In an appearance last week on Radio One’s call-in prime talk show; The Spectrum, AlbRecht Conze, the German ambassador to Uganda, said Europeans can no longer be nudged to help Africa oust out-of-favour leaders. He said that is “really your turf.” He said Africans have options; they can use the ballot or civil disobedience to choose or depose a leader like the Sudanese middle-class did to former President Omar al-Bashir.
Sadab Kitatta Kaaya listened in and captured some of the highlights of the show. Below are excerpts.
You have been ambassador to Uganda for two years, what is your view of the relationship between Uganda and Germany?
Well established, it has been there for a very long time, and I think, trust has been built over all these decades. From the very start of Uganda’s independence, we were there as a partner.
I see on your website you actually refer to that trust but just below it, there is a statement that Germany is interested in (Uganda’s) development. How exactly?
Germans left Africa early as colonisers 100 years ago. We were stripped of our colonies by the Treaty of Versailles. So, we had a chance to go for a second start, which was non-colonial, but developmental.
Our engineers and development agents were there at a very early stage in sectors such as improvement of water, education, electricity etc. All this we started early without the political mortgages other European friends had to carry on until the 1960s.
What sectors have you been most interested in?
Look at National Water [and Sewerage Corporation] for instance, their engineers and technicians have been trained by German partners over the decades. We’ve been in water for over 30 years, we are now slowly moving out because the bulk of it has been done, and the idea of development assistance is also set to take a step back when it becomes obvious that the aim has been reached.
In the field of water, I think we are happy to disengage gradually and go into new sectors such as rural development, which are key in regard to Uganda’s demographic situation. Rural development in the sense of building secondary roads – there is a huge infrastructure program going on in the country, which is making us feel like making tar roads out of dirt roads. I think it is time to include those communities that don’t live close to the main roads in the country.
We are also very much in energy, particularly renewable energy. Uganda is a wonderful place for renewable energy because 80 percent of your energy comes from water given your natural richness of not just River Nile but many other rivers. So, we are assisting you in building smaller power stations like where River Muzizi joins Lake Albert.
That is one of the projects, perhaps not as big as the Nile power station but decentralized. Decentralization is an important program for Germany because we are a federal country, we don’t like to address support to the centre, we are very much in the tradition of trying to develop countries in a general way without emphasis on particular regions.
How do you ensure that your assistance does not create dependence, does not lead to abuse…?
You are mentioning the core of all the problems of developmental partnerships. It is not our habit to come with hundreds of Germans to Uganda and do everything here. It is our habit to come with one or two and then train 10 Ugandans of higher educational quality who then train another 200 or so.
The idea of training is related to everything that we do in development partnerships but also in private investment. I don’t know of any German company that has invested in Uganda that has not joined a vocational training program. We believe in transferring skills and making Ugandans independent instead of dependent.
A quick scan of your website shows that not all is well with Uganda. You carry a joint communiqué in relation to the way Uganda is handling freedom of the media. What concerns do you have there and how have you engaged with authorities here?
I think the authorities know very well what we think, and we have, as Western and Asian development partners – Japan and South Korea- made it clear that we very much believe that a high degree of the freedom of the media is an engine of growth and emancipation of any country.
So, when there is a certain nervousness because of, let’s say, the electoral calendar, that leads to events of repression, then I think this is unfortunate and also unnecessary. Your country is mature enough to go through an electoral period, even an extended electoral period, which we seem to be at the start of right now, without the harassment of the media.
It will be just as good, but it will be probably worse if some of the security forces believe that harassment of the media is in the interest of someone. It is not, it is in the interest of nobody. So, this is what we reiterate to our Ugandan friends but we don’t say this because we are Mzungus, we say this because we are echoing what the Ugandans themselves are telling their leaders and the chiefs of their security forces. It is your struggle, we are not there to do this for you but we can be a positive echo for the better, and we can encourage everybody to observe the rules, which every country has subscribed to.
How does Germany draw the line because quite often, we have heard leaders say that development partners cannot tell us what to do?
The time of lecturing to Africans from their northern partner continent is definitely over. If some people in Europe have not understood that yet, it is their problem. I fully agree with every African citizen and leaders that this is not the way we should deal with each other.
If, on the other hand, we support people who are simple citizens, and who claim the freedom of expression, claim their rights to enjoy civil liberties, we are not doing that against such a country, we are doing it in a global way of showing our belief that a human being has a basic dignity nobody globally is allowed to touch. This is how it is in the German constitution that a man’s dignity; that also implies a woman’s dignity, is of the highest value and may not be touched by a state’s interference.
This is very much a liberal belief which is neither European nor African. It is global even though some people on our planet believe there are no global values anymore and that there are regional values. I disagree.
What are your thoughts on how Uganda has handled the issue of refugees?
Uganda is rightly quoted as a shining example on how you should treat your brothers [and] neighbours who are in need. [Uganda] has always opened her borders because many of you remember that you needed open borders of your neighbours when you were in a period of darkness.
Uganda’s policy of keeping the door open is something that we appreciate, admire and cherish. It is something we as Germany treasure… please remember that about two generations ago, 15 million Germans were refugees themselves after they were expelled from parts of then East Germany… so, there is a collective memory of what it means to be a refugee, which makes us very open.
It didn’t take long for Germany to pledge funds to assist Uganda in coping with especially the huge wave two years ago of South Sudanese refugees. You mentioned the figure of Shs 40 billion? In fact we are now close to Shs 400 billion all together, which is a huge amount but I must immediately put a caveat on this and add that at least 1/3 of this Shs 400 billion is for the development of the host communities because you just can’t give money for refugees without reinforcing local structures of the areas where they find shelter.
Helping local communities to improve their infrastructure and their capacity to cope is something that will remain for the host communities even when the refugees return to their homelands.
Not long ago, there were issues about money given for refugees in Uganda. Will your country continue to give more money in the face of these problems?
I must admit that what happened in February last year came as a shock to Germany especially since most of the money comes from private sources – from people who donate. When you donate and then you hear that your donation has not been spent well, or has been embezzled, then you become very cross.
We had a home front to deal with, to explain to, that, “well, there had been irregularities but we will do everything to help the Ugandan government clean up that mess.” A lot has been done since and I would like to commend the efforts of the Office of the Prime Minister [OPM] but we are still not fully re-engaged and some of the funds we had pledged, we are still not disbursing until we see that those who had been identified at that time; there were four persons [and] among them was the commissioner for refugees in the ministry of Refugees and Disaster Preparedness.
Until we see that they are brought to justice and they respond to the allegations that came up at the time. I am a bit surprised that this [has taken] 15 months. Uganda has functioning institutions, and I would not want to think that someone wants to sweep that under the carpet. You can do what you want with your own money but when you get money from friends, I think your accountability is increased with regard to the trust they put in you.
What is Germany’s policy in regard to the handling of refugees and migrants?
How one should deal with refugees is all written down in international law and it is handled by UNHCR, and there are certain mechanisms that are universal and, are always in place when you have a refugee situation or refugee crisis.
Migrants are something else; migrants are young people who realize that they might get better chances if they go elsewhere. There has been a United Nations declaration not so long ago, which my country has signed despite some reservations we had but the whole issue of migration is something that has to be handled in an orderly way.
Dr Ekwaro (call-in listener): You donors give your money to corrupt dictators and they end up squandering it but you keep giving the money. Don’t you feel that when a new administration comes in, they may refuse to pay? Secondly, instead of giving money for refugees, isn’t it cheaper to talk to leaders of neighbouring countries to stop fuelling unrest? Thirdly, what criteria do you use to grade countries as dictatorships because we in Uganda feel that we are dealing with a dictatorship?
Joseph Harry Oshengyere (call-in listener): I want to thank Germany for assisting Uganda. However, it is important to consider the level of democracy you are giving support to. This is the time Germany should help us and withdraw all aid given to Uganda.
I think I can only repeat what I said in regard to what Ugandans must do themselves and know that because Europeans have played the role they have played for about 100 years in Africa until 1960, there is very often an automatic reaction on the side of our African friends to ask us for help when something is wrong on the political scene.
If you have showed us how to build wells that can keep water tidy, why can’t you also show us how to get rid of this or that president in this or that country? I can say no. That is really your turf; that is your sole responsibility as Africans to do either within the law, the Constitution and electoral process and declare your intention at the ballot box and either confirm the existing president or vote for someone else.
When this is not possible anymore, we are just seeing the example in Sudan, which is very interesting, then gather in a peaceful way as exemplified by Mahatma Ghandhi (of India) over 100 years ago, and show civil disobedience which, in the case of Sudan, seems to have been the only way for a responsible middle-class to lead the country in a new direction.
We cannot help in that. That is every African society’s own problem and own decision. We can of course answer questions when we are being asked, we can, maybe, give advice but with caution because the difference between advice and giving lectures is sometimes only a small one.
So, please, do yourself what you feel you need to do, you have our sympathy but we are not interfering and we are not telling you which direction to go. [Those] times are gone, and I think it is important to know this, and know that the young generation in Africa finds this a very normal way of thinking. The older generation still has a feeling of “why can’t the Mzungu help us also in this respect?”