Uganda – a humbling yet enriching experience

I am just on my way back to Liverpool having spent a week in Uganda. This week has been one of the best experiences I have ever had. I have learned a hell of a lot but hope that I have done things to help local government in that country; to improve ‘political links’ between our countries and to create trade links both our countries and between Uganda and Merseyside in particular.

The trip was to undertake a peer review of the Ugandan LGA which I did with John McBride the C-EX of Poole and Neil Shaw of LGID alongside a peer team from Zimbabwe and Morocco. We spent 5 days visiting councils, Ministries and partners and talking to ULGA staff and officials. Delightfully the LGA is very well regarded by almost everyone we met. We were able to give them a strong report which outlined their opportunities and capacity problems. As we left them they felt that we had given them a tool to effect change both within ULGA but also with their partners.

Many of the challenges that they face are similar to ours. Keeping in touch with members; challenging yet working with government; thinking through new ideas; broadening their financial base. The list is endless! Similarly councils face the same problems. Too much legislation and not enough cash.

But there the similarities end. Whatever problems we have they are tiny compared to those faced by our colleagues in a country that is so very poor. Their LGA can afford to employ only 21 people to look after about 800 councils serving 30,000,000 people. Their councils are struggling to deliver the most basic of services across vast distances with many without electricity, water and metalled roads.

They are delivering though. Searches are improving, literacy is improving , infant and post natal deaths and illnesses are getting better. Wherever we went people were positive, searching for new ideas and seeking to develop appropriate relationships with each other, central government international partners.

So how can we help them? I am suggesting a number of things which will provide 2 way help:

1. For our LGA to partner with them. This will not involve cash or twinning but use of our skills and materials from here to help them there. We could help them to develop their web site at little cost. We could provide long distance learning and advice between staff and members at little cost.

2. We can ensure that more of our existing aid budget is spent through them. In the week where central government had to pull a programme with central government of corruption everyone agreed that there was no corruption in ULGA.

3. Just as we are doing with Mexico we can find ways in which we can get the right companies into Uganda at the right price. There are several ideas that we can develop following a meeting that I held with the British High Commissioner.

4. Some of those trade ideas can be with Greater Liverpool. The High Commissioner actually comes from posh Liverpool (Formby) and we have some ideas for local interaction with UKTI, her and local businesses.

Seeing the conditions in which people live but being cheerful and optimistic was hugely humbling. The friendliness with which were greeted, the respect with which the UK is held, the scale of the challenges has inspired me to do more than ever before to create strong and positive links between Africa and the UK.

Just in case the loathsome duo of Pickles and Shapps ask our visit was paid for by the taxpayers of Luxembourg. We traveled economy class, stayed in a hotel that was far from luxurious and spent a total of 9 days away from home and have offered to go back and help again and work as volunteers within this country to develop those links.

I’ll post some pictures when I get home to prove some of these things. And by the way one of the visits was to Jinja where I did float over the source of the Nile!

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