15 November 2018

Uganda: Belgium Is Uganda's Reliable Partner in Education, Health - Envoy

Tell us about the King's Day celebrations and the activities that you hold during the Belgian week

The Belgian Week is an annual event, which is now in its third edition. Last year, we hosted it during the visit of a big Belgian trade delegation. This year's will be hosted in the light of the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Embassy of Belgium in Uganda.

We have enjoyed cordial relations with Uganda since Independence. Prior to the embassy being opened here, our relations were overseen by our embassy in Nairobi. In order to further intensify Belgian activities in partnership with Uganda, the need was felt to open an embassy in Kampala in 1998.

Since we opened the embassy in Kampala, the relations have been growing stronger. We now have a very active embassy handling consular and diplomatic matters, including issues related to development cooperation, trade and investment, political and economic dynamics as well as Uganda's position in the region and on the international scene.

To celebrate the growing relations between our countries, we decided to celebrate this week with a variety of activities that would suit the tastes of everybody; young and old.

Which activities and why should Ugandans attend the celebrations?

Ugandans should attend this week because there will be an eclectic blend of activities. To start off, there are two Belgian chefs, Bart Denys and Dries Cloet, who came to Uganda to prepare typical Belgian dishes. Those who want to discover the Belgian culinary culture should come to Kampala Serena Hotel this week. The chefs will also be involved in preparations for the Belgian King's Day reception tonight. Tomorrow, the entire menu in the restaurant of the hotel will have a Belgian touch, while using mainly local Ugandan ingredients. That is the culinary aspect.

We are also organising an event for children that will include story telling for both Ugandan and Belgian kids. The week will end with a concert of the Belgian Indie rock band the Intergalactic Lovers and Kas Kasozi on November 21 at the Design Hub in Bugolobi. More information about the events can be found on the popular Facebook page of the Embassy.

The day before the concert, on November 21, we will host a Development Day, which is intended to promote partnerships among different actors to skill the Ugandan youth. As you may know, the bilateral development cooperation between Uganda and Belgium focuses on education and health.

For education, the focus is on teacher training and skills development for the youth because there is a lot of youth unemployment, and we believe that we have to find ways to make sure that the youth acquire skills.

So, we shall have panel discussions on how private companies, public institutions and non-state actors can work together to improve the employability of the Ugandan youth and contribute to their empowerment, development and accomplishment. There will be a second panel of discussions: alumni who got scholarships to study in Belgium will exchange views on how their Belgian experience kicked off their career and impacted their professional and personal life after they returned to their home country.

What kind of skills development are you talking about?

We have noticed that there are many Ugandan youth who finish school or university but don't find jobs, whereas on the other hand, private and public sector are looking for people to employ but have difficulties in finding people with the right qualifications. In particular, I am thinking about technical skills. Not everyone has to go to university. Acquiring technical skills in construction, agriculture, hospitality industry and others can be a very relevant alternative and open doors to decent work. Needs for specific skills can differ from one region to another. The skills that might be needed in Karamoja are not necessarily the same as those needed in West Nile or western Uganda. Belgium in its support to skills development tries in partnership with other actors and the Ugandan government to adopt a flexible approach matching the needed qualifications on the labour market that emerge from both international and Ugandan firms from all over the country.

Have you mapped out which skills are needed in which region?

Within the successive Ugandan-Belgium development cooperation programmes, our implementing agency Enabel has gained a lot of expertise in skilling because it has been active in the education sector for more than 10 years, especially in the western part of the country. Other countries such as Ireland in Karamoja and the European Union in West Nile are now engaging with Enabel to implement their programmes. That is why we are expanding our reach, not only with Belgian funds but also with funds from other donors. For example, in Karamoja, Enabel calls for proposals from local partners or organisations to identify what is needed in the region and then it looks at the different proposals and chooses which skills are the most appropriate to teach in that region, and which programmes offer the best chance to acquire those skills.

You also talked about health programmes. Which programmes are you offering?

Together with other partners, we have introduced a concept called result-based financing. This is financing based on efficiency. We do not just look at the input but also the output and outcome of a health facility. It is a concept, which is becoming more known in the country. If the facility or the doctors provide positive results, they can actually get additional financing. We want to make these health facilities more efficient by making the financing conditional on performance. This systems also allows health facilities to welcome more patients as they know they will get the required financing to treat them properly, improving access to and quality of care for everyone.

How do you measure efficiency under such situation?

Efficiency is not only measured by the number of patients treated but also by many other qualitative and quantitative indicators , verified and validated by the Ministry of Health. Our main goal is to see this concept work in Uganda, which is a first step towards universal health coverage. But to achieve this, an efficient way of financing and an optimal use of available resources in an equitable way is needed.

Have you identified the health facilities you want to work with?

We work in various regions with both public and private facilities, with state actors and non-state actors.

Tell us more about the plan to have Ugandans pitch projects before the judges during the Belgian Week after which the winners will be supported!

There has already been a call for proposals which has been published on different platforms like Facebook. Young Ugandan entrepreneurs came up with a number of innovative projects which they think could be viable in the Ugandan context. About 15 projects have been selected and the Belgian Platform consists of a number of companies and professors of a Belgian management school that will come here and visit these projects.

They will also constitute a panel in front of which those that have been selected, will pitch their projects and convince the jury about the innovation and viability of these projects. The winners will not only get the chance to present their projects to potential investors, but will also get technical assistance from the professors of the management school.

There are issues about the Economic Partnership Agreement under Cotonou Agreement where we see some East African Community member states, including Uganda, refusing to ratify the agreement for fear of having the regional market flooded with European capital goods if they are allowed to enter the region tax-free.

Regional integration is very important. If you look at the European Union, its biggest success has been its regional economic integration which entails free movement of goods, services, people and capital. This makes trade relations easier. We also believe that for this region, further regional integration is paramount.

Under the current Cotonou arrangement, there is already preferential treatment of exports from Africa Caribbean and the Pacific to Europe. No tariffs are imposed on all the goods except arms.

This is for the least developed countries. In the future, for countries in this region, which will reach middle income status, this kind of principle may not apply anymore because you will be trading more and more as equal partners.

The EU is ready to sign the EPA but not all the countries in the East African region are on the same wave length. President Museveni has been very supportive and has been travelling to Brussels to better understand the European point of view and to see how these issues can be solved. It is mainly the issue of not every country seeing the benefits of being part of this EPA. It is something that has to be solved by the region. European Union cannot force it.

We do believe that more free trade between the two regions is a win-win situation and good for both regions. Of course, it is not the goal for the European Union to diminish the possibility of building a strong industry here in the region. On the contrary, we would like to use this agreement to make it possible for the Ugandan industry to export goods.

More and more industries would be attracted here if they know in advance that it is easier to export to the region and beyond. If you come here either as a local or foreigner entrepreneur while not being sure that you can export your goods without barriers, then potential investors will be hesitant to do business here. This EPA is not intended to overwhelm the African market with European products which are usually more expensive anyway. On the contrary, it's intended to give chance to investors and producers in the region, be it local or international investors, to export to Europe.

Earlier at the press conference, you talked about the need for political dialogue.

The region as a whole is important for Belgium for historical reasons and Uganda over the last decades has played a very important role in the region. Uganda has become a partner to talk to as far as mediating in regional conflicts is concerned.

Of course, we are in a very volatile area with DR Congo, South Sudan, Burundi and Somalia, and Uganda has been a privileged partner to talk to about the region to see how Belgium and the European Union as a whole can support regional initiatives to bring peace. I say Belgium and EU because as a member of European Union, under the Cotonou Agreement, we have a regular political and economic dialogue with the President and the government.

The EU Heads of Mission met the President just a few weeks ago. We discussed the role that Uganda has played, especially in the signing of the South Sudan peace agreement, the invaluable military presence in Somalia and the mediating role in the Burundi talks.

As you know our Embassy in Kampala is also dealing with South Sudan that is part of our jurisdiction: in that regard Belgium commends South Sudan and the region with the recent signed revitalized peace agreement that is key to regional stability. We encourage all parties to contribute to its smooth implementation and will give it all appropriate political and moral support.

European Union has been one of the biggest funders of the African Union troops in Somalia, but it seems you are now cutting the funding. Aren't you concerned that this will undermine the achievements so far done in Somalia?

We are in constant dialogue with Uganda regarding this. Belgium is not at the forefront when it comes to Somalia. But as European Union, we are still fully committed to support Uganda in its effort in Somalia. There are also other regions which are very volatile. There are conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan. We surely don't want to affect the operations in Somalia and we are giving substantial amounts of money. But of course, there must be an exit strategy. It's important that the Somali army gets the necessary training so that at a certain time, Somalia can take its future into its own hands. I don't think there is any disagreement between Uganda and European Union on Somalia.

Away from Somalia and the region, what is your comment on the crackdown by the security forces on the demonstrations in Uganda?

We are in regular dialogue with the President, the Prime Minister and other members of the Government. We raise all issues--economic, political and regional issues. Of course, some events in a country can affect its reputation and once it affects the reputation, then there will be much less investment which in turn will be economically detrimental for the country.

Two of the principles on which the Belgian foreign policy is built are: respect for the rule of law and the need for dialogue. In Belgium, we also have different communities with different languages and we have learned to compromise in order to reach consensus. As far as human rights are concerned, these are universal values. The respect of human rights is fundamental for the development of a country.

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