While hon. Members take their places, they may notice that the monitors are not working. I assure them that if there is a Division, the Doorkeepers will come in straight away and let us know. We are anticipating one at about 4.55 pm, so the debate may be interrupted.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered democracy in Uganda.
Serious concerns have been raised internationally about the Ugandan Government systematically undermining democracy in their country. MPs have been arrested, institutions that should protect the democratic rights of citizens are being weakened, and the voices of ordinary Ugandans are being ignored. The United Kingdom is a friend of Uganda—we are important partners in trade, development and security—and I am a friend of Uganda too. Uganda and the UK have a shared past, and I hope that we will have a strong and prosperous shared future together as well.
At the start of this debate, it is important to ask what the UK’s interest in Uganda is and whether that gives us a legitimate right to make any comment about its democracy. I firmly believe that Uganda should be valued as an equal partner to the UK, but it has not always been an equal partnership. Our relationship began in 1894, and until 1962, Uganda was a British protectorate, as it was known then. Now Uganda is an independent sovereign nation, and it has been throughout my lifetime. It has a constitution that describes a balance of power between an executive, a legislature and other independent bodies. I respect the Ugandan constitution—it is right for Uganda and the Ugandan people. It protects the Ugandan people, and is the rock on which Ugandan democracy is built. The relationship between our two countries should always respect the Ugandan constitution.
The hon. Gentleman makes some good points. I wonder whether he has seen the Ugandan press coverage of this debate, which has essentially approached the whole of the subject from a position asking, “Why is the British Parliament trying to tell us what to do in our own Parliament? What gives them the right to do that?” Does that not show that we face an uphill struggle in getting our points across in the measured way he describes? How will we do that?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Having seen that press coverage, I thought it right to ask what our legitimate interest is and to establish why our relationship is important and how Ugandan democracy impacts on that relationship. I hope to develop that argument as I progress through my speech.
Our relationship is one in which we have worked together, for example to respond to the refugee crisis from South Sudan. It is a relationship in which we trade with each other and in which the UK provides development assistance to the people of Uganda. As countries, we have shared goals and shared interests in those areas.
I also have a personal interest in Uganda. In 2006, I moved to Uganda, where I spent more than four years living and working in a rural part of the country in Kanungu district, next to the fantastically named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. I worked as a doctor with local health workers and the local community to transform a small health centre into a fantastic, thriving hospital and community health programme. I did this without pay, as a Voluntary Service Overseas volunteer, and played my small part and used my skills to leave a sustainable healthcare system. In case anyone watching from outside wonders—I am sure a few people are watching—I no longer have a stake in Uganda, whether through financial interests or otherwise. I am, however, a friend of the country, and I have many Ugandan friends. I want to speak today in that spirit of friendship and as an equal partner.
Living for a long time in a different culture gives you particular insight. I learned to speak some of the language, Runyankole-Rukiga, although not very well, and I learned a lot about local cultures and beliefs. I saw many of the successes of President Museveni’s National Resistance Movement Government. I saw significant efforts to improve education, with the ambitious programme of universal education, which was really positive. I saw economic growth, albeit in a country with significant inequalities. Ugandans are slowly getting richer, which is a good thing too. I saw growth in infrastructure, the remarkable spread of mobile phones, improvements to road networks, and improvements to power. Those should help the future economy to grow and help everyone to become more prosperous.
I also saw things that did not work well, however. The Government-run health service, which failed to get the basics right, did not work well in the area that I lived in. Health worker morale was low and absenteeism was extremely high. There was a centrally run system to supply drugs, but a combination of underfunding, theft and bad planning meant that supplies often ran out. As people had little confidence in the institutions of government to deliver the healthcare that they needed, they had to take matters into their own hands. Patients went to private drug shops, while health workers took second jobs. The poorest people were left behind, getting no care and suffering devastating consequences. That failure of the Ugandan health service is not because of the people—there are many fantastic, talented Ugandan health workers—but because of the system, which relies on patronage and is, sadly, riddled with corruption and centralised decision making that leads to paralysis.
While living in Uganda, I also got to witness how the political process worked. Locally, I was introduced to GISOs—Government internal security officers—living in every community. Ostensibly, they are there to collect evidence of people trying to destabilise the country, but in practice that extends to any act of political opposition to the President. Alongside every local council leader sits a resident district commissioner—or RDC—the President’s own appointed person, who monitors everything happening in that district. That is done in the name of security, but RDCs are used to gather intelligence and stop political dissent.
I learned that the Internal Security Organisation is there to protect the President. Legitimate criticism of the policies of the President have been deliberately conflated with criticism of the state. The state has become personalised. Ugandans see that system for themselves—they do not need me to point it out. Some people know no different: this month, President Museveni will have been in power for 33 years. Three-quarters of people in the country have never lived under a different leader. Ugandan people see that the institutions of their democracy are slowly being eroded.
First, the Government have closed down critical media outlets. There are credible reports that television stations were interrupted during the 2016 elections when results favouring the opposition were being reported. There are also credible reports that social media, including Facebook and Twitter, are shut down by the Government during sensitive times.
Secondly, the Government have used the military to attack Parliament. When MPs were debating the extension of presidential term limits, Parliament was attacked and MPs, including Betty Nambooze, were beaten by armed forces. Thirdly, there is evidence of serious human rights abuses, including serious and credible reports about a 2016 attack on the palace of King Charles Mumbere in Kasese, and the massacre of 150 civilians by Ugandan forces. According to those reports, the solider who led that attack has been promoted, and no independent investigation has taken place. I hope that the Minister will explain the Government’s position on that attack.
Fourthly, elections have been described, in diplomatic language, as
“short of being free and fair”.
Serious allegations have been made about the conduct of elections in Uganda over many years, but the most recent EU report on the 2016 presidential election made 30 recommendations that should be enacted before the next election in 2021. They include taking clear steps to differentiate the state from the ruling party and to strengthen the independence of the electoral commission, and systematic checks on the integrity of votes. As of March 2018, none of those EU recommendations had been implemented. There are credible stories of vote-rigging, with the police preventing access to “rigging houses”, and electoral bribery is common. Ugandan politicians routinely hand out money or gifts at election rallies.
The interference in elections does not happen only on the day of an election. I have friends who stood for elected office in Uganda. They were subjected to constant low-level intimidation. Police or soldiers were stationed outside their home, and they were followed. After they visited villages to talk to people, soldiers went to threaten those people with reprisals if they voted against the Government. Furthermore, radio stations, the main media in most areas, are owned by Government-backed politicians and report clearly biased information. Perhaps most disturbingly of all, people who engage with politics are subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention. The institutions that are supposed to protect democracy, the police and the military, are used to undermine it. Finally, the Public Order Management Act passed in 2013 has further diminished the political space, requiring police approval if three or more people want to gather to discuss political issues. What kind of democracy curtails politics in that way?
Many Ugandan opposition politicians have struggled bravely to use the democratic process to win power. I do not have time to mention them all, but I will draw attention to two such people. Kizza Besigye has stood for President on three occasions. He has been arrested, beaten and harassed so many times that he has lost count. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Besigye when he visited our Parliament last year. His sacrifices in the pursuit of democracy in Uganda should be lauded.
I also want to mention Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine. He is a young, charismatic musician with a large popular following. He was elected to the Ugandan Parliament at about the same time that I was elected to the UK Parliament. While I, in a friendly way, get to be critical of our Government without harassment, Bobi has been the target of totally undemocratic behaviour by his. In August last year, he and four other MPs were arrested by the military while campaigning for a by-election. His driver was shot dead, and he was severely beaten by soldiers before being brought to court on trumped-up charges that were later dropped. Bobi Wine was eventually handed over to the police and released, but that was just another example of the Ugandan Government using the military to prevent democratically elected politicians from doing their job.
Why are all such attacks on democracy important? They are important for the Ugandan people, the people who might one day want to see a different Government in their country. They have no hope of ever seeing a different Government if this one undermines democracy to cling on to power. The attacks are also important because of international standards and accountability. Uganda is a partner to our country in the United Nations, in the Commonwealth and, in multilateral relationships, through the European Union; and partners hold each other to international standards. The attacks are also important because they undermine the ability of the UK and the Ugandan people to work together on shared goals.
The attacks on democracy also allow a small group of people to retain power, a group of people who are illegally benefitting from that power and patronage. The corruption has meant that the UK’s Department for International Development has stopped direct budgetary support to the Government of Uganda. In 2012, €12 million was channelled out of the aid budgets from Ireland, Denmark and Norway directly into the bank accounts of officials working in the Prime Minister’s office. We now have to provide our UK support through private sector and non-governmental organisations. We cannot pretend that that is a good thing—it is always better to work with Governments—but, to be honest, we know that if want to help the people of Uganda, we cannot give money to their current Government.
When I worked in aid in Uganda, we ensured that the aid got to the people by delivering it ourselves, refusing to give it to any officials. We took it directly to the villagers or the people who required it. I know that is difficult, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees.
It is a terrible state of affairs. If we want development to be sustainable, that is much more likely to happen through a democratically elected Government and by building the institutions within a country. Some people are so desperate, however, that they still need aid, and we cannot trust their Government to give that aid. I thank the hon. Gentleman for highlighting that point.
Transparency International ranks Uganda as 151st out of 180 countries in the world for corruption. That is worse than Kenya, which is 143rd, much worse than Tanzania at 107th or Ethiopia at 103rd, while Rwanda is ranked as high as 48th. In 2013, Transparency International stated:
“Corruption in Uganda is widespread and seen as one of the greatest obstacles to the country’s economic development as well as to the provision of quality public services....Such corruption challenges are exacerbated by weak law enforcement, which fuels a culture of impunity, particularly with regards to high-ranking officials involved in corruption schemes.”
The attacks on democracy, as well as undermining our shared development objectives, are important because Britain wants to provide military support to the country of Uganda. We want Uganda to have secure borders and to contribute to peace in Somalia. We cannot have that, however, unless we have confidence in Uganda’s democracy and rule of law. I ask the Minister: when there are questions about the Ugandan army’s use of cluster bombs in South Sudan, when the army is used to enter Parliament and, allegedly, to massacre people in Kasese, or when special forces are used to hunt down and arrest politicians campaigning in a by-election, how can we be sure that the people whom we are training engage only in peacekeeping activities?
I welcome what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I thank him for bringing the issue before the House. Will he also, however, pay great tribute to those Ugandan soldiers who have given their lives in Mogadishu and wider Somalia in the cause of peacekeeping? Very brave men and women have done so to bring peace to that country.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I join him in paying real tribute to all the east African forces working in Somalia for the peacekeeping mission.
We need to know that the UK is not enabling the atrocities being committed within the country of Uganda by Ugandan forces. Of course, that would never be our intention, and I am sure that it would be argued that our training of its military forces helps them to become more professional and to meet international standards, but when soldiers are given orders from the top, they have to follow those orders. When the Ugandan Government deliberately use the military to undermine democracy, it is right for the UK to look carefully at our involvement.
Before he became President, Yoweri Museveni published a book called “What is Africa’s Problem?”, in which he wrote:
“The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power.”
I want to see a Uganda where it is possible for the Ugandan people, should they want a change of Government, to achieve that through democratic means.
Opposition politicians find themselves in an impossible position. It is hard to build good policies and to get widespread support for them when the democratic space is so curtailed. Between now and the next election in 2021, it is crucial that a united opposition builds a potentially winning manifesto with popular policies, that opposition politicians are allowed to campaign freely and enthuse the people of Uganda, and that the opposition is given an equal chance to persuade people that they have an alternative platform for Government, on a level playing field.
There is no level playing field, however, because so many profoundly undemocratic occurrences have become normalised in Uganda. In a democracy, it is simply not acceptable for the military to arrest, beat and torture opposition politicians, for soldiers to enter Parliament and use physical force against MPs, or for elections to be rigged. Uganda’s democracy is under threat. The institutions that in a normal democracy would have the power to hold a Government to account have been systematically undermined, intimidated, bullied and cajoled by Government. Let no one be fooled: Uganda has a military Government in civilian clothes.
How can the UK, as a friend to the Ugandan people, best help to support their democracy? We are already supporting good governance and anti-corruption initiatives through the Department for International Development—I am sure the Minister will talk more about that—but when democratic institutions are systematically undermined, is that enough? Ugandan opposition leaders are asking the UK Government to place targeted sanctions on Uganda, to freeze the assets of Ugandan officials who are known for violations and abuses of human rights, to enforce a travel ban on Uganda’s leaders who are known for corruption and violation of human rights, and for Britain to condemn in the strongest terms the attacks on and abuse of Ugandan parliamentarians and all the activists inside and outside Uganda.
I would like the Minister to respond to those requests. I do not necessarily believe that all those things are needed. I certainly would not want to do anything that put at risk our relationship with the people of Uganda. Sanctions would be a last resort, but I understand why people are calling for them. Unless significant change happens in Uganda, the UK should take no option off the table.
I end by addressing the people of Uganda, some of whom are in the Public Gallery. We want the UK to work with them on security, sustainable development and business growth, but we are watching their Government closely. Our support for their Government comes with conditions. Members of Parliament such as myself and my colleagues here today will ask our Government to invest in their country if there is a thriving democracy and international standards are met. The United Kingdom must be on the side of the Ugandan people.
Democracy—the means by which we debate and create laws—is a process that requires the diligent engagement of citizens. Democracy fails when people cannot criticise their leaders, or if they do not feel confident that they can throw them out of office if they are not doing a good job. A healthy democracy can unlock so much potential in a country. But right now, the hopes of the Ugandan people are not being met by the people who govern them. That is why I say to the Ugandan people, whether in this Chamber in London or watching on their phone screens in Kampala: I am with you. We are with you.
We are watching and hoping for a brighter future for the Ugandan people. There are democrats across the world who know that that is possible, and we offer our solidarity in their fight for a Uganda governed by and in the interests of the Ugandan people—a Uganda guided by the unrestricted voices of its people. We are with them because that is what a truly democratic Uganda could be: prosperous, peaceful and secure. If they work for it and their institutions are protected and defended, nothing can stand in the way of the millions who are desperate for change.
It is very good to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh—I think it may be the first time in eight years that I have. I do not disagree with a word that Dr Williams said. He has lived there and has been steeped in the culture—he knows exactly what happens there. I, too, am a friend of Uganda.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Thank you very much. As I was saying, I am a friend of Uganda. I have been to Uganda about 15 times and have even spent personal holidays there. I love the country and have found the people incredibly friendly.
I find the lack of democracy disturbing. The President and his troupe, so to speak, are making sure that they win the elections, which I do not believe are free and fair. As the hon. Member for Stockton South said, they go out and pay villagers to vote for them. I know that that happens. When we send observers for the election, the deals have already been done. The people feel intimidated and that they must vote for Museveni and his MPs.
I have personal experience. I have a friend who was a Member of Parliament—not when I first met him, but he became a Member of Parliament. He had to contest that election because it was done badly and it was shown in the High Court that he had won. He won the election again, but recently lost it. He is a medical doctor and since then he practices medicine privately—Museveni will not employ him because he is from the wrong party. He has been looking after the people that he used to represent in his home area for free. He has been treating them for nothing, giving them drugs and looking after what were his constituents. He has been beaten up and he has been put in prison. I have seen photographs of the beatings. The only reason he is still alive is that he managed to get himself transferred to hospital.
I have always said that people who put themselves up for election for opposition parties in countries like Uganda are incredibly brave. The worst that can happen to us in this country is that we lose an election. The worst that can happen over there is that they die. What is worse is that they die because the state is beating them, punishing them and ultimately could kill them.
We should be very careful about how we give money and the relationships we have with the Government of Uganda. I am very pleased that international development money has been reduced and we are not giving it directly to the Government, but to third party organisations. We need to monitor that extremely carefully. If we do not, the money will get into the wrong hands and will be used for the wrong reasons.
I am concerned about the whole idea of democracy in Uganda. Uganda needs to prosper and it needs a good democratic system. It should have a good democratic system, but it does not, because it is abused. Until the abuse stops, we will not be able to stop elections being rigged. That is the truth of it and there is no point in beating about the bush. The elections are genuinely rigged. The hon. Gentleman spoke about political parties not being able to meet in groups of more than three. That is ludicrous. How can there be a democratic process when people are not able to meet in groups of more than three? It is just ridiculous to have to get the state’s permission to be able to do that—and why would the state give it? It does not want big rallies.
Uganda is not like here, where we might have a church hall rally. They have huge rallies in the villages, because the only way the people can meet their candidates is to go out and see them. It is important that they do that so that they can weigh up one against the other, as happens here. That is not happening properly in Uganda anymore and we need a proper democratic system to be fair to the people there. There are so many things wrong in the Ugandan Parliament and the Ugandan system that we need to monitor them very carefully.
It is a pleasure to see you in the chair, as always, Ms McDonagh. I warmly congratulate Dr Williams on a passionate speech and pay tribute to his previous work in Uganda.
I visited Uganda as part of a Westminster Foundation for Democracy trip in February last year, facilitating training for young candidates. It was there that I observed a number of things that gave me concern about the situation for democracy in Uganda. One of my first observations on going to observe proceedings in the Parliament was that the military has seats in the Parliament. I was shocked and horrified when I saw someone in military uniform speaking at the Dispatch Box. I cannot possibly imagine having military in the House of Commons. I think it sends a very deep signal. The hon. Gentleman spoke about a military Government in civilian clothing, but the reality is that we saw them in military clothing in the Ugandan Parliament, and that is alarming.
I spent a couple of days facilitating training for young candidates for the People’s Progressive party. One young guy that I met was taking part as the candidate for the PPP in the Jinja East by-election, which took place in March this year. That young guy, Mugaya Paul Geraldson, is now a good friend of mine. For the two days that I was there in an official capacity I facilitated the training, and on my free day I travelled at my own expense from Kampala out to Jinja East, largely to be a friend to Paul and go around as he was doing his rallies. One thing I observed was that there were hundreds of people turning out to his rallies—he was a young candidate who projected hope, ambition and energy. On election day he polled 48 votes, but there were hundreds of people at his rallies.
The final observation I offer—I am keen for Jim Shannon to get to speak as well—is that at the second of the two rallies I attended with Mugaya Paul, I was speaking to some of the people in that village when I was quickly bundled into a car by the people I was there with, because Museveni’s thugs had turned up and made it clear in no uncertain terms that the rally was alarming to the Government and that this young candidate was a threat to Museveni’s forces. That is deeply worrying.
I wanted to come here today and place on record a real experience of the suppression of democracy in Uganda. What that young candidate, who I hope will have another run at office, experienced in the course of that election was nothing short of appalling. I welcome the comments by the hon. Member for Stockton South today, and I hope the Minister takes on board my personal experiences. I leave hon. Members with that view of the military in Parliament. Surely that does not represent a good sign for democracy in any country in the world.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Dr Williams, who made a powerful and eloquent speech. His long association with Uganda puts him in a position to be an authoritative advocate for human rights and democracy there, and I thank him for bringing this debate to the Chamber.
The Ugandan people have long suffered from tyrants who have committed crimes against their own people. The name Idi Amin will live long in infamy. The rule of Milton Obote was also mired in human rights abuses, with Amnesty International estimating that the regime had been responsible for more than 300,000 civilian deaths across Uganda. After Obote, Museveni became President in 1986. He said in his acceptance speech:
“The people of Africa, the people of Uganda, are entitled to a democratic government. It is not a favour from any regime. The sovereign people must be the public, not the government.”
Those are his own words—words that he should heed now.
President Museveni’s tenure has always been problematic, but his attempts to constrain democracy have been creeping. First came the repealing of the two-term limit on the presidency, which was introduced in 1995 under his own presidency. The lifting of the term limit led Bob Geldof to say:
“Get a grip Museveni. Your time is up, go away”— not untypical of Bob Geldof, we might think. The arrest of the main opposition leader Kizza Besigye, as my hon. Friend mentioned, in the lead-up to the third presidential election was another stain on an election that Museveni should not have been contesting. In December 2017 he succeeded in getting the presidential age limit of 75 removed, just as he was approaching that age himself. The hallmark of a dictator is stripping away the impediments to his becoming leader for life, and that is exactly what Museveni has done.
In 2017, shortly after I was elected, I had the pleasure of being invited to a meeting of Ugandan exiles in the UK who support the main opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change. I was invited by my old friend Jimmy Sydney, who is here today and who became a social entrepreneur in Leeds after leaving Uganda. At that event I met Nandala Mafabi and through him found out about the conditions under which Ugandan MPs have to function. Nandala told me how the Parliament had been entered by Government troops, who had arrested MPs opposed to the life presidency; their symbol of a red hat and ribbon made it easier for the troops to spot them. I sat there imagining that happening to us here, today—troops coming in and stopping us having this debate because the Government did not like what we had to say. I found it unbelievable. It still is unbelievable to me that that could have happened in a country that calls itself a democracy and that MPs could be arrested in Parliament for exercising their democratic rights. This is surely a sign that democracy has died.
Just a couple of weeks after that event, I heard that Nandala had been arrested and spent two nights in the cells. His alleged crime was that he was part of a group of protestors demonstrating against the proposed amendment of the constitution to remove the presidential age limit. That is just the story of one MP; my hon. Friend told the stories of other MPs and David Linden told that of yet another.
We must heed the words of the Ugandan community in the UK. Will the Minister commit to meeting their requests? I echo the requests made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South for the Government to place targeted sanctions on Uganda, including on military materials; to freeze assets of Ugandan officials known for violations of human rights and abuses of power; to enforce a travel ban on Ugandan leaders known for corruption and violations of human rights; to condemn in the strongest terms the attacks and abuse of Ugandan parliamentarians and all activists, whether in or outside Uganda, including in this country, and to apply conditionality to aid to the Ugandan Government.
I congratulate Dr Williams on bringing this debate to the House. I speak as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief and as my party’s spokesperson on human rights. I hear some incredibly disturbing stories regarding breaches of human rights, and the stories coming from Uganda most certainly bring a chill. I am a friend of Uganda and its people, but when I see wrongs, they must be spoken of in this place and the voice of its people heard. We are the voice for the voiceless, for those discriminated against, abused, attacked or brutalised.
As a democratically elected Member, I have had my share of social media attacks on the run-up to election. Unfounded or grossly exaggerated tales, media spin—you name it, I have seen it. I accept it because there is a reason people say politics is a dirty game, and no family member is safe from the mud-slinging, but when I read the stories of the so-called elections in Uganda, my skin crawled. When I realised that the UK Government have no way to be certain that UK relief funding is not being spent on training forces that go on to arrest and torture elected Ugandan MPs, my skin crawled some more and I must admit I questioned our ongoing support of Uganda.
I must be abundantly clear here. I am not questioning the relief that is given to on-the-ground bodies for humanitarian aid. Between December 2016 and February 2018, we provided food for over 1,000,000 people, supported 64,000 women and 146,000 under-fives with immunisation and food supplements, ensured that 2,000 children have access to education services, ensured that 73% of the refugee population in Uganda accessed water through sustainable water systems, at an average of 17 litres per day, and provided relief items—blankets, kitchen sets, jerry cans and mosquito nets—to 11,000 people. We also challenge UN agencies to reform and to ensure that they deliver effectively for the most vulnerable and provide value for money for the UK taxpayer. We are clear in what we say here.
As of March 2018, contributions to the global goals and other Government commitments in have achieved 248,000 children under 5, women and adolescent girls being reached through nutrition-related interventions; 572,000 additional women and girls provided with modern methods of family planning; 56,000 children supported to gain a decent education; and 130,000 people given sustainable access to clean water and/or sanitation. That is right and proper, but a Department for International Development report outlined that only 25% of projected aid to Uganda goes to humanitarian projects. It is clear that a huge amount of aid goes elsewhere, which raises questions. We in this House have every right to ask those questions and to seek the answers. How much of the money is used for the training of troops and officers? How do we justify training a military that seems to do simply what the President demands, without any evidential base? That is completely incredulous and unacceptable. How can we, as a true democracy, turn a blind eye to the absolute desecration of democracy, and support a Government who allow—indeed, carry out—abuse and beatings of elected representatives for opposing the Government?
The hon. Member for Stockton South referred to the alleged massacre, which I did not know about. Let us in this House do something about that today. I am proud that we help those who cannot help themselves, which we highlight in debates all the time. However, our role is not to prop up or support regimes that flagrantly disregard the basic principles of democracy and seek merely to wear a cloak of democracy over a decrepit body of dictatorship.
There are questions to be answered. I look to the Minister, for whom I have great respect, to assuage my fears, and the fears of everyone here, and outline how we will ensure that every penny of funding for Uganda is for humanitarian aid and not for training an army to be used against any dissenting voices, which is completely unacceptable.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I thank Dr Williams for such an eloquent and powerful speech, particularly when he said that “the state has become personalised” under President Museveni.
As we have heard, President Museveni has held power in Uganda since January 1986 through brute force, election-rigging and corruption. In 2005, Ugandans voted to return to a multi-party political system, but the presidential elections held the following year were marred by intimidation, violence and voter disenfranchisement— features that remain present in Ugandan political life and were also clearly noted in the 2016 general election. Museveni has most recently been accused of heavy-handed tactics in dealing with political opposition. In August last year, a group of opposition MPs led by pop star-turned-MP Bobi Wine were arrested while campaigning at a parliamentary by-election and subsequently tortured. The UK has addressed this issue before and must be prepared to do so again. In 2005, the UK diverted £15 million of aid meant for the Ugandan Government because of alleged human rights violations, and withheld an additional £5 million until fair, multi-party elections were held.
I recently visited Uganda with award-winning playwright, friend and former colleague—from when I worked in film making—Jaimini Jethwa, who is from my city of Dundee. Her play, “The Last Queen of Scotland”, explores Asian identity in a Scottish context and tells her story as a young child refugee who in 1971, along with her family and 60,000 other Asians, was given only 90 days’ notice to leave the country by its then-ruler Idi Amin. During that visit I was assured that Uganda had come a very long way since the early 1970s under Idi Amin, during whose ruthless eight-year regime an estimated 300,000 civilians were massacred. I learned a lot about the people, listened to many stories and made some great friends, but it is clear that Uganda still has a long way to go in its democratic journey to ensuring an electoral system capable of enabling all citizens to participate peacefully in politics, free of intimidation and violence.
I will turn to the US and the UK’s relationship with Uganda. The United States has long turned a blind eye to human rights violations in Uganda, primarily because of its military and economic interests in the region. However, the historical relationship between Uganda and the UK means that the UK has both the power and the responsibility to uphold and support democracy and human rights, and at the same time, through its special relationship with the US, influence US policy on Uganda. Will the Minister tell us what recent discussions have been had, either by DFID or the Foreign Office, with the US on improving democracy in Uganda, and what changes, if any, the US has made to its foreign policy in Uganda to improve the situation on the ground?
Uganda also hosts 1 million refugees, mostly from South Sudan. It is the third-largest refugee-hosting nation in the world. I discovered during a more recent visit, with the International Development Committee last November, that it has one of the most progressive attitudes to immigration, as refugees have the ability to work and settle in Uganda. This open-door policy has been seen as a role model throughout the world. However, the number of refugees is expected to continue to increase. Support for refugees is the largest financial contribution that DFID makes in Uganda and, owing to the sensitivity of the situation, we need to ensure that that stays in place, to prevent escalation or humanitarian crisis. I strongly suggest to the Minister that the continuation of humanitarian aid to Uganda is vital and must continue. What steps are being taken by the UK Government to ensure that aid to Uganda is used responsibly, and that breaches of the democratic process are addressed?
Furthermore, it was recently confirmed that the Ugandan armed forces have received intelligence training provided by the UK, and there is concern that Ugandan forces trained at Sandhurst may have been used in the arrest of opposition politicians. Only a year ago, I stood in this Chamber speaking out against UK Government funding of Burmese military training programmes—the same military that went on to commit a relentless and systematic campaign of violence against the Rohingya Muslims described by the UN as a
“textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Will the Minister tell us how the Government can be certain that UK Government money is not being spent on training forces who go on to arrest and torture elected Ugandan MPs?
Finally, the UK has a strong historical relationship with Uganda in the form of the Commonwealth and, today, in the form of aid. That relationship has previously been leveraged to support a stronger democracy in Uganda. The UK should be prepared to do so again, to ensure that democracy and the rule of the law are protected.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairwomanship, Ms McDonagh. I thank my hon. Friend Dr Williams for securing the debate and for his eloquent description of the political situation in Uganda. Uganda is clearly a country about which he has a great deal of knowledge, arising from the time that he spent living and working there as a doctor, as he described.
There is no doubt that there are real problems with the democratic process in Uganda, as my hon. Friend has clearly outlined, particularly with President Museveni’s record on the oppression, imprisonment and torture of political opponents. The President has changed the constitution, scrapping the presidential age limit so that he can stand in the 2021 elections, when he will be 76 years of age. However, as a young radical in the 1980s, he publicly scorned African rulers who clung to power and was involved in the rebellions that toppled Idi Amin and Milton Obote. Now, after more than 30 years in office, he is clearly clinging pretty hard himself.
In 1986, when he was sworn in as President, Museveni was seen by the west as one of a new generation of African leaders. He proclaimed upon election that Uganda would return to democracy. It is clear that the President’s views have undergone a change since then. I think we can all agree that the imprisonment and torture of opposition activists has no place in a democracy.
The treatment of musician-turned-politician Bobi Wine has brought the Museveni regime to the attention of the west. As we have heard, Bobi Wine was arrested while campaigning last August and was badly injured while in detention. Three people were killed and around 100 injured in the unrest that followed Wine’s arrest. The international music community united in their condemnation of Wine’s treatment, with Chris Martin, Chrissie Hynde, Brian Eno, Damon Albarn and Femi Kuti among the 80 signatories of a statement strongly condemning the arrest, imprisonment and life-threatening physical attack by Ugandan Government forces on Bobi Wine.
Uganda is falling down on its commitment to human rights. It is a member of the United Nations and the African Union. It has ratified many UN human rights conventions and has thus made binding international commitments to adhere to the standards laid down in universal human rights documents. Press freedom is also threatened in Uganda, with the country coming 117th of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index. It has actually fallen since 2017, showing that the situation is getting worse.
It is reported that acts of intimidation and violence against reporters are an almost daily occurrence in Uganda, with many instances of journalists being arrested when covering stories, particularly around opposition politics. One example is that of Reuters photographer James Akena, who was beaten by Uganda People’s Defence Force soldiers while photographing protests against the treatment of Bobi Wine.
Uganda also, notoriously, has draconian anti-LGBT laws, with both male and female homosexual activity being illegal and liable to lead to imprisonment on charges of gross indecency. Activists who tried to open Uganda’s first LGBT centre in October last year were warned by the Minister for Ethics and Integrity that opening such a centre would be a criminal act. Uganda is a Member of the Commonwealth and as such has a commitment to the protection of human rights, freedom of expression and equality of opportunity. Ironically, these commitments were reviewed and agreed as part of the core criteria for Commonwealth membership under the Kampala communiqué, which was formulated at the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held in Uganda.
We must also consider the role of the Department for International Development in Uganda, which is providing £100 million in aid in 2018-19, which goes to support the many refugees from countries such as the DRC and South Sudan, education and family planning services, and supporting Uganda’s anti-corruption and accountability institutions. I hope that when the Minister responds she will be able to outline what pressure we can bring to bear on Uganda to fulfil its commitments as a member of the Commonwealth and how bilateral aid from DFID is helping in the fight against corruption.
It is very good to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I add my congratulations to Dr Williams on securing this debate. In all the contributions to this debate, the strong friendships that exist between parliamentarians in the UK and parliamentarians in Uganda, between people in the UK and people in Uganda, have come through loud and clear. He set the tone of the debate in that spirit of friendship. I pay tribute to his work, over many years, providing healthcare to the corner of Uganda that he so descriptively told us about. A number of hon. Members spoke with great personal passion and from experience through their own links to, and friendship with, Uganda. As I go through my remarks, I will try to pick up on the questions asked in the debate.
The UK shares Uganda’s ambition to move from low-income to middle-income status. As long-term friends and partners, we believe that Uganda’s success really matters to us in the UK. Our strong, genuine friendship and partnership enables us to develop a wide range of mutual interests and to speak frankly to each other about issues of mutual concern, whether in a bilateral context or in the Commonwealth meetings. In recent years, political contact has been revitalised. President Museveni visited the UK twice last year, not only for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, but for the illegal wildlife trade conference. Over the last two years, 11 UK Ministers have travelled to Uganda, including myself, and I know that the International Development Committee was there very recently as well.
First, I want to pick up on the point that the hon. Member for Stockton South made about the Kasese massacre and bring him up to date on that. In March 2017, the UK, along with EU missions, released a statement deploring the violence and calling for a comprehensive independent investigation. The UK and EU partners continue to raise concerns over the lack of progress on the investigation with the Government of Uganda, including in the recent article 8 dialogue with President Museveni.
When I visited in October, I met with some of the more than 1 million refugees, who have been referred to in the debate. Uganda has a very progressive refugee policy. In Uganda, 82% of refugees are women and children. The country enables those refugees to live in much the same way as its own citizens. When I was in Uganda, I was pleased to announce up to £210 million of funding to help those refugees and to help Uganda to provide refugees with nutrition, vaccinations and schooling. I also saw how the new biometric system for refugee registration is helping to verify refugee status and reduce fraud.
A number of hon. Members raised the question of how we deliver aid within Uganda. I reassure colleagues that this is always done with trusted partners. Wherever we find concerns, as we did recently with the UNHCR report, we take steps to suspend future payments until we are sure that the method by which we are delivering our support is free from corruption. We are very concerned when we discover that there has been a reduction in the money that is getting to the frontline, to those who need it most.
On the point about the conditionality of aid, I beg to differ with Alex Sobel, because we allocate based on need and reaching the very poorest. That is the spirit in which we deliver our development assistance. Jim Shannon asked about the proportions in terms of the percentages. I reassure colleagues that there is no Department for International Development money spent on any military training. Some 40% of what we spend goes to human development, including education. Some impressive statistics were read out and are available on our website. Nearly 30% is spent on economic development. About 25% is spent on humanitarian assistance and about 6% is spent on addressing governance and security—if I have time, I shall go into more detail on that. About 1% is spent on climate and the environment.
We believe that Uganda is making important efforts to help to address the conflicts from which those refugees have fled. We welcome Uganda’s role in brokering the 2018 South Sudan peace deal, for example, the success of which will depend on Uganda’s continuing work to support its implementation. We should also remember that Uganda was the first country to provide peacekeepers to the African Union mission to Somalia. Uganda remains the largest contributor of troops to the AMISOM mission. I pay tribute to Ugandan peacekeepers, who work for security and stability in Somalia, often at great personal risk. Colleagues may wish to enquire further about the work of the Ministry of Defence in this area, but the training that we do is to support those missions. The work that we do alongside the United States is to train the troops for the AMISOM mission and to provide some counter-IED capability. There are frequent P3 meetings to discuss that joint work, but that is the focus of the training. All of that training includes a human rights training element.
Regarding trade and development, we are working hard in partnership with Uganda to boost its economic development, improve healthcare and education, and create jobs, all of which are needed if Uganda is to realise the huge potential of its young and growing population. We are doing that through DFID’s economic development programme and by providing UK export finance. In terms of export finance, we have already provided £210 million through the Department for International Trade for the construction of Kabaale international airport, and UK companies are helping to deliver nearly $1 billion-worth of infrastructure projects in Uganda, with an emphasis on championing local content and skills transfer. In his first year, Lord Popat, the trade envoy, has seen an increase in trade between our countries of 60%.
Our continued support, and our desire to increase UK investment in Uganda, will rely on strong institutions that uphold the rule of law and democratic principles, which gets to the heart of today’s debate; that deliver professional, expert advice to support the business environment; and that tackle corruption. That would benefit all Uganda’s citizens, not only foreign investors.
In terms of the wider democratic issues that have been raised, clearly, as a sovereign, democratic nation, Uganda’s political and economic choices are matters for the Ugandan Government and people. As the hon. Member for Stockton South has advocated, however, we believe that coherent and effective institutions will underpin Uganda’s development. As a parliamentarian, I pay tribute to the examples that have been given and the bravery of people who put their names forward for Parliament.
That is why, during the 2016 presidential election, the UK worked with the international community to support the electoral environment in Uganda. Our programmes will continue to support democratic accountability at local and national levels ahead of the next round of elections. It is also why we have spent more than £30 million since 2014 on helping to strengthen the institutions of Government that buttress democratic freedoms and advocate the equal treatment of all Ugandans under the terms of their constitution and laws.
Clearly, a free and accountable civil society is a vital part of any successful democracy. We salute the resilience of the media sector and the willingness of journalists, bloggers and citizens to voice their opinions. I urge the Ugandan Government to embrace and encourage such genuine meaningful debate.
Similarly, democratically elected representatives must be free to voice their opinions during election campaigns and once they have been elected. We heard the concern of Ugandan MPs from across the political spectrum expressed in a parliamentary debate last month about the treatment of Mr Kyagulanyi, and their calls for him to be able to operate freely and for an investigation into the cancellation of a number of his concerts. That follows his arrest and that of other opposition figures, and allegations of torture by the Ugandan security forces, at the time of the Arua by-election in August 2018.
Our high commissioner joined EU colleagues in calling on the Ugandan Government, political parties and civil society to work together to investigate the allegations swiftly and transparently, in accordance with the rule of law, and to emphasise that there could be no impunity. As a long-standing and close partner of Uganda, we will continue to emphasise that strong institutions and a functioning democracy are essential to its aspirations for trade, investment, jobs and growth. We will continue to raise concerns with the Ugandan Government, while building a long-term partnership that supports those aspirations.
I am a bit confused about the time remaining, but if I have more time, there is more that I could add.