I thank the Chairman and members of the Sub-Committee on Overseas Development. I am accompanied by my "Team Uganda", which comprises colleagues from Kampala and from headquarters in Dublin, whom the Chairman has already introduced. I am also very pleased to share the table with Concern, with whom we work very closely in Uganda. We have a good working relationship and our work does not just depend on funding from Ireland as we have close working relationships on a range of policy and programming issues.
I will bring members of the sub-committee up to date on our development programme in Uganda. I understand they have been given a brief on the programme so I will not take up their time with its detail. Instead, I will use this opportunity to highlight some of the main challenges and opportunities related to Irish engagement in Uganda. I am delighted that our appearance today follows on from a very productive visit by this sub-committee to Uganda in 2008 and the in-depth Project Uganda report produced by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in July 2004.
The Chairman's visit to Kampala and the remote region of Karamoja managed to provide a more extensive and colourful overview of Irish engagement in Uganda than any briefing from me could succeed in providing and I will be happy to answer any questions the sub-committee may have on developments in the country since the 2008 visit.
I will open my brief statement with a quotation from the recently conducted peer review of Ireland by the OECD development assistance committee, DAC. The examiners chose to visit Uganda for an examination of the work of Irish Aid and for first-hand experience of our programme. The report had the following to say:
Irish Aid operates in Uganda in a context of significant progress in development, although important challenges remain to address governance, poverty reduction, and areas of fragility. Irish Aid stands out as having a very good development co-operation programme, with a reputation built on the excellence of its staff as well as its genuine and effective partnerships.
Irish Aid has operated in Uganda since 1994 and has established a strong programme which focuses on three critical poverty-reducing sectors, namely education, HIV-AIDS and governance. There is a strong team in place delivering the programme and rigorous monitoring and accountability systems to ensure value for money. Ireland is spending €150 million in Uganda in the period 2007-09. This includes some €25 million to be spent through Irish NGOs, missionaries and other NGO partners, many of whom have a strong field presence in Uganda.
Uganda, virtually a failed state in the mid-1980s, has recovered well from years of brutal dictatorial rule and civil strife and today is a stable, relatively peaceful, modern democracy. The country is well on the road to development, although there is still a way to go. I will give a few examples of how we have contributed to this journey. Uganda has experienced remarkable economic growth rates in recent years, reaching 9.8% last year. We have seen a consistent reduction in poverty levels from 56% in 1992 to 31% in 2005. Irish Aid supports the poverty action fund to support the Government in reducing poverty. This involves financing ring-fenced elements of Government expenditure which are deemed to be particularly important in reducing poverty, especially in the areas of education, health, water and sanitation, rural roads and agriculture.
Since universal primary education was introduced in 1997, numbers at school have risen from 2.5 million to a remarkable 7.5 million. Irish Aid is a lead donor in education, combining much needed financial resources to the sector with hands-on technical support in improving the quality of education through curriculum development. An Irish technical assistant, seconded from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, works in the Ministry of Education in Uganda. Ireland is supporting the renovation and expansion of 11 secondary schools and two teacher training colleges in the poorest, most conflict-prone parts of the country, such as Karamoja, the region visited by the sub-committee.
As development actors we sometimes talk about statistics and numbers but sometimes fail to understand the impact of such investments. Two weeks ago, however, I was in Karamoja to visit some of the schools and saw the pride people have in their new buildings in what is a desolate part of the country. It is very insecure at the best of times and we required a military escort but it was a pleasure to see the schools, their dormitories and dining rooms in the village of Kotido. One teacher boasted that she worked in the University of Kotido. The programme provides some 2,000 school places and it has brought about huge change to people's lives.
The HIV-AIDS prevalence rate in Uganda was a staggering 18% in 1992. However, with strong leadership and co-ordinated effort, this has reduced drastically to 6.8%. HIV-AIDS is a central part of the Irish Aid programme in Uganda.
Public confidence in the justice system has risen to 70%, recovering from a situation of rampant injustice, virtually no government and distrust in past regimes. Ireland is chairing the international donor group for the justice, law and order sector and engages on an ongoing basis with the judiciary and all other actors in the process.
Despite these successes, there remain many challenges. For example, chronic poverty affects a quarter of the population and is particularly acute in Karamoja. Infant and maternal mortality are stubbornly high and the HIV-AIDS prevalence rate is creeping upwards, despite our success in reducing it to 6.8%. However, the key point to note is that progress has been possible and remains possible and Ireland is playing an important and much valued role in contributing to that.
Uganda today stands at a crossroads, faced as it is with economic and political decisions that will significantly affect its future prospects. I will outline three challenges. First, massive oil reserves have been found in the west of the country, which is great news for Uganda and has the potential to double Uganda's total revenue within ten years. Will Uganda follow the Norway route and manage the oil industry, and the dollars that will flow from that, well? Alternatively, will Uganda go down the path of Nigeria, with corruption, civil unrest, and unequal benefits the order of the day?
Peace has come "dropping slowly" in northern Uganda but, now more than ever before, with 80% of internally displaced people having returned to or near their homes, recovery and normalisation are possible. Will Uganda be able to consolidate this peace and ensure that regional inequalities — long entrenched in the country — are addressed? Or will Uganda find it difficult to sustain a real and lasting peace, placed as it is within a volatile region, with the menace of the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group still a reality?
The maturity of democracy, still in its infancy with the introduction of multi-party democracy for the 2006 elections, will be tested in the run up to the 2011 elections. Will Uganda go the way of Ghana with incremental democratisation and peaceful elections, or will it veer towards the pathway of Kenya, where contested elections led to widespread violence and resulted in a compromise government of national unity?
In summary, Uganda, far behind in the league tables on many aspects of development, but with an increasing potential to achieve sustainable development for all her people, has now a golden opportunity to exploit regional integration, internal stability and a fast paced economic growth. Will it capitalise on this, or will the coming years be a lost opportunity?
The answers to these questions will depend very much on the political directions, leadership inclinations and policy decisions in Uganda over the coming five years, the period of the Irish aid country strategy. Our programme has made and can continue to make a difference in Uganda. We have a critical role to play in supporting Uganda in making the right kinds of decision and taking the right journeys of direction in the coming years.
The Ugandan authorities are preparing a new national development plan to govern their policies and priorities for the next five years. In planning our strategy, we have been engaged in an in-depth scoping and analytical work, charting out various scenarios for the coming period. We want to ensure that our country strategy is appropriate to the context, that the risks are well understood and responded to and that every effort is made to address the issues and challenges I have outlined.
The focus of any future engagement will remain on tackling poverty with an increasing emphasis on northern Uganda and Karamoja, in particular, the regions of greatest need.
This is but a brief outline of the challenges and opportunities we face. Ours is not an easy task but we are clear about what we want to do and where we want to get to. We appreciate the support and encouragement we have received from the Oireachtas in performing our duties — our duties to Irish taxpayers and to the poorest least represented citizens of Uganda.
I thank the committee for this opportunity to discuss our programme and we are ready to take any questions members may have.