U.S. development assistance to Uganda began in 1962, when the country gained its independence. Since the 1960s, USAID has worked in close collaboration with the government and the people of Uganda.
During its first ten years in Uganda, USAID invested in health, education and agriculture—areas that continue to be the benchmarks of the mission’s present day work.
In agriculture, USAID set up extension services, supported research and sponsored student travel to American universities to study modern methods of farming. During these years, U.S. Government support helped to significantly improve the agricultural sector and the living standards of more than 650,000 farm families. USAID development assistance supported all aspects of improving agriculture—from marketing, supply and credit information to the basic need for diversified production.
USAID’s education program was founded in the belief that with significant political, social and economic change, the demand for increased education is significant. There was also a need to professionalize the educational system to address the changes. Tororo Girls School—built by USAID in 1963 and modeled after the American educational system—is one example of a project that modernized the school system, trained teachers and broadened its curriculum. USAID also introduced teacher training for special needs students to integrate them into the mainstream school system.
In 1971, following Idi Amin’s military coup and subsequent internal instability, USAID suspended its work in Uganda. When USAID returned in 1981, it found the country’s progress had been decimated, with industries in disarray and many Ugandan partners absent, having fled the country’s unrest. The next six years were challenging given Uganda‘s continued instability.
The current President, Yoweri Museveni, assumed power in 1986; and a period of relative stability ensued. USAID was able to transition assistance from emergency relief and assistance to long-term development, with an emphasis on agriculture. USAID teamed up with Makerere University to fund the university’s research facility, which resulted in innovations such as the hybrid sunflower seed. Commercial farming associations and cooperatives received training in good farming practices, and the country saw an increase in maize production. USAID built a modern post-harvest handling facility, trained staff in management and helped forge new market channels.
In contrast to the rest of the country, from 1986 to 2007, a war raged in the north of the Uganda; and more than 1.8 million people who fled from their homes were living in make-shift camps. USAID provided emergency assistance with food and shelter. Since 2007, all internally displaced people have returned home. USAID also assisted war-affected children and unemployed youth with tools and access to training to gain better access to income generating activities.
Most of Uganda’s farmers are women, so USAID’s agriculture programs have empowered women farmers and supported women-led associations, providing training and support to learning centers. USAID helped Uganda diversify their traditional crops from coffee, cotton and tea to non-traditional crops such as flowers. USAID built cold storage units to help the country develop its export market.
President Museveni instituted many reforms, including the 1997 Universal Primary Education statute, which provides free education to up to four children per family. With the assistance of USAID, Uganda has made genuine progress in education reform. Uganda has one of the world’s fastest growing populations in the world—78 percent of Ugandans are under the age of 30; and 37 percent are under nine years old. Despite its immense natural resources, Uganda remains a poor country; so educating its youth is the most powerful resource at its disposal for economic growth.
Understanding the value of long-term engagement in improving the quality of basic education, USAID has provided sustained financial and technical support to Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports through a series of projects including the Basic Education and Policy Support, Ugandan Initiative for Teacher Development, and Presidential Initiative on AIDS Strategy for Communication to the Youth.
In the 1980s, HIV/AIDS spread through Uganda; and the disease reached a prevalence rate of 29 percent. President Museveni committed to tackling HIV in 1987 and created a prevention program based around abstinence, being faithful and using condoms. At the peak of the epidemic, USAID urgently focused its programs on testing, research and data-based development, later expanding these programs to include counseling and care. USAID also supplied government health care centers with test kits for HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.
USAID supported many small grassroots organizations that began peer education initiatives, such as TASO (The AIDS Support Organization), which later became the largest indigenous AIDS service organization in the country, providing emotional and medical support to thousands of people. USAID also bolstered the management of TASO as the organization grew into an internationally recognized organization. By 1991, the HIV prevalence rate had dropped to 15 percent among all adults. Today, it stands at 6.2 percent.
By 2000, USAID health programs included anti-malaria initiatives to reduce the risk of child and maternal mortality. USAID has distributed tens of thousands of long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets and sponsored insecticide spraying in hard-to-reach, congested areas. In 2003, despite the availability of antiretroviral therapy, very few people with HIV/AIDS were receiving treatment for HIV in the poorer parts of the world, including Uganda. Former President George W. Bush substantially increased U.S. support for addressing HIV and AIDS worldwide by introducing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). When the program began full implementation in June of 2004, Uganda was one of 15 focus countries.
Today, USAID continues to provide assistance to Uganda, working hand-in-hand with our partners in government, civil society, private and non-governmental sectors to ensure that Ugandans have opportunities to make the most of their lives and take the lead role in their country’s development.