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Democratic Governance Facility exits, leaving thousands jobless

The Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) ended its operations in Uganda last week.

The exit comes after the government publicly claimed that the facility was fi- nancing subversive activities within the country. Established in 2011, the DGF was a coalition of seven development partners, including Austria, Denmark, the European Union (EU), Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.

DGF had been providing funding to 85 state and non-state implementing partners in Uganda. Its exit has had a significant impact on individuals, communities, and institutions. Over the course of the four-year program (2018-2022), DGF injected $350 million (Shs 1.3 trillion) into Uganda’s economy.

Prominent beneficiaries of DGF fund- ing included The National Bureau for NGOs (NGO Bureau), the Institute of Parliamentary Studies (IPS), the Parlia- ment of Uganda, the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Nebbi District Local Government, the Uganda Law Council, Uganda Law Society, and Uganda Human Rights Commission.

Other recipients included Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ- U), Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG), Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), African Youth Initiative Network (AY- INET), Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU), African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), Food Rights Alliance (FRA), ActionAid International Uganda (AAIU), and more.

Apart from being extensively involved in programme implementation, the government held governance positions within the DGF. Four government ministries participated in the DGF Board, Steering Committee, and discussions.

STANDOFF WITH THE GOVERNMENT

In February 2021, President Yoweri Mu- seveni directed the minister of Finance, Matia Kasaija, to suspend all DGF activi- ties, alleging that the facility was financing subversive activities in Uganda.

In a letter to Kasaija, the president claimed that the ministry of Finance had authorized a £100 million fund, the DGF, to be operated ex- clusively by a foreign mission in Uganda without the government’s knowledge or consent. Museveni criticized the allocation of funds to activities and organizations aimed at subverting the government under the guise of improving governance.

After 16 months, the president lifted the DGF suspension in July 2022 following a meeting with the Danish minister of Development Cooperation, Flemming Moller Mortensen, on June 22, 2022.

STATEMENT FROM THE EU AMBASSADOR

During the DGF closure event, Jan Sadek, the ambassador of the European Union to Uganda and chair of the DGF Board, expressed his sorrow.

He acknowledged that the closure of DGF not only meant losing a funding partner but also marked the end of a 12-year collective endeavor aimed at giving a voice to the voiceless, bridging the gap between citi- zens and the state, and fostering a culture of democratic governance across Uganda.

“We recognize the role of civil society in advancing development and governance in Uganda. Without your hard work, hundreds of thousands of people would not have had access to legal representation; numerous victims of conflict and torture would have gone without treatment and counseling; citizens would not have gained crucial access to information on public contracts, and many progressive laws and policies would not have been enacted during the lifespan of the DGF,” Sadek said.

While expressing regret over the inability to continue the DGF arrangement, he pledged to align more programs with government priorities to strengthen democratic governance in Uganda. He likened the pro- cess of advancing democracy to navigating the busy roads of Uganda, where it is more akin to maneuvering boda-bodas, taxis, and trucks on Jinja road rather than cruising on the expressway to Entebbe.

Under the DGF, legal aid was provided to over 350,000 people, another 15,000 indi- viduals including conflict victims received treatment and counseling, 14,000 women representatives were supported in engaging decision-making structures, approximately 5,000 public forums were held where citizens interacted with government representatives to influence laws and policies, and 6,000 recommendations from citizens or civil society organizations were taken into account by elected representatives.

BENEFICIARIES SHARE PERSPECTIVES

In interviews for this story, several benefi- ciaries of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) expressed their views on the closure and its impact.

Julius Mukunda, the executive director of Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG), stated that the closure of DGF had created a significant gap as they had relied on it for 40% of their entire budget. He mentioned that their work had been affected, with reduced media visibility, decreased fieldwork, office closures, and job losses.

Despite the challenges, Mukunda emphasized their determination to im- prove and continue their work. Marlon Agaba, the spokesman of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, acknowledged the size and importance of DGF as a funding facility that supported over 75 organizations.

He noted that the closure had led to a decline in their opera- tions, now reaching only nine districts in- stead of the previous 12. Agaba highlighted the unfilled funding gap since the suspen- sion and expressed hope that other donors would step in to support their work.

Bernard Oundo, the president of the Uganda Law Society (ULS), explained that the closure of DGF had significantly af- fected their legal aid project and assistance to impoverished individuals. He men- tioned their efforts to find new funders and the establishment of a legal basket fund to sustain their work.

Dr George Lugalambi, the executive director of the African Center for Media Excellence (ACME), acknowledged DGF as a major funder of their media programs.

He mentioned that they faced challenges but managed to secure other funders for specific activities, such as the Uganda Journalism Awards. Lugalambi expressed the difficulty of finding new funders to fill the gap left by DGF, but remained committed to identifying alternative sources of funding.

He also emphasized their collaboration with the government and their current focus on training journalists in areas of public policy, such as road safety.

In conclusion, despite the closure of DGF, the beneficiaries expressed their determination to continue their work and find alternative sources of funding. They hoped that the previous funding partners of DGF would continue supporting them, and they remained committed to comple- menting the government’s efforts in achieving national development goals.

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