By Ronald Musoke
The Germany Ambassador to Uganda, Peter Blomeyer, talked to Ronald Musoke about the two countries’ 50 years of developmental cooperation.
What are some of your impressions of the country since you arrived in September, 2014?
Uganda is a beautiful country; it is a country with very kind and forward-thinking people. Despite all the difficulties, Uganda is making progress. I feel privileged that I can participate in its development and I am very willing to devote all my work onto the cooperation between Germany and Uganda.
How would you describe the last 50 years of the Uganda-Germany cooperation?
Germany has always taken great interest in Uganda. Our relationship has been marked by a feeling of friendship and mutual respect—mutual respect for each other’s experiences but also for limitations of what one could do for the other. Both countries have changed, of course, during the last 50 years which is normal, but there has been one constant which is friendship.
At the time of signing the first cooperation agreement, what were some of the objectives of your government’s partnership with a young country like Uganda, then?
Our objectives were not too far from what we are still doing. These were investments in Uganda’s infrastructure which would contribute to Uganda’s economic growth. They were a little different though [from today] because we invested in road and railway infrastructure. One of the first recorded projects was the construction of the Ntungamo—Kabale road. Storage facilities for the agricultural sector were also part of our projects back then.
To what extent have these objectives been realised?
You have to take into account that Uganda had a tumultuous history, so it is very difficult to go into these early years. But what we can say is that over the last 30 years, we have had constant growth of electricity, water and transport in Uganda and Germany has contributed its fair share to this. One of our early objectives was to help Uganda to build a commercially viable agricultural sector. There is still room for development. We continue to engage in this sector by working with financial institutions to improve access to finance for rural companies and farmers. We are also helping the government to create a regulatory framework for financial institutions and services that create a conducive environment for investment in rural areas.
What have been some of the highlights of this cooperation?
In the late 1960s, Germany supported the start of UTV [now UBC] and in the 1970s we helped to found the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Makerere University. The other highlight was the German coach we sent to coach Uganda’s national football team, the Cranes. But the real highlights for the Ugandan population have been in other fields where there has been a direct and palpable impact on their daily life—that is water and sanitation, electricity and agro-finance. For instance, for water, the German Development Cooperation has enabled over a million Ugandans to gain access to potable water. We have contributed to the building of effective institutions in the water sector; and together with NWSC, there has been improvement of water supply in towns like Entebbe, Fort Portal and Kabale.
What about trade relations between the two countries?
The current trade volumes amount to about Euros 166m (about $200m); with Uganda exporting mainly coffee while Germany exports to Uganda mainly machinery and chemicals. This surely needs to increase even if Germany is Uganda’s largest trading partner within the EU.
What is the current level of German investments in Uganda?
Germany’s direct investments focus on tourism and agro-forestry projects (tree and coffee plantations). This is still at a very low level but there is a great deal of interest of German companies coming to Uganda and there is great potential which needs to be explored. Uganda is part of the emerging greater market of the East African Community of 143 million people. During the annual ambassadors’ conference in Berlin in September, we had the economic day where we offered representatives of German companies the opportunity to ask ambassadors about their countries. Quite a few came to my table and discussed with me opportunities in Uganda.
On the downside, what would you say have been some of the low moments of this cooperation?
We had low moments in the past decades, especially in the 1970s, when due to insecurity and civil strife, projects had to be paused and staff had to be withdrawn. The lowest moment in recent years – for Germany and many of our partners in the international community – was the OPM financial scandal which eventually led to the non-renewal of our budget support programme. Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see the changes that took place afterwards and the efforts that the government has put into restarting its relations with the development community.
At a recent forum to celebrate 50 years of cooperation, there was heated debate on aid versus trade, and Ugandans seemed to suggest it is trade and not aid that Uganda needs. Yet, at that event, the two governments ended up signing development cooperation agreements worth Euros 97 million. Why did you sign these agreements?
My impression from the discussion was indeed that the Ugandan participants had a distinct feeling of discomfort that even after 50 years Uganda is still receiving aid. But I think most participants also agreed that there is no antagonism between aid and trade, as the title of our debate suggested which we had chosen exactly to provoke such a lively discussion. Actually, what is needed is aid for trade in a very broad sense. And this aid rendered to the private sector must be offered not only by donors but also by the Ugandan government. It could include a variety of measures. It is necessary to create a business climate which makes it easy for young entrepreneurs to found a business, reducing bureaucratic and financial obstacles to enter the market. This is also important for attracting foreign direct investment, as it is essential to eliminate corruption so that a level playing field for everybody is created. Improving the business climate is a condition for enlarging the production chain in Uganda. For the future, we need ‘intelligent’ aid to support trade. There is nothing wrong with know-how transfer by technical cooperation as GIZ is doing for instance in Uganda or Arusha providing advice to the EAC. Why should we not pass on the experiences of the EU to EAC? However, I think it is also evident that in the first place it is Uganda herself – a country of 35 million people – that has to take up the challenge of transformation; we as donors can only contribute. This we did by signing this contract.
President Museveni recently admitted that up to Shs 500 billion meant for wealth creation projects in northern Uganda had been mismanaged or swindled, meaning that corruption remains a serious problem in the country. What in your opinion will it take to end this vice?
The first and foremost condition for ending corruption in this country is a change of mind-set. Corruption should not be looked upon as something normal. Corruption hurts the entire society. Any bribe paid diverts resources from ventures that benefit society. So this calls for a change of mind-set for people to realise that corruption impoverishes the majority of citizens. It is no petty offence you can turn a blind eye on. It is a crime against the general public, a crime against the treasury, a crime against fellow competitors in business, a crime against the citizens. It is a cancer destroying future chances of a whole generation and country from within, and that is intolerable. But fighting corruption is a joint responsibility. Above all, the government should demonstrate, through its actions, the political will to fight corruption even at the highest level and give the good example. In this context, government accountability organisations, external oversight, the relevant committees of parliament and the judiciary need to be strengthened. But what we need, too, is a general debate on the subject. [Political] parties should discuss it; media must make it a subject; it should be talked about in schools and universities, churches and mosques, clubs and pubs. But also Ugandans need to understand that unless they themselves refrain from participating in corrupt practices – paying a bribe for a construction licence or bribing policemen – unless they refrain from that, what do they expect from government officials? By the way, the German government helps Uganda in overcoming this scourge by supporting the Office of the Auditor General, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority and the Inspectorate of Government under the framework of the project: Promotion of Accountability and Transparency.
What is your contribution to the homosexuality debate that has raged on in the Ugandan public sphere over the recent past?
The debate on homosexuality actually is a debate of conflicting morals. There are many Ugandans who believe it to be immoral. But even those who believe it to be immoral are divided on how to deal with it. Look at the Christian religion. There are radicals who want to punish it severely as a sin, and there are others who remind us that the biblical message even for sinners is love and forgiveness— Old Testament versus New Testament. Whatever your view is on that, you have to ask yourself whether you can really enforce morality. This is actually impossible. Morality is the personal accountability before your own conscience, for Christians before God. Morality is something within you. Thus, morality can neither be enforced by the state nor church; not even with punishment. For a Christian, it is only God to judge the morality of a person. Now actually, we have two discussions; the debate of conflicting morals and the role of the state in all this. The role of a democratic state is not to take position on morality because of the fact that morality is always personal. So the role of the state cannot be to enforce morality upon its citizens. No, the role of the state is to protect its citizens. So this is where the discussion on the law actually starts; what is necessary to protect citizens? There is no need to protect someone from something he is consenting with. Therefore, there is no need for punishing consenting adults for what they do in their bedroom. But it is different though with children as the weakest link in society. We should do our utmost to protect them. But most children in Uganda and elsewhere in the world are being abused heterosexually, not homosexually. Both is detestable and deserves to be punished.
Ugandans are just months away from the 2016 general elections. What is your view ahead of the elections?
There were some concerns about the 2011 elections. I was not here then but there was an election observer mission from the EU. They put down their observations and recommendations and I can only emphasize that and recommend to Ugandan authorities, especially Parliament to look into this. Also, there was a consultation process on a regional and then national level to discuss proposals made by the EC, the National Consultative Forum, IPOD, Cabinet, opposition parties and civil society the results of which – the “Citizen’s Compact – should be followed up now. There are a number of issues that need to be dealt with—the voters register, the composition of the Electoral Commission, the regulation on financing of elections—among others. These need to be tackled at the earliest convenience.
Germany recently celebrated 25 years of the fall of the Berlin Wall. How significant is the date of Nov. 9, 1989 to Germans?
November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall crumbled, was a moment of tremendous joy for the German people, because the people in East Germany regained their freedom and paved the way for unity of the whole of Germany which had been separated for 40 years. But this day has also an importance beyond Germany because it also marked the fall of the Iron Curtain, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe regained their freedom so they could transform their economies from the communist systems to market economies, to democracies, to rule of law and eventually join the EU. And even beyond that in the rest of the world, this development had repercussions, because the bi-polar system came to an end and many dictators who were valuable as proxies during the Cold War were not supported anymore and had also to introduce measures that eventually led to democracy. You have examples in your region here.
What can Uganda learn from the German struggle to unite and build a stronger economy?
The struggle to unite has shown that you cannot suppress the call for freedom forever. People want to decide their destiny themselves. No dictatorial system can ever be secure of that. Also, it has shown the importance to build up trust with your neighbours. Without the trust of our neighbours in U.S., Germany could not have united again.
Over the next 50 years, where do Ugandans see your government putting more focus in terms of development cooperation?
Our cooperation will have to be adapted to the needs of the country and to the priorities of the government. We now have a new National Development Plan coming up and we have to re-orientate our cooperation to the NDP. We also hope that Uganda will be able to benefit from the wealth of its oil revenues which are supposed to come in the future and that will be able to build its infrastructure and hopefully with time it will be able to take up all the functions which at the moment are being supported by aid. It is a process which we hope to witness within the next 50 years or hopefully, even before then. I also think Uganda and Germany will have close relations concerning the common approach to solving regional issues.