Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Uganda's Security threats need a human security approach

By Alex Ouma Okello

The post presidential and parliamentary election has already presented numerous challenges for Uganda; political violence, inflation, drought, high level of unemployment, corruption, soaring cost of living and increased hunger. Yet just recently, the NRM Caucus reportedly approved 1.7 trillion Uganda shillings from the country’s treasury to procure jet fighters and other military equipments and Parliament (largely dominated by representatives from the NRM party) is now set to approve the already spent money.

In a recent Daily Monitor publication (see the Monitor of Thursday April 7, 2011), the NRM Secretary General Mr. Amama Mbabazi reportedly said “the transaction was lawful because at the moment the country is faced with regional threats where the country has to prepare for any emergencies that can arise in advance so that the country’s security is not compromised”. Experts on global security and governance however look at this claim as a myth. They claim that the twenty first century has not only seen a change in the nature of conflicts but also the nature of threats to human beings.

These experts argue that any security measures or approaches need to focus on addressing threats to individuals such as hunger, poverty, HIV/Aids and Malaria other than the traditional notion of security, which tends to focus on territorial boundaries.
The 1994 UNDP Human Development report suggested that “the concept of security has for too long been interpreted narrowly; as security of territory from external aggression or as protection of national interest in foreign policy or as global security from the threats of nuclear holocaust”.

This report changed the dimension of security, meaning therefore that security needs to be addressed using the unit of individuals rather than state boundary. The proponents of Human Security argue that the concept of security should be expanded to address the major threats to human beings, such as food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security and political security.

East Africa has lately come under a severe food security threat making an estimated 8.4 million people in desperate need for food aid according to a March 2011 report released by the United Nations. This report pointed out that Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are the hardest hit countries. In Uganda, a number of families have resorted to having only one meal a day due to the high food prices and cost of living.

The situation is even worse in the Teso region where women in particular have reportedly resorted to even more desperate measures such as eating termites and seeds treated with chemicals. Experts have warned that the drought that continues to ravage the region could lead to several deaths if food aid is not provided to the starving population.

Malaria and HIV are two of the most deadly diseases globally infecting an estimated 478 out of every 1,000 people in any given population. This statistics could however vary from country to country. Malaria still remains the number one cause of deaths in Uganda. A recent Makerere University and University of California San Francisco research collaboration report estimated that between 70,000 to 100,000 children die of Malaria in Uganda every year.

Some analysts believe that this rate of deaths could even be higher than the total deaths caused by the LRA war in northern Uganda between 1986 to 2006.

Meanwhile, a Uganda Aids Commission report claims that between 50-70% of all hospital admissions are HIV or malaria related. In 2005, the United States Laboratory of Medicine and National Institute of Health estimated using a mathematical modeling and projected using surveillance and census data that there were 135,000 new HIV infections, 691,900 asymptomatic infections, 88,100 Aids cases and 76,400 Aids deaths in Uganda.

Although antiretroviral therapy has increased in Uganda over the recent years, HIV/Aids continues to be among the leading causes of deaths, the report says. With a life expectancy of 54 years at birth, Uganda remains one of poorest countries in the world, ranked 143 out of 169 according to a 2010 Human Development Index report. These alarming statistics on poverty and extreme hunger, HIV/Aids, high child and maternal mortality and deaths from malaria provide more evidence that any security to citizens need to focus on the safety of individuals rather than state boundaries or territory.

Using a human security approach to development means governments should make these interventions that pose the most risk to the citizens a security priority. As time stands, the biggest threats to the security of Ugandans are within our borders, they are not from Al-Qaeda, LRA or even the opposition politicians.

The writer is a Master of Arts in Peace and Justice student at the University of San Diego in the United States.

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