KAMPALA – Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has ordered the suspension of a multimillion-dollar fund backed by European nations that supports the work of local groups focusing on democracy and good governance.
Museveni, who was re-elected last month in a disputed vote, in a letter to his finance minister charges that money withdrawn from the Democratic Governance Facility has been "used to finance activities and organizations designed to subvert Government under the guise of improving governance.”
Museveni said that he was never consulted on the establishment of the fund with cash reserves of up to £100 million and “operated exclusively by a foreign mission" in the East African country.
"This is not the financing of a private business but the funding of state and non-state actors to achieve the political objectives of the funders in Uganda," he wrote in the letter dated Jan. 2. He also ordered the suspension of the fund's activities until his cabinet reviews the matter and a new oversight board featuring Ugandans is installed.
Patrick Ocailap, the deputy treasury secretary, told The Associated Press that the finance ministry would “handle the matter appropriately” after getting guidance from the finance minister, to whom the letter was addressed. Finance Minister Matia Kasaija declined to comment, saying he was unwell.
Nicole Bjerler, the fund's chief, did not immediately respond to e-mailed questions. Nicolaj A.H. Petersen, the Danish ambassador, said in an e-mailed response that the fund's board had not received any formal communication from the government, adding that as development partners they "remain open to dialogue with the government.”
The Democratic Governance Facility, or DGF, was launched in 2011 by Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Austria, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the European Union as a five-year program to support government and non-governmental groups working to promote human rights, deepen democracy and improve accountability. Renewed in 2018 and domiciled within the Danish embassy, the fund says it wants to see a country “where citizens are empowered to engage in democratic governance and the state upholds citizens’ rights.”
The fund, which has operated in Uganda with the full knowledge of relevant authorities, has supported groups ranging from rights watchdogs to anti-corruption agencies, and even journalists doing investigative work have received funding. Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda has praised work accomplished through the fund.
Museveni's decision to halt the fund's activities will likely escalate an ongoing quarrel with outside groups, including development partners in the West, that he accuses of interfering in the internal affairs of Uganda. The allegations of foreign meddling levied at unnamed groups Museveni accused of “arrogance” contributed to a charged atmosphere ahead of last month's presidential vote.
Museveni won the Jan. 14 polls with 58% of the vote while his closest rival, the singer and lawmaker known as Bobi Wine, had 35%, according to official results. Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, insists he won and has said he will prove that the military was stuffing ballot boxes, casting ballots for people and chasing voters away from polling stations.
Allegations of widespread irregularities are contained in a legal petition filed this week that seeks to overturn Museveni's victory and block him from ever running for office again. Museveni accuses Wine of being a foreign agent, which the opposition leader denies.
Museveni, who has won all vote-related legal challenges he faced in the past, has dismissed allegations of vote-rigging, calling the election “the most cheating-free” since independence from Britain in 1962.
Wine has captured the imagination of many at home and abroad in his generational clash with Museveni. Wine, who is 38, has called for the retirement of the 76-year-old president, a U.S. ally on regional security who took power in 1986.
Uganda’s elections were marred by violence ahead of polling day as well as an internet shutdown that remained in force until four days after the vote. Social media sites remain restricted.
The United States and the European Union have noted concerns about Uganda’s elections. Natalie E. Brown, the U.S. ambassador, in a recent statement cited “deep and continuing concern about the extrajudicial detention of opposition political party members, the reported disappearance of several opposition supporters, and continued restrictions" on the work of Wine's party.