By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
David Ekerson is the Director of US Agency for International Development (USAID). Uganda is the 10th largest beneficiary of USAID programmes in the world. In its 2010 budget, USAID Uganda spent US$341 million as aid in various areas. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to Ekerson.
Where is your assistance in Uganda directed?
US foreign assistance is in five major areas namely peace and security, investing in people, governing justly and democratically, humanitarian assistance and economic growth. USAID has given technical assistance to aid Uganda’s electoral process. We supported the Electoral Commission to put up the e-register, short message service (SMS) to enable voters know their respective polling stations, and assisted parties in the area of manifestos especially the youth manifesto, we have assisted civil society in terms of strengthening advocacy. We also did work with parties on building consensus. We are strengthening local governments to become more transparent.
In health which falls under our objective of investing in people , this year we are spending US$130 million to prevent malaria especially in indoor spraying, curbing malaria in children and we are helping distributing medicines. We have presence in the primary education where one of the biggest issues has been the kids finish school but cannot read. Our education programme in the next five years will be focusing our assistance on thematic curriculum. We are increasing our resources to family planning and deal with the high population pressure. We have also helped out in the fight against HIV/AIDS and engage the UPDF in civil service works especially in northern Uganda and Karamoja.
For peace and security we look at resolving conflict peacefully. With the discovery of oil there have been land conflicts in the Albertine valley and it is critical to resolve these issues amicably. It is critical that we know how you are dealing with the environment, communities displaced from land as a result of oil exploration. We want to make sure that all issues are addressed justly.
How is USAID helping in ensuring that land rights in the north are upheld as people return from IDP camps?
Land is an issue not just in the north but also in the rest of Uganda like Bunyoro. I support the processes that government has put in place to solve land disputes and the processes of how land is transacted here. There is need to combine our efforts to improve the customary land ownership and teach people about the land legal framework.
What impact is USAID making on lives of ordinary Ugandans?
If you look at our assistance to the health sector, is that something stronger. There are 200,000 Ugandans on ARVS, thanks to the US government. The benefits of our assistance are spread out. Kids are getting vaccinated thanks to the strengthening of the healthcare service delivery throughout local governments they are cutting down to the grassroots. Look at what we do in education and what we are contributing to economic growth. We are working with farmers’ associations at grassroots level trying to give them the power to be bigger and stronger economically, organisational skills and marketing their produce and ensure food security. All these are aimed at helping people at grassroots.
Do you have any specific programmes to vulnerable communities like those living in hard to reach areas and are more prone to natural disasters like mountains where landslides are common?
When the north was under the LRA control there was a semblance of neglect but humanitarian agencies stepped in. We do go to those areas. In some cases I think it is a responsibility of Ugandan government to take care of those areas. You have over a million people dying of AIDS leaving behind orphans and these are very vulnerable people who need assistance. We are providing US$22 million to reach out to such children.
One of the programmes that USAID supports is agriculture but NAADS as one of the agricultural programmes in this country has been ridden with corruption. When other donors have threatened to cut aid over corruption you have remained silent. Why?
The donors you talk about are budget support donors. American systems work differently. The support donors have expectations based on what will be the outcomes from government and so when you talk about corruption in CHOGM it is specific to what they will have agreed. USAID assistance does not go to support the budget of the government of Uganda. We want to work with the government of Uganda but until we can be sure that the money we provided goes to the people of Uganda and we can track down the vaccination given to kids then we can’t give aid. Our support goes to strengthen the local government to be more transparent.