Progress and challenges in northern Uganda: consolidating peace and development

Northern Uganda is in a period of relative stability after seven uninterrupted years of peace since the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels were pushed out of the country into the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central Africa Republic. Whilst the majority of the people in the region still live in extreme poverty, since 2006, these rates have reduced from 60% to 46%. However, in the North East- Karamoja region, it is still as high as 75% (Poverty Status Report, 2012). The region is at the nexus of transition a conflict and humanitarian crisis to a peaceful settled state where communities are fast settling in agriculture and micro-scale businesses.

During the peak of the conflict, when around 1.8 million people were in camps, the region was a hub for national and international NGOs, providing humanitarian support to a population unable to engage in economic development. While the government focused on defeating the rebels NGOs undertook humanitarian interventions. However Jan Egeland, the then UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs still described Northern Uganda as the “world’s biggest neglected humanitarian crisis” even when substantial amount of aid was spent in this region

The Northern region is now transitioning from a humanitarian situation to a post conflict, peace and recovery phase. Substantial amounts of resources continue to flow in this region, focussing on infrastructure development, agriculture revitalisation and education re-establishment. In 2003, the government of Uganda started implementing a five year World Bank funded Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF) contributing US$ 100 million. Phase II, runs from 2009 to 2014 with a similar budget. In 2007, the government reinforced development support through a three year Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP), which was renewed for another three years up to 2015. Resources from the Office of the Prime Minister indicate that PRDP will consume over US$450 million. Several programmes have been incorporated under the PRDP which in total is funded 70% by donors and 30% by the Government of Uganda. There have been several other large scale reconstruction and development interventions, mostly funded by donors. These resources are disbursed to the district either as grants on budget, special projects or off budget funding. A number of NGOs have also transitioned from humanitarian support to development support.

Despite significant inflows of development resources, funding to the different districts varies substantially. Development Initiatives and Development Research and Training (DRT), are undertaking a project to track resources and information at the community level in Northern Uganda (funded by DFID’s Partnership Programme Agreements) and document outcomes of resources expended. Findings from a recent field trip demonstrated these financial differences at the district level. For example, while some districts such as Gulu have increased business and local revenues to supplement government grants and donor resources, the capacity of other districts’ such as Kotido and Pader to increase levels of self-reliance remains small. Districts also exhibited different capacities of resources utilisation and absorption. For example, Pader district completed its five year allocation for NUSAF II in two and a half years while over 50% of one donor’s resource’s had been returned because of limited absorption capacity. Districts in Karamoja region have worked out different implementation models that respond to their unique socio-economic situation in which they establish partnerships with international organisations in utilising government resources.

In our study we shall be documenting issues from selected districts on resource allocation to various sectors as well as try to identify how these resources reach communities and whether the process is community-driven. We want to document the lessons learnt and believe that working with districts and documenting their experiences will facilitate improvements in future planning. The purpose of the study is to understand which strategic interventions have worked and how, and to provide a snapshot of financial disbursements from various stakeholders in order to help the region catch up with the rest of the country.