By Ronald Musoke
The Dutch Ambassador to Uganda, Alphons Hennekens, spoke to The Independent’s Ronald Musoke
How would you describe the current relations between the Netherlands and Uganda?
The Netherlands and Uganda enjoy broad and active bilateral relations. The Netherlands has been a solid and trusted development partner for Uganda over the last 15 years and this partnership in development is gradually shifting towards a trade and investments relationship. In recent years trade and investments between the two countries have grown, and this embassy is prepared and willing to play an active role in this.
Over the years, Dutch investments in Uganda have grown tremendously. How big is the current investment portfolio in the country?
Trade between Uganda and the Netherlands has indeed more than doubled in the past few years. (In 2012 alone, Uganda received the highest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in flows among the EAC partner states).This trend reflects the policy of the Ugandan government to increase investments and jobs in Uganda. The Netherlands especially links development cooperation in agriculture to economic cooperation in the productive sectors. Dutch public support will serve as a catalyst to Dutch private investments, leading to socially and environmentally responsible and inclusive growth.
The Dutch government has over the years supported Uganda’s justice, law and order, and the agriculture sectors. Why have you specifically focused on these two sectors?
The Dutch focus on justice, law and order and food security aligns well with the focus of the Ugandan government on regional and national stability and its drive to market-based economic growth. Through a focus on security, rule of law and governance programmes, the Netherlands has been supporting key activities underpinning the transition of Uganda towards its social economic development in Uganda, and the Netherlands has been happy to share its own experiences in this field with Uganda. The second pillar of Dutch involvement in Uganda is support to food security. Dutch efforts are focusing on adding value to agricultural product chains, especially in dairy, on rural financial inclusion, especially for small farmers and on raising incomes of small farmers, in particular youth and women. This programme also facilitates inroads for Dutch expertise, technology and investments in a vast and commercially undiscovered area; an example of how trade and aid can come together.
Following the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality law in February, the Dutch government was one of the first donor countries to cut or suspend aid to Uganda. What was the basis of your government’s decision?
The Netherlands has suspended, but not cut aid. This decision by the Dutch government underlines the importance it attaches to the sanctity of universal human rights. We firmly believe that freedom of sexual orientation is a basic human right. The Anti Homosexuality Act discriminates and victimises, and infringes on that basic human right. In this light, the Dutch government decided to suspend our cooperation with the Ugandan Ministry of Justice to avoid supporting the implementation of this law. I do realise that we disagree on this issue with the Ugandan government notwithstanding that Uganda has committed itself to international human rights treaties, but our bilateral relations are broader than this issue.
Isn’t your recent aid suspension an unfortunate punishment to ordinary Ugandans since many of your funding priorities have tended to focus more on increasing their productivity?
The Netherlands always has been and still is supporting initiatives aimed at inclusive growth in close cooperation with the Ugandan government. Many Ugandans, especially in the agricultural sector, reap the benefits of these initiatives. Where the Netherlands suspended part of its aid, it has been specifically directed at the central government in the justice sector responsible for the law and not at Ugandan citizens.
Ugandans understood when the Dutch government cut aid to Uganda over corruption a couple of years ago but they did not comprehend your recent decision in regard to the Anti-Homosexuality law. Can you understand the frustration of the common Ugandan?
Both in the case of corruption and in the case of the Anti Homosexuality Law, accountability is at stake. The Dutch government is accountable to its taxpayers whose support to Uganda underlines the democratic principles of transparency, accountability and human rights. We might disagree with Uganda on some issues, but we have to be accountable to our own taxpayers. I might add however, that in both cases the Netherlands did not cut aid, but suspended or redirected aid.
I am sure, you have heard both the government officials and ordinary Ugandans say, ‘on the issue of homosexuality, the West can keep their aid.’ Isn’t this a clear message to the Western governments?
I would not necessarily describe this as a clear message. Like I said before, the relation between the Netherlands and Uganda is broader than this issue. We work together on a range of issues aligned to the vision of the Ugandan government on social economic development.
Upon which parameters does the Netherlands give and maintain aid to developing countries like Uganda?
The main aim of the Netherlands’ development cooperation worldwide is poverty alleviation and sustainable inclusive growth. However, where possible, like in Uganda, the Netherlands will align its support to the transition to market driven inclusive growth. Parallel to the changing social economic development in Uganda itself, the focus in our bilateral relations will develop as well from aid to trade.
How much do you believe this law will now affect programmes between your government and Uganda?
Like I stated before, aid has been suspended in the area where we disagree with the Ugandan government on universal human rights. We suspended aid in the field of implementation of the Anti Homosexuality law. Other fields of cooperation in our bilateral relation are not (yet) affected. If, however, contrary to the assurances of government officials, blatant human rights violations occur, the position of the Dutch government will be under further review.