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Why disrupting donor support is crucial

Why disrupting donor support is crucial

The ability to disrupt the donor support will mean the difference between police officers killing hundreds of protesting Ugandans without mercy during elections, or a successful peaceful transition. It is all about money, the ability to buy loyalty.

All dictatorships have a similar structure. A leader is backed by a small coalition of essentials. The support of these essentials is crucial for a leader if he wishes to survive in office. In Uganda, the essentials, for example, are the military, religious leaders, business class, and police.

In dictatorships, it is much cheaper to lavishly buy the loyalty of this small coalition of essentials to keep in power, than to try to buy the loyalty of the people through public services such as infrastructure, healthcare, and education. The most important goal of all money of dictatorships, is to first buy the loyalty of this group. As long as they are paid, they are loyal, and will do what is needed to keep the situation in their favor. When a police commander is paid 50.000 dollars for extraordinary use of violence, many are happy to comply.

The money to buy that loyalty, can originate from three different sources:

1. Taxes
2. Resources (oil, minerals, diamonds)
3. Donor Support (aid)

In Uganda, donor support is still the most important source for buying loyalty of the essentials. Most funds that are sent by donors or the World Bank for helping the poor, end up in the pockets of essentials. Helen Epstein wrote how the biggest contribution to the security forces comes from a 300 million dollar loan from the World Bank, officially granted as “Covid-19 relief”.

As long as the essentials, especially the police commanders and Special Guard Brigade (SGB) are being paid enormous amounts of the donor support, and they expect that the dictator will remain able to keep paying them, they will remain loyal. As long as they remain loyal, they are willing to do the dirty work, of killing Ugandan citizens that protest for their freedom.

However, the donors have consistently sent donor support to the Ugandan dictatorship. There is a lot of academic and journalistic proof that these funds are not used for what it is intended (help the poor), but to oppress the people of Uganda and maintain a deadly regime.

Even though there is an enormous amount of evidence that donor support from countries, the World Bank, or United Nations, given with the goal to ‘help the poor’, ends up in the pocket of the small coalition of essentials in Uganda, nothing changes.
The call for stopping donor support to the Ugandan government is nothing new.
When extreme violence was used against Kizza Besigye and FDC supporters, multiple calls came to stop the donor support to the Ugandan dictatorship. Leaders spoke to journalists, ambassadors, ministers, and even prime ministers. But the funding continued nonetheless. With the current focus on gaining freedom in Uganda around the 2021 elections, a similar approach is used. The police brutality is shared with journalists, ambassadors, NGO’s, senators, and even presidents. Both Obama and Joe Biden used their social media to bring attention to police brutality in Uganda. But still, the funding continues.

Why donors fund Museveni

Donors perfectly know that their funds are not used to the intended purposes of helping the poor people. They are aware about the journalist and academic articles and books about the corruption in Uganda, and that their funds end up in the pockets of the ‘essentials’. But they do not care so much.
As the goal of their donor support is not really to help the people of Uganda, but to buy ‘policy goals’ of the Ugandan government. Policy goals are for example to host more refugees, to support the ‘War on Terror’, to keep sending peacekeeping soldiers to Somalia, and to respond to economic interests of the donors.
For example, the biggest problem for Europe in the last decade has been refugee flows. So, they pay a lot of money to African governments to keep these refugees in these countries. This happens not only in Uganda, but it is convenient that Uganda now hosts the biggest refugee camp. The donors do not really have another choice than to keep funding Uganda, he solves their problem for them. It is the same story for regional stability (especially important after Rwandan genocide of 1994) such as with Kony and his LRA, Burundi crisis, and Al Shabaab. In the case of the Dutch, who also want stability and refugee camps, they likely also have economic interests for their agricultural companies. So they buy these policy goals of the Ugandan dictatorship with their donor funding.

The Achilles Heel of donors

However, this can be stopped, as democracies are dependent on the wishes of their people. Ugandans can stop this unfair situation, and disrupt donor support to the dictatorship. As this money is not paid by America, EU, or Netherlands, but by the American, European, and Dutch taxpayer. He who pays, decides.
The weaknesses of democratic donors is that the donor support they are sending to the Ugandan government (who uses it to buy the loyalty of his small coalition of essentials), is taxpayer money.

Focus on the taxpayers

It is the Dutch, American, English, or Norwegian citizen, that provides the money for the donor support, by paying taxes. These taxes are often used for public goods such as good education, healthcare, and infrastructure, but in the case of foreign policy, it is usually used to buy ‘policy goals’. It does not matter if the money goes to democracies, or dictatorships, as long as the policy goals are ensured.
The governments of these citizens are also dependent on the public opinion of their citizens about what they can do with their tax. Most are ignorant about what exactly happens with their taxpayer money for donor support. Their governments, and the Ugandan government, tells them it is used to ‘help the poor’. But in fact, this money is used to buy the loyalty of police commanders to brutality kill innocent Ugandans.
Therefore, it is not a good idea to try to reason with these donor funding governments, ambassadors, or ministers, but to focus the message directly to their citizens. As soon as they are aware that THEIR taxpayer money is used directly to brutalizing and killing Ugandans, they will demand that this stops immediately. After all, it is their money, and almost all hate to pay taxes. Especially, when it is used to kill people.

How to activate the Western taxpayers

So, how to make these citizens aware?
For this we developed the: YOU FINANCE MURDER campaign.
Go to busy public spaces, so around train stations or big supermarkets all over the country. Focus on the big cities. Bring a large placard with the text ‘You Finance Murder’ in local language, with either an Ugandan flag, or 1 or several pictures of murdered Ugandans.
It also possible to use first aid make-up you look badly beaten and hurt, while holding the placard. The essence of these actions should be creative activism, so using symbols. When you can speak without words, there will be a lot more noise. So no shouting but talking, use your voice & your presence with several strong symbols to get the message across. You can do this alone, or in pairs.
You, Ugandans in diaspora and well-wishers, can disrupt donor support effectively. But you must focus on creating awareness on those that pay: the western taxpayers.

Erik van der Zanden

Founder of Sankara Revolutions. His mission is to help Africans living under oppression to liberate themselves. Follow Erik on:

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