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What next after Clinton’s damning Uganda report?

By Dicta Asiimwe

It is not authenticated but a report purported to be by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the American Congress on the 2011 Uganda elections could have serious implications.

The report is the first in a series that the US Congress, in an unprecedented move, asked Clinton to write after every 30 days regarding the government of Uganda actions on the 2011 elections.

Congress’s directive was interpreted as a sign that the US is taking a hawkish view of the government of Uganda behavior and could take punitive action.

There is speculation that if the does not carry out reforms to ensure free and fair elections, the US may cut its aid to Uganda and also influence other development partners to follow suit.

The intention appears to be to nudge President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 24 years and has won election mired by fraud and violence, to hold a clean election in 2011.

The MP for Busongora South, Christopher Kibanzanga, told a journalist: The donors have the key; they pushed President Museveni to accept multi-partyism and when they called him over the Anti-homosexuality Bill, the President immediately changed his position. If the donors tell him to accept the electoral reforms we are pushing for as the opposition, there is no doubt he will accept them within days.

The report circulating in the media has not been authenticated.

Joann Lockard, the Public Affairs Officer at the US Mission in Uganda said it is only the State Department that can authenticate the report.

However, other source familiar with the US Statement said the report, which is highly critical of the way government is managing the process to the 2011 elections, is genuine.

The Clinton report indicts the Uganda government for failing to carry out reforms to ensure independence of the Electoral Commission, using the police to intimidate the opposition and restrict their freedom of movement and freedom of the press, among others.

The exclusion of key stakeholders from the appointments process compromised the Commissions independence and will damage the credibility of the 2011 electoral process, the report says in part.

Ofwono Opondo, who is the Deputy Spokesperson of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, said the report was irrelevant. It is the people of Uganda who have to decide whether elections are free or fair and not the Americans, he said.

He said the Clinton report would not have any serious impact on Uganda since she is not the first American Secretary of state to give official criticism on decisions taken by the Ugandan government.

She is just passing through the American government and she wont be the first to condemn the Uganda governments actions, Opondo said.

His boss, Mary Karooro Okurut, the spokesperson of NRM, said the Clinton report is unfair because the State Department did not listen to her governments side.

The Clinton report is a one-sided affair. It clearly shows they have bought the opposition story wholesale. NRM is condemned and pronounced guilty in a trial where she wasnt given an opportunity to give her side of the story, Karooro said.

The report comes at a time when donor countries are cutting aid to developing countries because of the global financial downturn. Democratic governance is one of the key conditions they consider in giving or freezing aid.

The US Appropriations Committee, which is the recipient of the Clinton report, is one of the largest and most powerful committees in the U.S. Congress. It is the one that authorises expenditure of any money by the US government. It has several sub-committees whose chairmen are so powerful that they are often called Cardinals because of the power they wield over the budget.

Currently, the committee is at the centre of a tussle between the equally powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Budget Committee after the latter sliced the former’s aid budget by up to US$4 billion from US$58.5 billion. This means that with the reduction of the aid budget, the Senate Foreign relations Committee may give priority to countries which adhere to strict principles of good governance.

With Uganda’s governance credentials getting dented by the Clinton report, its chances of getting the US aid could get slimmer.

The US aid to Uganda is channelled through either USAID or the State Department or a combination of both.

In 2009, the total amount of US aid to Uganda was $390 million (about Shs 800 billion). The Ministry of Transport has the biggest portion of Uganda’s budget at Shs 1.1 trillion as per the 2008/9 financial year.

However, President Yoweri Museveni has repeatedly said donors should not tie development assistance to demands for good governance and democracy.

Before the Clinton report, the US ambassador to Uganda, Jerry Lanier, Martin Shearman (UK), and Joroen Verhaul (Netherlands) had expressed concern over the fairness of Uganda’s 2011 elections.

While celebrating the Dutch National Day on April 30, the Ambassador Joreon Verheul said his country was considering cutting aid to African countries and one of the reasons was failure to have free and fair elections.Â

But Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba, a lecturer at Makerere University and a consultant on poverty eradication, says if the result of the report by America is it to cut aid, it would be good for Uganda because it allows the country to learn to stand on its own feet.

“Why should we mind about aid? A cut in aid would allow us to develop internal mechanisms of generating revenue,” Prof. Nuwagaba said.

He said lack of aid had allowed Kenya develop ways of generating domestic revenue. He said Kenya has not had aid since 2000 and as a result, it is now able to finance its budget up to 98%. He added that receiving aid has not developed Uganda more than lack of it would have done.

Leaders of some opposition parties in Uganda have said the report would not do much in improving the democratic process in Uganda. They say the report talks about things that the opposition in Uganda “has complained about for a long time” but no action has been taken.Â

Officials from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) said the report might not change the situation and ensure that Uganda holds a free and fair election.Â

But FDC spokesperson Wafula Oguttu commended it saying the report saying “at least has stripped bare President Museveni’s lies on Uganda’s democracy”.

The FDC vice president for Eastern Uganda Salaamu Musumba said the Americans are only good at talking about Uganda but they never take any action.

“We are not relying on the international community to force the Museveni government to do anything,” Musumba said.

She added the American government seems to peddle a lie that a strong opposition is bad for Uganda but added that a strong democracy cannot be built on a one-political party system.

“We have seen them act against President Mugabe in Zimbabwe, we have also seen them react against Kenyan politicians but when it comes to Uganda, they never do anything,” she charged.

She said it would be better if instead of writing reports about Uganda, the American government provided funds for state of the art election registration kits which India used in their elections. Musumba said these would reduce the likelihood of rigging elections especially during the registration of voters.

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See report on www.independent.co.ug

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