only way to go to address the issues which have given rise to rumours which I don’t have details about. This is what we do even in Europe. I don’t think I have any special advice but if you look from outside, you see two countries that have been so close historically, politically, socially together that you can’t see how they can fall into a situation of real differences. The little things can be sorted out.

Your last word?

The partnership we have is not about working together on infrastructure. It’s a political relationship; it is a relationship between partners who should respect each other and who should be open and willing to talk about any issue.

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