BY AMBROSE GAHENE
Natalie E. Brown, the Ambassador of the United States of America to Uganda has called upon Civil Society Organizations to work hand in hand with the central government in order to realize socio economic development instead of just opposing the latter’s Programmes.
Natalie made the remarks, while officiating as Chief Guest, at the official launch of USAID/Uganda Civil Society Strengthening Activity, held at Kampala Serena Hotel on Wednesday.
“Successful democratic states recognize the need for civil society and its role in contributing to inclusive and sustainable development. They also recognize that civil society is not opposed to the state, but instead fills critical gaps between the Government and private citizens and organizations”, said Ambassador Natalie.
She pointed out that; civil society is a fundamental actor, serving as a critical interlocutor between the state and society, one that enhances the legitimacy of the public sector and helps link citizens with their government.
She said globally, the United States government and USAID in particular, has a rich and proud history of supporting civil society.
“President Biden has emphasized this, making it clear that advancing human rights and democratic values, fighting corruption, and stemming the tide of democratic backsliding are top priorities for the United States”, she added.
She in addition said a strong and vibrant civil society plays a vital role in advocating for new laws and policies; advancing the rights of women and marginalized persons; strengthening the health and education sectors; addressing poverty; protecting human rights; and promoting transparency and accountability.
Participants at the launch ceremony observed that; Uganda’s Vision 2040 and National Development Plan III set out a noteworthy course to attain sustainable growth that would transition Uganda to a prosperous, stable, accountable, and inclusive democracy.
“These commendable strategies and plans underscore the need to build a peaceful, just, and inclusive society: a society that provides equal access to justice; respect for human rights; legitimate political and electoral processes; widespread transparency and accountability; and protection of the interests of the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized”, said Sarah Okwaare, team leader, USAID/Uganda Civil Society Strengthening Activity, in her presentation.
Okwaare said; achieving these laudable objectives will not be possible without the active participation of Uganda’s diverse and expansive civil society.
“That is why the United States is concerned about the narrowing political and civic space here and that is why the United States will continue to speak out against the targeting and harassment of civil society organizations that work for the benefit of the Ugandan people”, she added. Participants observed that; recent measures to silence civil society take a variety of forms.
“Recently in Uganda, we have witnessed the freezing of NGOs’ bank accounts; questionable “investigations” of NGOs that result in the indefinite suspension of their activities; nation-wide restrictions on access to social media platforms; the barring of journalists from covering political events; arbitrary arrests and abduction of human rights defenders; and intimidation of Ugandan citizens exercising their legally constituted rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly”, they said in a joint communiqué .
The USDAID/Uganda Civil Society Strengthening Activity participants concluded their meeting by remaining concerned about Government regulations that require NGOs to disclose sources of funding and personal information about their employees and that impose onerous registration and reporting requirements.
“These regulations enable the NGO Bureau and its local level structures to deny registration to any organization focused on topics deemed undesirable or prejudicial to the dignity of the people of Uganda, and provide the NGO Bureau broad powers to inspect NGO offices and records and to suspend their activities without due process”, they pointed out.
Uganda has the potential to be an influential actor not only on the African continent, but also on the world stage. To achieve this full potential, however, the Ugandan government must fully embrace democratic principles and work with civil society towards meeting the expectations of ordinary Ugandans. Civil society is not the enemy, and arbitrary arrests and investigations are not solutions. Despite tangible progress in certain sectors, Uganda’s development needs are significant and cannot be addressed without a vibrant civil society.