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One year later, police yet to release Investigation Report on ActionAid

Monday, September 24, 2018 - 18:02

Exactly a year ago, on this day, the police under the auspices of the Criminal Case Tracking Taskforce raided ActionAid Uganda and detained over 30 staff, as they searched for evidence for money laundering, supporting activities to destabilize the country and conspiracy to commit felony. 

This unprecedented move was part of a well-executed attack on NGOs that saw a similar siege of three other organizations: The Great Lakes Institute of Strategic Studies (GLISS), The Uhuru Institute and Solidarity Uganda, all of them partners of ActionAid! 

The impact of this crackdown has been mixed - on one hand, there were negative consequences such as halting of our activities as ActionAid bank accounts were frozen by the Central Bank and later Finance Intelligence Authority, propaganda against the organisation meant that new funding opportunities were halted because donors feared their money would be confiscated by government. A case in point was a project we lost when a donor withdrew from funding to deliver safe water to communities that needed it in Amuru and Pader in northern Uganda. The post siege trauma psychologically affected staff who couldn’t understand why an organisation with a 36-year track record of life changing work could be raided in that manner. The ripple effect of the crackdown on the entire sector is visible, with many NGOs self-censoring and playing safe, in fear of losing donor money. 

On the other hand, the police siege emboldened ActionAid and lessons made it more institutionally resilient. We have learnt as an organisation, that despite the resurgence constriction of Civic space, there are innovative ways of remaining true to mission. We have learnt that conforming in fear doesn’t help and so celebrated victory when the organization’s our bank accounts were unfrozen after a legal challenge by ActionAid. We strengthened our relationship with various government agencies as we cooperated during investigations. We also successfully fought back negative propaganda aimed at delegitimizing civil society work and convinced donors to continue supporting civic work under ActionAid’s new Country Strategy Paper - ‘Strengthen Struggles for Social Justice in Uganda’. In short, we turned the crisis into an opportunity and ActionAid is stronger than it was a year ago. 

One year later, government yet to account! 

The crackdown on ActionAid a year ago raises serious concerns about the motives behind - government has not released a single report of what became of investigations. Confiscated property including laptops, personal phones and organisational documents have not been returned despite our incessant requests.

Instead we have heard more baseless allegations against NGOs being of financing the people power crusade, that has seen security forces arresting Ugandans, torturing innocent Ugandans, including journalists, detaining protesters and brutally killing others. In one of the most outrageous allegations, an RDC accused NGOs of being behind the spate of murders in Kampala. We know that the government is finding all reasons and excuses to explain its failure to account for all that is going wrong in the country and NGOs are an easy scape goat.

Most importantly however, when the president, several ministers and other leaders in government publicly accuse NGOs of being agents of foreign interests to destabilize Uganda, it could be an early sign of an impending crackdown on civic groups.

As ActionAid, we continue to demand that government release the investigations report, return all property confiscated during the raid and stop the impunity of suppressing dissent. Other NGOs including those being targeted for the next crack down, there are valuable lessons from ActionAid’s resilience, as we mark the one-year anniversary of the raid on our offices.

ActionAid is indebted to our resolute staff, communities we work with, civil society in Uganda and around the world for their solidarity and our funders who continue to believe in the organization’s mission. Special thanks go to ActionAid Denmark and Open Society for financial assistance when ActionAid accounts were frozen.

Exactly a year ago, on this day, the police under the auspices of the Criminal Case Tracking Taskforce raided ActionAid Uganda and detained over 30 staff, as they searched for evidence for money laundering, supporting activities to destabilize the country and conspiracy to commit felony.

This unprecedented move was part of a well-executed attack on NGOs that saw a similar siege of three other organizations: The Great Lakes Institute of Strategic Studies (GLISS), The Uhuru Institute and Solidarity Uganda, all of them partners of ActionAid!

The impact of this crackdown has been mixed - on one hand, there were negative consequences such as halting of our activities as ActionAid bank accounts were frozen by the Central Bank and later Finance Intelligence Authority, propaganda against the organisation meant that new funding opportunities were halted because donors feared their money would be confiscated by government. A case in point was a project we lost when a donor withdrew from funding to deliver safe water to communities that needed it in Amuru and Pader in northern Uganda. The post siege trauma psychologically affected staff who couldn’t understand why an organisation with a 36-year track record of life changing work could be raided in that manner. The ripple effect of the crackdown on the entire sector is visible, with many NGOs self-censoring and playing safe, in fear of losing donor money.

On the other hand, the police siege emboldened ActionAid and lessons made it more institutionally resilient. We have learnt as an organisation, that despite the resurgence constriction of Civic space, there are innovative ways of remaining true to mission. We have learnt that conforming in fear doesn’t help and so celebrated victory when the organization’s our bank accounts were unfrozen after a legal challenge by ActionAid. We strengthened our relationship with various government agencies as we cooperated during investigations. We also successfully fought back negative propaganda aimed at delegitimizing civil society work and convinced donors to continue supporting civic work under ActionAid’s new Country Strategy Paper - ‘Strengthen Struggles for Social Justice in Uganda’. In short, we turned the crisis into an opportunity and ActionAid is stronger than it was a year ago.

 One year later, government yet to account! 

The crackdown on ActionAid a year ago raises serious concerns about the motives behind - government has not released a single report of what became of investigations. Confiscated property including laptops, personal phones and organisational documents have not been returned despite our incessant requests. 

Instead we have heard more baseless allegations against NGOs being of financing the people power crusade, that has seen security forces arresting Ugandans, torturing innocent Ugandans, including journalists, detaining protesters and brutally killing others. In one of the most outrageous allegations, an RDC accused NGOs of being behind the spate of murders in Kampala. We know that the government is finding all reasons and excuses to explain its failure to account for all that is going wrong in the country and NGOs are an easy scape goat.  

Most importantly however, when the president, several ministers and other leaders in government publicly accuse NGOs of being agents of foreign interests to destabilize Uganda, it could be an early sign of an impending crackdown on civic groups.  

As ActionAid, we continue to demand that government release the investigations report, return all property confiscated during the raid and stop the impunity of suppressing dissent. Other NGOs including those being targeted for the next crack down, there are valuable lessons from ActionAid’s resilience, as we mark the one-year anniversary of the raid on our offices.  

ActionAid is indebted to our resolute staff, communities we work with, civil society in Uganda and around the world for their solidarity and our funders who continue to believe in the organization’s mission. Special thanks go to ActionAid Denmark and Open Society for financial assistance when ActionAid accounts were frozen. 

Arthur Larok is Federation Development Director, ActionAid International and former Country Director ActionAid Uganda. 

Arthur Larok is Federation Development Director, ActionAid International and former Country Director ActionAid Uganda.