The Expat/Ugandan Dynamic

27 08 2010

My recent post, The Plot Thickens at Uganda Wildlife Authority, drew two interesting comments from Dr. Muballe, the new chair of the Board of Directors at UWA.  In his more agitated comment he wasn’t actually responding to anything I wrote, but to a comment left by Wolfgang Thome, who has written openly about his criticisms of the new board’s actions on his own website and in his articles at eTurboNews.  However, since both comments were left on my site, I figure it is fair for me to write about the thoughts his comments provoked for me.

First, the mild one:

“Trust me on this the motive of the new BoT of UWA is noble. The proof in the pudding is the outcome of the ongoing forensic Audit. If the motive was less than noble why Audit UWA.

If it help you understand UWA whose Annual budget is approximatelys$15,000,000 runs 20 accounts in 5 different banks. Does that make economic sense.

Kindly give us time to prove our worth. Not all that comes out of Uganda is Corrupt. There are many honest ugandans who truelly wish to see the country Grow. If at any stage the temptation to be corrupted afflicts me then be assured i shall resign.  Pro deum et Patrium.”

In his favor here, I must agree that it is a little ridiculous to have 20 accounts in 5 banks for a relatively small budget.  That is a perfect set-up for corruption, as it is difficult to monitor expenses in so many accounts, and I can only imagine the convoluted signing-authority arrangements for retrieving money from any of those accounts.  Part of the “proof in the pudding” on this one will be how they try to restructure this.  Who will have signing authority for the new, condensed accounts?  While the finance committee of a board needs to have the ability to review the accounts of the organization they oversee, they should never have the ability to actually access the funds.  By suspending everyone with signing authority, the road was open to have the Board be the only signatories.  Now that the court has re-instated the Executive, that road is not so clear.

They will assuredly have time to prove their worth.  So far, though, the road is already bumpy.  Their dismissals of the Executive Director and the Director of Conservation have been overturned, and when Dr. Muballe was called to speak to Parliament he did not appear.  The Monitor, the independent newspaper in Uganda, has also reported unprecedented fees being paid to the new board under Dr. Muballe in “Wildfire Consumes Wildlife Authority:”

Members of the previous UWA board, headed by city lawyer Andrew Kasirye, received a monthly retainer of Shs700,000 and a sitting allowance of Shs103,000.

However, Dr Muballe now receives a monthly retainer of Shs2m [$1,000] and a sitting allowance of Shs300,000 [$150 per meeting]. Other board members have a monthly retainer of Shs1.5m and a sitting allowance of Shs250,000.

Travel and night allowances have also been doubled to $200 (about Shs400,000) for the chairman and $150 (about Shs300,000) for members.

The new board has also approved new allowances and benefits to its members with Dr Muballe receiving a monthly allocation of 200 litres of fuel [worth about $250 – $300], Shs200,000 [$100] for airtime, and an entertainment allowance of Shs1m [$500].”

Pretty sweet packages, I must say, particularly for the board of an underfunded government agency where a single sitting allowance would be a good monthly salary for many of the employees.  And for those of you reading this outside of Uganda, a “sitting allowance” is basically extra money that you have to pay higher-level people here to do their jobs.  If you need somebody from the Health Ministry to come see a project at a health center, you have to pay them extra to get them to leave their desk.

There are also questions around how the new board was selected, as most of them have no conservation or wildlife experience and some had never even been to the parks before joining the board.  Dr. Muballe was the personal physician to the Minister of Trade and Tourism, who appointed him to the post.

His next comment, directed towards Wolfgang Thome, is a bit spicier:

Mr Wolfgang,

you have judged us with inadequate information. kindly prepare your apology in 30 days time. YOUR EUROCENTRIC ATTITUDE SHALL BE PUT TO SHAME. BY THE WAY SOME OF THE CORRUPTERS OF UWA OFFICIALS ARE GERMANS. if i gave you evidence to the effect could you help bring them to book?

Have a nice week.

aluta comtinua, victoria ecerta. We have declare war on corruption if you believe in transperancy help us prosecute these corrupt europeans as well.

Just for context, Wolfgang has been in Uganda for twenty years, is married to a Ugandan woman, and is set to live the rest of his life here.  He is clearly committed to this country, and probably has stronger ties here than he does back in Germany.  I’m not exactly sure what Dr. Muballe saw as “Eurocentric” in Wolfgang’s comment or his other writings.  He has been openly supportive of Moses Mapesa, who is a Ugandan, since this issue first started making headlines, and much of what he has written has been based on evidence that has come out through investigations by local, Ugandan reporters.  It is easy to avoid addressing the issues directly when you simply write-off your critics as “outsiders.”

Muballe’s comment, however, brings up a deeper issue.  There is a push-pull in Uganda between two opposing attitudes.  One, expressed here by Dr. Muballe, is essentially “Who do you mzungus think you are, telling us how to run our country?”  The other was expressed by a young man I met in a village last weekend who said to a group of us “Maybe we could sit down together and you could tell us how to organize our lives.”

Neither of these attitudes is healthy or appropriate.  Westerners have a role to play here just as Africans have a role to play in the United States or in Europe.  It is the unique blend of perspectives, experiences and gifts that different people bring to the table that make a country strong.

I do think there is a sense of entitlement on the part of many donor countries to have a say in the workings of Uganda, particularly due to the fact that a third of the national budget is direct support from international donors.  Compounding this is the fact that Uganda is actually moving backwards on the Corruption Perceptions Index created by Transparency International.  The Freedom House Country Report on Uganda also shows Uganda’s rating dropping over the last 4 years in the categories of Accountability and Public Voice, Rule of Law, and Anticorruption and Transparency.  The Civil Liberties category was the only one in which an improvement was seen.  So while Muballe is certainly correct that “not all that comes out of Uganda is corrupt,” it is impossible to ignore the fact that corruption is widespread here.  The cards are also very much stacked against those people, be they Ugandan or foreign, who want to steer clear of corruption.  That said, it is a delicate and awkward balance between “investors” having a say in their investment and a nation having sovereignty.

The frustration for me is that I don’t see Uganda as a poor country, or at least not as a country that needs to be poor.  The land here is extremely fertile, there is a growing business sector, recently discovered sources of oil, other minerals, and an English-speaking population, which makes it easier for Ugandans to interact with the global business community.  The human and natural resources are here.  What seems to be lacking is leadership that is committed to serving the people first, and themselves second.  Uganda could be a virtual paradise if the money that was allocated to strengthen it was used for that purpose.

Ugandan law does provide for both the bribe payer and the payee to be prosecuted.  It will be interesting to see what happens if this is enforced.  Will there be economic stagnation if authorities refuse to allow business activity without receiving a bribe but the businesses won’t pay the bribe due to fear of reprisal?

Donor countries do have a role to play in pressing for more transparency in the governments they support.  However, it must be remembered that those countries (and individuals working in the aid industry) have a vested interest in continuing to provide funding.  I think it is pretty rare for donors to follow through on any threats to reduce funding as a penalty for corruption.

The other side of this equation, the one expressed by the young man in the village, is also off-base.  None of us in the group knew anything about him, yet he thought we could help him “organize his life” simply because we are mzungus.  I believe that for some, there is a tendency to assume we mzungus bring more to the table than we actually do.  There are always pitfalls in making assumptions about entire groups of people, whether those assumptions are positive or negative.  As with anybody else, each mzungu here has some skills and lacks others, has certain positive character traits and certain negative ones.  I have enough trouble keeping my own life on track – I certainly don’t feel qualified to tell anybody else how to “organize” theirs.

So how do we move towards a healthier, more realistic relationship between western expatriates and Ugandans?  Reducing the wealth gap is an important step.  Improving the education system here to get it on-par with international standards is another.  But these are long-term undertakings.  Is there a way, in the meantime, to get people to look at each other as individuals, with unique strengths and weaknesses, no matter what their skin color or nationality might be?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala




2 responses

5 11 2010
UWA Leadership Exonerated by Parliament « Wild Thoughts from Uganda

[…] held by UWA in its various accounts.  I have written about the questionable actions of the board here, here, and […]

27 08 2010
Global Voices in English » Uganda: The Expat/Ugandan Dynamic

[…] Mark Jordahl discusses corruption allegation at Uganda Wildlife Authority and lessons to be learnt about the dynamic between foreign experts and Ugandans: I believe that for some, there is a tendency to assume we mzungus bring more to the table than we actually do.” […]

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