Uganda: Museveni gives five months to the DGF
News Analysis — President Yoweri Museveni has given the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), a major funder of civil society organizations in Uganda, a short five-month window to operate. But does this mean the end of the DGF, whose activities were suspended last year, or is this another strategy of the president to bring NGOs into line?
Museveni announced on June 22 the very conditional reopening of DGF activities in Uganda.
“Today I hosted the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation. We discussed a number of bilateral issues. I also agreed to lift the ban on the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), which will continue until December 2022, with the government represented in decision-making structures,” Museveni said in a tweet.
“I will formally communicate our position to the relevant government departments,” he added.
The lifting of the ban follows a long lobbying campaign, marathon meetings between the government and development partners and public campaigning.
During the meeting, the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Flemming Miller Mortensen, had informed the President that, in any case, the project was only six months old. The Danish Ambassador to Uganda, Nicolaj Abraham Petersen, participated in the meeting.
The Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) was established in 2011 by the European Union, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway to provide financial support and technical support to state and non-state actors in areas such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
In its dispatch phase, which began in 2017, DGF II had a budget of 102 million euros, which annoyed Museveni. The money came from the European Development Fund (EDF) €12 million, Austria €2.5 million, Denmark €20 million, Ireland €14 million, Netherlands €10 million, Norway €10 million and Sweden €25 million. It also had 8 million euros carried over from DGF I.
While approving funding for phase two of the DGF, donors noted that the phase had demonstrated considerable results in promoting and supporting democratic governance, including constructive civil society engagement with institutions. government, citizens’ understanding of their rights, greater accountability through demand-driven activities, and the provision of legal aid.
“Experience has shown that supporting citizen engagement in democratic processes and institutions has led to increased state responsiveness,” they said, “DGF II, building on these achievements, will not only consolidate its efforts to support and strengthen civil society, it will leverage opportunities for increased engagement with the Ugandan government to demonstrate the value of a governance agenda that connects to national priorities and commitments DGF II aims to go beyond a mere “continuation” of DGF I.”
At the time, there was an understanding of the need to consolidate or scale up focus areas that were successful in delivering evidence-based results from 2011 to 2016, to phase out where DGF has less successful, and to seek new areas of intervention and partnerships.
Donors said that DGF II programming would be based on a set of principles aimed at identifying and contributing to the resolution of local and national problems, ensuring regular learning, emphasizing gender issues and engage a wide range of actors around key governance issues.
The Bobi Wine Factor
But on January 02, 2021, President Museveni ordered the suspension of the activities of the DGF, stating that its funds were “used to finance activities and organizations intended to overthrow (the) government under the guise of improving governance”.
President Museveni was upset that the DGF was allowed to spend its £100 million (about 500.8 billion shillings) budget to operate in the country without his involvement.
“It has come to my attention that the Department of Finance, under the direction of the Permanent Secretary, has improperly and unilaterally authorized a £100 million fund, known as the Democratic Governance Facility, to be managed exclusively by a foreign mission in Uganda,” he said. wrote to the Ministry of Finance in a letter dated January 02, 2021.
He said the Ugandan government has no say or control over how the Democratic Governance Facility is administered in Uganda and likened it to the Democratic Governance and Accountability Project in which he said that there was transparency and representation.
Museveni said he was told that a large percentage of the DGF’s money was earmarked for funding activities and organizations aimed at overthrowing the government “in the name of improving governance”.
President Museveni’s closure of the DGF came at the height of the 2021 presidential, parliamentary and local elections, where he faced a tough challenge from a rookie party, the National Unity Platform (NUP ), led by Robert Sentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine.
Bobi Wine and his NUP party, which took over from the People Power movement that led opposition to the lifting of presidential term limits to allow Museveni to run, were the darling of Western media at the time. According to Museveni, with Western worship came funding for the NUP.
Museveni’s ban would have affected more than 100 non-governmental organizations. Most of them have seen many of their projects come to a halt. The ban has, however, been criticized by, among others, the US government-funded democracy research and advocacy organization; House of Liberty.
Jon Temin, director of Africa programs at Freedom House, said in a February 4 press release that the DGF is critical to the operations of many Ugandan civic organizations mandated to advance the rule of law and good governance and some government agencies, including the Uganda Human Rights Commission.
“We are alarmed by the decision to suspend the Democratic Governance Facility,” he said. “Through this action, the Ugandan government is obstructing progress led by Ugandans themselves.”
He pointed out that in the election which was characterized by violence and repression of political opposition, Bobi Wine was arrested during a campaign rally for allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions and more than 50 people were arrested. were killed as security forces sought to quash protests sparked by Wine’s arrest. He noted how the government has shut down internet access across the country, prompting the opposition to accuse the government of limiting its ability to share evidence of voter fraud.
He said the government also blocked foreign observers from monitoring the contest, rejected almost all accreditation requests from Ugandan civil society organizations seeking to participate and froze the bank accounts of several prominent organizations involved in election monitoring. and good governance.
Around the same time as Jon Temin’s press release, the matter was raised on the floor of Parliament.
MP for Kawempe Nord, Latif Sebaggala, presented it as a matter of national importance on February 04, 2021. He said Museveni’s action would “deal a blow to the efforts of the DGF in the fight against corruption and empowerment of communities across the country”.
Sebaggala said the president should do his due diligence on DGF support to communities and people’s livelihoods instead of focusing on allegations that the fund is sabotaging the government.
“There are a number of non-governmental organizations funded by the DGF and many Ugandans have been employed by these NGOs to carry out their activities,” he added.
Sebaggala also said the President should not blame the DGF for the loss of the NRM in the central region following claims that the Fund was supporting activities located in the region.
Bugiri Municipality MP Asuman Basalirwa said the political parties; including the NRM received funding from the DGF through the Interparty Organization for Dialogue (IPOD).
“The president’s decision is suffocating his own party,” Basalirwa said.
Kumi Municipality MP Silas Aogon said that even government institutions like parliament were affected by the presidential directive to stop the activities of the DGF. He said that the activities of the parliamentary government insurance committee were directly financed by the DGF.
“This puts the Committee’s activities at risk,” he said.
At the time, the then Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, ordered the Prime Minister to deliver a statement to Parliament.
It remains to be seen whether the lifting of the ban by President Museveni, even for five short months, will herald DGF III or whether it marks the end of a project that has set the heart of democracy in Uganda beating.