Corruption and foreign aid in Africa


Madam, - The issues raised by Kevin Myers about Ireland's aid programme merit serious public discussion (An Irishman's Diary, July 29th). Specifically, he questions whether Ireland should support Uganda, given that country's involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I have recently visited the Congo and can testify to the terrible consequences of that war, in terms of loss of life, abuse of human rights and economic breakdown.

The war has deep and complex roots. The Mobutu regime, in power from the early 1960s until its overthrow in 1998, destroyed the country's economy. In the post-Mobutu era, a number of neighbouring African countries became militarily involved in the Congo, supporting different political factions.

In Eastern Congo, some of these external involvements may be traced directly to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. All of them resulted in the illegal exploitation of the country's rich resources. The international community, through its inaction, also shares responsibility for the disaster in the Congo.

The problems there must be seen as part of the wider crisis in the Central African region. If the region is to have a future, the primary responsibility rests, of course, with African political leaders. But the sustained involvement of the international community, both from a political and an aid perspective, is also key in working towards peace and development - just as the role of the US and other countries was essential to the Irish peace process.

I believe there is a general consensus that the Irish aid programme is very effective in reducing poverty. How the political relationship with the Ugandan government should be managed, both in regard to receiving assurances on standards of governance and in relation to Ugandan policy in the region, is ultimately a judgment call. The options are to engage with the government, supporting or criticising its actions and policies as appropriate, or to disengage with a reduction or suspension of the aid programme.

The Irish Government has thus far chosen the option of engagement, as, broadly speaking, has the international community. There is some evidence that this approach is working. Under the Congolese peace process, foreign armies have left the Congo and commitments have been made, by Congolese politicians and by the governments of neighbouring countries. It is vital that external pressure is applied to ensure that these commitments are met.

In this context, I believe that the current Irish government policy of continuing engagement, with Uganda and with other countries in the region, is the correct one. - Yours, etc.,

TOM ARNOLD, Chief Executive, Concern, Camden Street, Dublin 2.