Refugee camp in Uganda
Refugee camp in Uganda

Uganda’s Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Mr. Hilary Onek, is demanding that the United Nations World Food Program buy food from Ugandan farmers to feed refugees or relocate them to countries supplying it. Mr Onek, who is no stranger to such demands, on Tuesday argued that claims that local produce lacks quality is an excuse to ring-fence lucrative food supply for foreigners.

“We are going to discuss this matter in Cabinet and we are [not] going to allow procurement of food outside the country by the World Food Programme (WFP), let the money remain here,” he said during a press conference at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala.

The minister was responding to remarks by Ms Rosa Malango, the United Nations Resident coordinator, that WFP was unable to purchase food locally because of “poor quality” of Uganda’s foodstuffs.

“One of the issues to tackle, honourable minister, is the issue of quality of post-harvest handling. This is the only reason why despite investing for several years, we have not been able to purchase locally [produced food] in Uganda,” Ms Malango said.

However, in response, Mr Onek said: “I don’t agree that our farmers toil and suffer to get market for their produce, and then you are telling me the quality. Which quality has failed? All of you (UN officials) are eating Ugandan food you buy from the market here. Why are you thinking of quality now? I don’t agree with that because that is a way of protecting [food market for] the foreign [people] in America and other places. You want money to remain there. We also want market for our food and we are very strong on that.”

He added: “All these Ugandans here, including me, are eating our food and they haven’t died. These people (refugees) are coming to our country; do we have to import food to keep them here while we have our own food? If they don’t want to eat our food, let them go where the other food is [coming from].”

Uganda is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world. It hosts more refugees than any other country in Africa, with over 1,400,000 refugees.

The vast influx of refugees is due to several factors in Uganda’s neighbouring countries, especially war and violence in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and associated economic crisis and political instability in the region. Uganda has relatively ‘friendly’ policies that provide rights to the refugees, such as rights to education, work, private property, healthcare and other basic social services.