Written on: 18. 8. 2011 in the category: news

Ugando Sukhoi

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Phew. We can all breathe easy again: the first two of the Ugandan Air Force’s six supersonic Sukhoi Su-30MK2 have arrived safely in Kampala. The full half dozen aircraft will cost about $740 million. The Su-30MK2 – you will also be happy to hear – is optimised for the anti-shipping role. At its nearest point, Uganda is over four hundred miles from the sea, and Kampala, where the aircraft are based, is some 500 miles from the Indian Ocean. But since Uganda shares the huge Lake Victoria with Tanzania and Kenya, perhaps it has bought these aircraft in order to prosecute aquatic disagreements with its neighbours.


According to the Department of Foreign Affairs’ website, “Irish Aid has been working in Uganda since 1994 with support increasing from an initial programme budget of less than €1million to over €33 million in 2010.  Additional support is provided by Irish Aid through NGOs, missionaries and other international partners.  Ireland’s new 5 year plan for Uganda . . commits over €166 million in official development assistance during that period. ….An estimated 66% of the budget will be channelled through the Government of Uganda, 29% through civil society organisations and 4% through UN organisations.  The goal of the strategy is to reduce chronic poverty and vulnerability . ..”


All well and good. Except that we’re going to have to borrow every single penny of that €166 million, to be repaid in time by our grandchildren. I am quite incapable of working out the compound interest resulting from such a loan, but I’d guess that repayments would not cost less than €300 million. In other words, in forty years time, Irish people can go to Uganda and examine the rotting hulk of a Su-30MKS and declare proudly, this cost the Irish nation €300 million: because, with an elegant congruence, our aid to Uganda amounts to about the price of just one Sukhoi.


Why are we subsidizing this clinically-insanity? Why are we transferring capital from Ireland to help pay for yet another episode in lunatic Ugandan grandiosity? Where is the morality in this? Where the logic? Ours is a technically bankrupt society that has to borrow money every week to pay its civil servants; yet it is now helping to buy half a dozen Mach 2 anti-shipping strike aircraft for a country that is further from the sea than is Hungary. Please do not say – as Foreign Affairs civil servants always do – that our aid-money is ring-fenced against corruption. Firstly, our money frees up other Ugandan government resources. And secondly, 66% of it – see above – is being administered by the Ugandan government. Enough said.


Well, at least the pilots of the Sukhois – if there are any Ugandans who can fly them, which I rather doubt – will have the chance to pop over to Somalia, via Kenya, and observe the unfolding catastrophe there from 40,000 feet.


My friend John O’Shea of GOAL issued a statement the other day, calling on the “world community” to abandon notions of national sovereignty and rescue Somalia. Well, there’s no such thing as “a world community”, just people: and everyone who has ever soldiered in Somalia has left in disgust. I once interviewed the Irish novelist Gerard Hanley who had served there with the King’s East African Rifles in the 1940s: it was, he said, a uniquely impossible place, with almost no regard for human life. A man could be extinguished like an insect, without compunction, simply by the authorisation of their culture. Indeed, he asserted, the only thing that the Somalis really seemed to understand was violence. The Americans went there more recently, and after the infamous failed assault by the Rangers in Mogadishu, departed, vowing never to return. The Canadian Parachute Regiment was actually disbanded after its despairing troops committed shocking atrocities against locals in the 1990s. It is impossible to impose order on Somalia, and no order will spontaneously emerge there. Somalia is the permanent human conundrum.


Once again aid-organisations are now demanding fresh interventions in the Horn of Africa so as to prevent famine. But why should we in north-western Europe be spending money we haven’t got to save Somalia, where the population has grown from 3.3 million in 1975 (the last census) to over 10 million today, and where on average each woman gives birth to 8.4 children? These later figures are conjectural, there no longer being a state to conduct any census. Meanwhile, their near neighbours are spending three quarters of a billion dollars, not on food for starving Somalis, but on supersonic strike-aircraft that can blow the bejasus out of Kenyan or Tanzanian fishing smacks. How is any of this rational?


Yes, appalling images are again emerging from Somalia. But budgets cannot be decided by photo-shoots, or policies driven by the lens. No camera can yet show us the Ireland that will exist in forty years’ time. So who is to say what our great grandchildren will need in 2051, even as their parents are paying back the money we have borrowed to send to Uganda today and maybe Somalia tomorrow? Who has the moral right to burden an unborn generation with such debts?

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