A grouping of prominent international and local NGOs in Uganda on Tuesday marked the presence in the country of US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Irish rock star Bono to welcome a pledge of increased US aid to developing countries but warn that "unnecessary conditionalities and narrow criteria could exclude many deserving Sub-Saharan countries."
The call was made during a meeting with O'Neill and Bono, before they travelled on to Ethiopia for the last leg of a trip (which also included stops in Ghana and South Africa) to assess for themselves the impact of debt, trade, aid and development policies in developing countries.
O'Neill, in particular, wanted to see the situation on the ground in Africa in order to establish criteria for future US aid under Washington's initiative to massively increase bilateral development aid year on year to 2006, according to media reports on the trip.
The grouping of aid organisations in Uganda proposed criteria for aid that would depend on "home grown" poverty reduction strategies within developing countries, and not "one size fits all" criteria which, they said, were characteristic of the Structural Adjustment Programmes pushed by multilateral and bilateral donors in the 1990s.
The NGOs said aid had contributed to the reduction of poverty in Uganda in the last 10 years - from a staggering 56 percent of the Ugandan population in 1990 to 35 percent in 2000.
But they stressed the importance of a tripartite partnership between government, NGOs and donors in reducing poverty in Uganda, as in any developing country.
The NGOs included: Uganda Joint Christian Council, Uganda Debt Network, Oxfam, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Save the Children UK, the Ugandan NGO Forum, World Vision, Samaritan's Purse, CARE International, GOAL/Uganda, Concern Worldwide and the National Association of Women's Organisations in Uganda (NAWOU).
Uganda's debt relief under the Highly-Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) is estimated at some $650 million per year for the five years to 2004, and Ugandan government officials say the savings on principle and debt servicing are being spent mostly on health, education, water and sanitation and other poverty reduction measures.
During Tuesday's meeting in Kampala, the aid organisations argued strongly for a 100 percent debt cancellation and called upon O'Neill to support this at the relevant international fora. Uganda still owes about US $4 billion to bilateral and multilateral bodies, according to the government-owned New Vision newspaper on Wednesday.
They said that, although the US was recommending that the World Bank offers developing countries grants and not loans in the future, there was still a need to address the existing crippling debt of many countries.
At the end of his visit to Uganda on Tuesday, O'Neill announced that Washington, in a symbolic gesture, had cancelled all of Uganda's remaining bilateral debt to the US "to help improve the lot of the poor," the New Vision newspaper reported on Wednesday.
O'Neill and Ugandan Finance Minister Gerald Sendaula had signed a bilateral agreement writing off a remaining $193,000 dollars (342 million Ugandan shillings) owed to the US, it added.
The aid agencies in Uganda also called on O'Neill to use his influence in the US government to support peace and conflict resolution in the Great Lakes region since, they said, "aid cannot be effective without security."
"What Africa needs is a combination of trade and aid for its development," the NGOs said. "Neither of these alone is enough."
Museveni reiterated their point when he told O'Neill that, while grants and debt cancellation were welcome, they must be coupled with market access to make sure that developing countries are not just forced to run up new debt.
The Ugandan president commended the US for opening up its markets through the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) but called for an end to subsidies and protectionism in the west in order to allow Africa "catch up with the rest of the world," the New Vision added.
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