UK’s former Secretary of State for International Development, Ms Clare Short, who resigned after opposing former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to send troops to invade recently week attended the first UN Global Forum on Local Governments focusing on the Millennium Development Goals in Kampala. On the local scene she is remembered for having mediated talks between President Museveni and his Rwanda counterpart Paul Kagame in 2003 after the armies of the two countries clashed in DR Congo. She spoke to Sunday Monitor’s Stephen Wandera on a wide range of issues on the sidelines of the Forum.
Do you believe African countries can achieve the MDGs amid all the reported corruption?
No government is perfect everywhere in the world. In Uganda or any other African country, not everything has been done right like reducing poverty and hunger against all MDG goals. Some of them have made progress others have been disappointing but overall there has been some progress. And it is true in many African countries in the last 10 years, compared with the previous 20 years where things pretty went wrong. In the last 10 years across Africa there has been economic growth of about 6 per cent.
But the question is that how has the money been used? The progress is not as big as you would like but when there is progress it is good. So I feel optimistic about Africa, more people are getting educated and that is good for governments.
In that case what would you advise Africans in the civil society to do to bring these leaders to account for public funds?
There is no excuse for corruption and it is the same story in Europe. It is not only an African disease. It has different causes for example if civil servants and the police are paid less than enough to keep the family they are going to make little charges. Now that is strictly corruption but in human terms it is undependable if you are going to work and you cannot look after your family, you have to do something. And on the other hand there are some rich greedy bloody people who take even more and more. This is not understandable and forgivable.
In general to stop corruption is through moral lectures. We should all attend to our moral standards; have strong transparent systems of management, accountability and procurement that everyone can scrutinize. No contract should be given out without being published publicly. Have accountability to local people so that they can scrutinize whether they are getting services or someone is milking the system. The other thing is to make the tax system fair and transparent and not letting some people not pay tax. In some countries, the rich tend to grab more and the public has to gang up and demand for service and the media has a big role to play.
The opposition is agitating for a reconstitution of the Electoral Commission because they perceive the current one as largely in favour of the NRM. Are you confident the EC can deliver a fair election result?
I have not heard of that argument previously but all over the world the whole point of electoral commission is to be independent of the governing party. And indeed not to lean towards the opposition, it should stand up and do a good job to make sure the election is fair. I cannot comment in detail because I have no knowledge about this. I have not been following closely what happens in Uganda ever since I was out of the International Development.
What do you make of the oil discovery in Uganda that has already drawn controversies including some British-based companies?
I believe in transparency and people in different countries in Africa say we have been given a blessing of these rich resources like mineral, oil and should not be a curse. Uganda has seen it from other countries of bad examples and should be getting it right.
Transparency is the key to making sure that money is well spent. There is a global movement of all oil and mineral companies to be public on the payments they make to governments. This enables civil society to scrutinize and is a very good system to ensure that the people benefit from the natural wealth. I hope that Uganda would be transparent for the good of its people.
President Museveni has requested for more funds to send more troops to Somalia. Do you think more troops in Somalia can bring peace?
I saw in the media that Uganda President had said Uganda would send up to 20,000 troops and of course Uganda is angry after the bomb blast in Kampala. My argument is that the western policy towards Somalia has been mistaken and Somalis have suffered and scattered all over the world. United States under George Bush administration and Ethiopia went in Somalia before and failed.
The trouble still goes on in Somalia. They have to make a bigger effort from bottom-top approach so that the people themselves can make peace and the international community comes in with logistical support of food and water. If I was Uganda, I would be cautious about sending more troops because other countries have gone in and pulled out. There is a lot of killing. It is not my duty to tell Uganda what to do but I would say be careful Uganda others have been stung.
Finally, how are you spending your time after retiring from active politics?
I did stand down in May this year and I am here in Uganda with the African Humanitarian Action as a trustee looking at cities alliance. People are moving away from rural areas to urban centers and we are trying to make sure they have decent housing jobs and other basic necessities. This would promote more production and markets. African Humanitarian Action is based in Addis Ababa and we also look at Africa providing relief to Africans first instead of relief coming from outside.