The German government has decided to withhold 400 billion Uganda shillings ( €100 million, $106 million) of funds it had pledged to the East African country for refugee resettlement annually. Germany follows the United Kingdom in suspending funding after a UN investigation of Uganda’s refugee program in 2018 found evidence of corruption costing millions of dollars and misconduct.
The scandal came to light when a whistleblower within the Ugandan government notified donors that large sums of money had been withdrawn from the account where it was deposited. A joint investigation conducted by the United Nations, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and Uganda’s government then discovered that the number of refugees in Uganda was inflated and resources intended to provide for refugees had been stolen. Up to now, the Ugandan government has not brought the suspects to book which has led donors to question the country’s commitment to investigating the matter, hence the decision by Germany and the UK to withhold funds.
Germany is ‘shocked’
The German ambassador to Uganda, Albrecht Conze, says that Germany was shocked by the results of the investigation. “I must admit that what happened in February last year, now 15 months ago, came as a shock to Germany. Especially since a lot of the money also comes from private sources, from people who donate. When you donate and then hear that your donation has not been spent well or embezzled, you become very cross,” Conze told DW.
Uganda officially hosts 1,3 million refugees and received $350 million from various donors in 2017. For now, Germany has decided to withhold the funds given directly to the Ugandan government until it launches proceedings against the suspects, but it will release some funds to international organizations like UNHCR for aid projects. Uganda is heavily dependent on the aid money coming from international donors in order to deal with the financial situation caused by the refugee situation in the country.
Call for thorough investigation
Ambassador Conze emphasizes that action must be taken to restore trust. “We are not dispensing [funds] until we see that those who had been identified at the time are brought to justice, and they need to respond to the allegations that came up at the time,” Conze said. “I am a bit surprised that this takes 15 months. I would not like to think that someone wishes to sweep that under the carpet. You can do that with your own money but when you get money from friends, I think your accountability is increased, so I would expect some action here by the authorities concerned.”
The Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Musa Echweru, told DW that the investigation would be thorough and culprits punished. However, the decision of the German government was a staggering blow. “The truth is that it will hurt our operations. There is a lot to be done, I only wish that they have not conclusively taken that position and that’s my prayer.” He said Uganda would work hard to convince Germany and other donors to understand that the investigation processes may be slow but they were in motion. “There is evidence of those who committed wrong. Some two, three people should be punished, so it is going to be implemented,” he said.
UK also halts funding
Four donors – Britain, Germany, the European Union and the United States, contributed almost 80% of 2017 funding. All of them threatened to withdraw their funding after the corruption claims became loud. In December 2017, 16 donor countries issued a statement calling for the prosecution of those responsible.
Germany is Uganda’s second biggest donor after the United Kingdom which provides more than 15 million pounds sterling (€17 million, $19 million). The UK halted its funding in February of this year. The news website The New Humanitarian wrote that the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) confirmed that funding to UNHCR Uganda had been frozen. According to a spokesperson, DFID provided just over 20 million pounds in funding to the UNHCR in Uganda during 2016 and 2017. The UNHCR said it needs 448 million dollars for operations in Uganda in 2019. The organization has raised 130 million dollars so far.
Failure to learn from past mistakes
Leonard Okello, an anti-corruption activist, believes that the Ugandan government only has itself to blame for not punishing corrupt officials in the past. “I think the big challenge of the current government in power is their failure to deal with corruption, where people steal money or abuse offices and get away with it. There is a need for transparency and accountability so that they can refer back to their government and their people. So it is our responsibility to do our part as a government and as people of Uganda.”
On social media platforms, many users agree with the decision taken by the German government. One user commented on DW Africa’s Facebook page: “It is not enough to simply give funds for development to Uganda. It is better to build the governance capacity to manage the funds, but also to follow through that the funds are used for what they are intended for. The office of the prime minister tasked with coordination and management of major donor-funded projects has proven incompetent.” Another user wrote: “It is the scramble for money that has led to many discords within Africa. We easily lose our virtues at the sight of money.”