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Last Updated: 07/17/2012
Development Aid and Human Security in Uganda
Enos Kitambo

Human insecurities regarding food, water, education, and health characterise Uganda, despite the billions of aid dollars that flow into the country each year. The connection between development aid and corruption takes a central stage in this article, which shows how the intended purpose of development aid is largely diverted to meet the individual needs of elites, leaving the basic needs of the majority poor unattended to. The author concludes by boldly stating that if accountability, transparency, community participation, and good governance are not enforced in Uganda, then however much aid flows to Uganda, the common man SHALL remain in poverty and misery.

Girl collecting water in Uganda. Photo: Giacomo Pirozzi

Development aid, or foreign aid as other may call it, features in most developing nations. Many organisations and governments seek for financial aid of this kind under the guise of improving the living conditions of the common man (the poor). Despite years of donations, borrowing, and any other form of aid, the common man remains threatened by human insecurities, while those of the elite political class are progressing. Thus, the aid seems to have missed its target group, financing government and NGOs overspending and corruption instead.

Development Aid

The concept of development aid was coined by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as ‘official development assistance’. This official development assistance consists of grants or loans that one government or multilateral organisation gives to a developing country like Uganda to promote economic development and welfare. That assistance must be granted in concessional terms, which in the case of a loan means that at least 25 percent of it must be in the form of a grant (Congress Budget Office, 1997). The term development itself means change, and most development specialists would agree on that point. However, development is sometimes confused with other terms that are closely related to it but do not mean the same thing, such as economic development. In the interest of this article, development describes economic growth as well as improvements in human welfare, for example, rising education levels, improvements in health care, increased household food security, better accommodation, and life expectancy. In my view, the intention of development aid should be to meet all these basics of life and attain equity among members of the community. This has been a mere dream in most developing nations of the world, Uganda inclusive.

In this article, the concept of the “common man” refers to the average Ugandan person, characterized by their limited access to affordable water, electricity, medical care, food, education, or employment, transport (UNICEF, 2012). The common man is a vulnerable person, especially during civil war, disease outbreak, or disasters, all of which attract international sympathy and thus, the call for development aid. Most surprisingly, however, is that aid in Uganda has made the rich richer while the common man is becoming poorer. It took a more than three days to respond to Bududa land slide victims, many government health centres, hospitals, have no beddings, medicine, workers country wide. Yet the ministers, Members of Parliament (MPs), and Governments CEOs, control huge sums of money and allowances, and lead a very expensive lifestyle at the expense of the majority of Ugandans.

According to Ledwith (2005), community development begins in the everyday lives of the common people. This is in line with the principles of the human security paradigm to development, which is individual oriented (CHS, 2003). Ledwith further contends that this is the initial context for sustainable change in a community. Community development is founded on a process of empowerment and participation. Empowerment involves a form of critical education that encourages people to question their reality; this is the basis of collective action and is built on the principle of participatory democracy ( Ledwith, 2005).

Dambisa Moyo (2009) in “Why Foreign Aid is Hurting Africa” argues that: “Money from rich countries has trapped many African nations in a cycle of corruption, slower economic growth and poverty. Cutting off the flow would be far more beneficial”. This was in reference to her visit to Kibera, one of the slums in Kenya with the highest number of NGOs trying to fight poverty, yet still the poorest slum. The question must be: What are the recipient governments and the very many NGOs doing with the aid money?

Cockburn (1977, cited in Ledwith, 2005) argues that community works function as state-sponsored activity. In this regard, the state should use the development aid resources to promote community development that can enable the common man to access better standards of living. Nevertheless, this remains a dream in African countries, Uganda inclusive. The common man has the right to democratically participate in his own community development; however, this is a myth rather than a reality in donor-recipient developing countries. Social justice is necessary for development and fostering change in the community, and crucially, for the reduction of violent conflict.

Ledwith (2005 pp.13) also quotes Barr (1991) who cites Peter Marris’s analysis, which slices through these positions to assert that:

So long as government policy and community action justify themselves by the same ideals, community action has scope for influence on government’s own terms, even if its ideology is in other ways radically opposed to the assumptions of government […] Movements for change are empowered by the convergence of social ideals expressed in principles of action […and we need] to incorporate into those struggles a demand for effective, open, collective planning, as a crucial part of carrying out any practical social justice.

Barr goes on to argue that the state, particularly given its planning powers, can remain a target for influence but can also act as a partner for change (Ledwith, 2005). This means that changes to the common man’s lot can be brought by the state, with the inflow of aid. Has the government of Uganda forgotten its role in fostering positive change to the common man?

To return for a moment to the question of social justice and the danger of violent conflict, we must acknowledge the argument that if some of the common man’s needs are not met, and then there will be no peace in society. As the saying goes, a “hungry man is an angry lion”, and most politicians in Uganda have used this as a means to mobilize the common man to stage protests and demonstrations, with hope to meet their expectations through one political movement or another. According to Ho-Won Jeong (2000), value expectations lead people to believe that they are rightfully due certain goods and conditions of life. An intolerable gap between anticipated reality and the manifest reality of life conditions serves as a precondition for widespread unrest.

Foreign aid, corruption and development

Moyo (2010) argues that continued financial aid to African nations allows political leaders to ignore their responsibilities to the population in favour of appeals to potential donors. She further contends that, in the past 50 years, we have seen African poverty rapidly rise and growth rates plummet, and that foreign aid has not done what it was meant to do. A case in point is Uganda, where in 2005 the three health officials from the Health Ministry misappropriated the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GAVI Fund). It is against this background that the former World Bank president had this to say: “Corruption drains resources and discourages investments. It benefits the privileged and deprives the poor. It threatens their hope for a better quality of life and a more promising future” (Wolfowitz, 2005). In my own view, most of the development resources in Uganda have been misappropriated by the few power controllers in the state. This accords with a recent report by Swiss National Bank showing that wealthy Ugandans have close to sh.400b (154m Swiss Francs) in Swiss bank accounts (Osike, F. New Vision Uganda, 23 June, 2012).

Many scholars, including the most prominent Jeffery Sachs, champion of foreign aid, have argued that it has an enormous potential to end cycles of poverty, catalyze economic development, cultivate civil society, and establish democratic political and social norms. For Sachs and others, foreign aid represents an international transfer of resources that many not have taken place as the result of market forces, which includes grants and loans offered at subsidized interest rates, provided by governments/donors or by international financial institutions as well as "technical assistance and debt relief" (Goldsmith, 2001). As seen from this perspective, the underlying logic of aid lies in its capacity to provide a disadvantaged nation with the most basic capital necessary for its development. Has this been achieved in Uganda? Some development can be seen in building infrastructure, but the majority poor continue to have limited water accessibility, no food, poor roads, no medical insurance, limited education, inadequate shelter, etc. To me, whoever belongs and is loyal to the ruling government party, currently the National Resistance Movement (NRM), has the capacity to direct funds without question. Hence, accountability to the masses is lacking and as transparency remains a mere dream, politics in a Uganda has become a gateway to wealth. In this context, politics should be defined as “the art of managing public funds and becoming rich in a short period of time, without caring for the electorate”.

Ironically, when president Museveni waged war against the regime of that time, his main agenda was to fight corruption. However, his government has produced untouchable corrupt officials, such as the Foreign Affairs Minister (in-law to Museveni), Prime Minister, Former Vice President, Transport and Works Minister and many others. It is imperative to note that the recent violent conflicts by the opposition code-named ‘walk to walk’ ‘Activists for Change’ ‘4GCs (For God and My Country Activist’, and others demonstrations have been fuelled by the corruption in the country by government controllers, to the extent that some Ugandans say that the government of Uganda is run as a family business.

More broadly, corruption is endogenous to many political structures and systems in which it serves key hierarchical functions, thereby contributing to political order (Cohen et al., 1981; Charap & Harm, 1999). Look at the duplication of administrative and political structures, which weigh on the budgets of most developing nations. Uganda is a small country with more than seventy (70) ministers, (and each minister has a permanent secretary) and a more than 300 members of parliament. Take a look at our political structure:

President, Vice president, Prime minister, Speakers of Parliament First, Second, and Third deputy prime ministers, Leader of Opposition in Parliament (Uganda High Commission, London, 2012). Such duplication s repeated again at the district level.

Given the lack of internal funding sources, development aid is used to maintain these politicians in extravagance, with little regard for the common man. Indeed, the more development aid Uganda continues to receive, the wealthier the elite class will become, and the poorer the common man will be, likely raising the risk of violent conflict in society.

Conclusively, if aid to achieve it purpose, the donor community should adopt a human security approach, try to reach the target population directly, and hold the technocrats accountable. Our governments must be made transparent and accountable, and they must cut down on expenditures especially by reducing the number of ministries and departments, rather than creating new ones. If the disease of corruption is not fought well, then we shall remain seeking development aid for the privileged few rather than promoting human security in our communities.


Carlsson, J. Somolekae, G. & Van de Walle, N. (eds) (1997). Foreign Aid in Africa: Learning from Country Experiences. Uppsala: Nordiska afrikainstitutet.

Easterly, W. (2005). Can Foreign Aid Save Africa? Clement Lecture Series 2005, John’s University.

Ledwith, M. (2005). Community Development, A Critical Approach, University of Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.

Moyo Dambisa (2010). ‘Aid is Not Working’ in Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa. London; Penguin Books.

Riddell, R. (2007). Does Foreign Aid Really Work? Oxford New York: Oxford University Press.

UNICEF, 2012. Uganda Statistics. Accessed 7/17/2012 from

Enos Kitambo, a Ugandan by nationality, possesses a Master of Arts in International Peace Studies from the United Nations mandated University for Peace, Costa Rica, where he undertook various courses in peace and conflict studies and human security, among others. In addition, the author designed a curriculum in human security and development for the great lakes region project. In this Curriculum he focuses on how human security approach can be a basis for conflict transformation in the great lakes region He is currently a teaching assistant in the Department of Public Administration and Management at Gulu University, Northern Uganda. The author was born and works in Uganda, experiences all sorts of human insecurities which puts him in better position to write using experience from his community.

Enos holds Bachelor of Public Administration- Gulu University, Uganda and Diploma in Vocational Studies (Business Education), Kyambogo University Uganda.

Wide experience in teaching, especially communication skills, management courses, entrepreneurship skills at both high school and higher education of learning. He worked in northern Uganda in local NGO dealing with youth training, skills development and empowerment most especially to LRA rebel returnees.