Uganda: “bursting at the seams” says State OIG inspection

The State Department Office of the Inspector General released this afternoon its latest regular inspection report for the U.S. Embassy in Uganda. The Kampala mission, the second largest in Sub-Saharan Africa, gets good marks, but is facing critical physical space problems from ongoing and expected growth–“bursting at the seams”. More of general interest, how does the IG summarize the context of the mission of the United States in Uganda? Here you are:

Uganda has experienced nearly three decades of domestic stability, except in northern areas. President Museveni’s National Resistance Movement took power in 1986. Irregularities marred his reelection in 2011, and he is expected to run again in 2016. Uganda has never experienced a peaceful transition of political power, and civil society does not effectively hold government accountable. Uganda’s record on democracy, human rights, and anticorruption is poor, but it has become an important force for regional stability in East Africa. It contributes to the African Union Mission in Somalia, leads regional efforts against the Lord’s Resistance Army, and has mediated talks between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the M23 rebels.
The passage of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in early 2014 prompted Washington to reassess the bilateral relationship, including U.S. foreign assistance, which was taking place during the inspection. Bilateral security cooperation has included peacekeeping training for Ugandan forces in Somalia and Ugandan support for the 2013 evacuation of U.S. diplomats from South Sudan.
Economic growth over the past decade has averaged 6 to 7 percent, with inflation in the single digits, and the percentage of the population in poverty dropped by half. Uganda’s population is projected to grow from 35 million to more than 60 million over the next 20 years, threatening to erode and even reverse development progress. The economy provides one job for every 40 new entrants to the job market. By the end of this decade, Uganda may be an oil- producing country, which would significantly raise government revenue but could also exacerbate corruption. U.S. exports to Uganda in 2012 totaled $100 million, half of which consisted of aircraft and machinery.
HIV/AIDS prevalence rates declined in the early 1990s to less than 7 percent, one of the lowest rates in Africa, but has begun to rise again. The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) FY 2013 assistance budget for Uganda was $67.5 million for development, $11 million for Food for Peace, and $84.95 million for the Global Health Initiative. The Department of State (Department) also provided $316.14 million for the Global Health Initiative, $190,000 in foreign military financing, and $522,000 in international military engagement and training. International narcotics control and law enforcement funding of $600,000 went directly to Uganda.
With 712 employees, the embassy is the second largest in Sub-Saharan Africa and includes 147 U.S. direct hires compared to 91 in 2007. Other departments and agencies represented in the embassy include USAID, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Peace Corps. The embassy chancery accommodates all employees and has annexes in Gulu (CDC) and Entebbe (CDC and DOD), which are 7 hours away and 90 minutes away, respectively, by vehicle. In addition, the general services office and warehouse facility is located 6 kilometers from the embassy compound, and it has more desks than some smaller embassies in Africa.

“Incredible Shrinking Kibera”–a lesson that should inspire humility in Western capitals

When we see popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya that no one in the United States or the West more generally seems to have anticipated we ought naturally to be drawn to some soul searching about how much we really know about societies and countries in Africa–and how what we do know gets filtered and reported back to policy makers and the public at home.

My experience in East Africa and what I have learned since certainly suggested caution and humility to me.  One particular glaring example I can highlight is the fiasco of what I will call “Incredible Shrinking Kibera”.  First let’s start with the setting:  right in the heart of Nairobi, one of the most cosmopolitan African capitals in many respects–a city that is a magnet for Western expats, in particular offices of international organizations and NGOs on a regional or Africa-wide basis, as well as a huge regional diplomatic presence.  Lots of tourists from the UK and the US in particular.  Yet, it has turned out that Western conventional wisdom about Nairobi has included numbers for the population of the Kibera informal settlement (“the largest slum in Africa”) that are vastly beyond those cited in Kenya’s new census.  Either the conventional wisdom about 1 million people, or perhaps many more, living in Kibera was vastly inflated, or the new Kenya census finding only a fraction of that population is completely flawed–or both if the real population is, say, double the census figure and less than half the “conventional wisdom”.   If Kenya can’t get anywhere close in a census, even in Nairobi, then how serious can we really be about drawing new boundaries and electoral districts and free and fair elections with equal voting rights for all citizens next year?  If the census is close, then a lot of us in the West have been shown to be either seriously misinformed about something that shouldn’t be so hard to know, or of “spinning” beyond the bounds of a fair representation of the facts.  I myself have referenced the “conventional wisdom” without the skepticism that I should have had.

I was fortunate to have a friend in Kibera and thus an introduction to one family and community in one neighborhood there, as well as being involved in a pre-election survey of the Langata parliamentary constituency in December 2007 and in observing a bit of the voting in one of the more upscale areas on election day with our international delegates.  I started to scratch the surface.  Personally, my family and I had more connection to Kawangware.  Wherever you live in Nairobi, if you are interested, you can pick a nearby informal settlement and start getting acquainted.

Here is a good blog about Kibera:

“Slum Tourism in Kibera: Education or Exploitation?” Brian Ekdale

4) Don’t assume you understand Kibera after spending a couple of hours there. I’ve been there 10 months and still learn new things every day. Kibera is a very complex place. People like to say 1 million residents, but population figures are contested. Not every organization is doing what they say they are doing. Not everyone is impoverished (I know some who have good jobs but would rather financially support their families and neighbors than move to a wealthy area and leave behind those that helped raise them). Now that you’ve been there, go back and read those articles and watch those videos I mentioned in #2.

5) Don’t think Nairobi is a city of contradictions. Sure, you can get a mocha and french toast at Nairobi Java House, go on a Kibera tour in the late morning, and then grab some upscale Indian food at Yaya Centre for lunch without traveling very far. But understand the Java House/Yaya/Westgate life does not exist in spite of Nairobi’s slum population, they exist because of Nairobi’s slum population. Cheap labor built those massive structures. Cheap labor stocked the shelves. And cheap labor keeps them running. That labor walks home at night to sleep in Kibera, or Korogocho, or Mathare, etc.

Maziwa Fresh by AfriCommons
Maziwa Fresh, a photo by AfriCommons on Flickr.