The Ireland Ambassador to Uganda, Carlos William has said that Ireland will be a critical voice representing Uganda’s interests in European Union (EU) block.
Ireland this year is celebrating 25 years of presence in Uganda. And the Irish Embassy is looking at the next 25 years with optimism of strengthening friendship with Uganda government and Ugandans.
Carlos says that Ireland being the only English speaking country remaining in European Union, after Britain exits, the country will be a voice for Uganda at E.U discussion table.
The European Union has heavily invested in Uganda’s infrastructure, social sector and humanitarian development.
For instance, it invested over 400 million euros in Uganda last year. Carlos says such investment is indicative of a critical role that E.U plays in Uganda’s development.
The Ambassador says Uganda-Ireland relationship was initiated by missionaries-priests and sisters-over 100 years ago. Prominent names are Mother Mary Kevin Kearney who worked in Uganda for almost half a century.
Mother Kevin founded Institute of the Franciscan Sisters for Africa and established medical facilities including Nsambya and Naggalama Hospitals. Mother Kevin also led initiatives for establishment of educational institutions including Mount St Mary’s College Namagunga in Mukono district.
“Sadly, a lot of missionaries who came have passed on but there is still eight or nine who are still alive. And they still have a very strong footprint,” he says.
Carlos mentioned Sister Dr Maura Lynch, who died in December 2017. “I want to note her among others in terms of work she did in the area of health.”
Dr Maura spent three decades at Kitovu Mission Hospital giving lifesaving fistula treatment to women. At the time of her death, it’s estimated that she had carried over 1000 fistula surgeries.
“We have been struck by all these people, both Ugandan and Irish, who have contributed to the great relationship we have enjoyed in Uganda and continue to enjoy, but also who have made Ireland’s contribution to the development of Uganda possible,” Carlos says.
The missionaries invested in health and education, Carlos says, the embassy walked the path of missionaries by investing in the two sectors. He say the embassy has firmed up state to state and people to people relationships.
Ireland started development programme Africa in 1975 by opening embassy in Lesotho, followed by establishment of embassies in Tanzania and Zambia. When Ireland thought about expanding development activities in 1990s, Uganda, Ethiopia and Mozambique became destinations. Carlos says Ireland was focused on supporting countries that were rising out of conflicts.
The Ireland development aid, the ambassador says is driven by desire to help vulnerable communities. Ireland development assistance in Uganda has been concentrated in Karamoja region. “As a nation, the Ireland people expect us to be in areas that are extremely vulnerable, where there are difficulties.”
“Ireland takes great pride in the role we have played in Karamoja. From our initial support to peace and conflict resolution to our current support to education, HIV prevention, Sexual Reproductive Health Rights and social protection. Karamoja is a region transformed,” Carlos says.
The embassy programme in Karamoja, he says has enabled over 1,000 students to attain secondary and tertiary education. And over 200 Uganda students have been supported to study in Ireland.
The next decades, the ambassador says will be anchored on the firm foundation that has been established to expand cooperation in business and trade. Carlos also envisions Uganda and Ireland working together in many arenas, including UN systems.
Uganda’s open door policy for refugees, Carlos says is a lesson that European Union countries can learn. The unique refugee policy has earned Uganda a global reputation.
Carlos says they will stay focused on investment in education and health. He says they have learnt from experience that it takes time to set up education institutions and educate critical human resource that can be a foundation for economic transformation.
The ambassador says Ireland also has experienced to share with Uganda on growing tourism sector, which a backbone of the Irish economy. Last year, Ireland attracted 11.6 people tourists-more than double of Irish population-earning 6.6 billion euros.
“So why is that, what can Uganda learn and what can we share. So, for us, it’s not just working together in terms of funding education and health. But its working in partnership and sharing experience with each other,” he says.
The Ireland and Britain’s Department of International Development (DFID) partnership with government have supported the social protection sector. This support resulted to the formation of the Social Assistance Grant for Empowerment (SAGE) pilot scheme in 2010.
SAGE has benefited over 153,000 elderly Ugandans in 47 districts aged 65 and above. Government recently approved plan to roll out sage nationally but also increase the age of beneficiaries from 65 to 80 years. Investment in SAGE, Carlos says is informed by “Ireland’s philosophy and values of siding with vulnerable people.”
“Social protection is one key area of providing resilience to people so that they can have money for survival and that they don’t die because of lack of basic needs at old age,” he says.