KAMPALA, Uganda — Evangelical NGOs dominate Uganda’s nonprofit sector, making up more than one-fifth of the NGOs present in the country and holding a collective wealth of $2 billion annually. Since the 1980s, evangelical NGOs have arrived in Uganda en masse to build churches, health clinics, hospitals, orphanages, farms and various social development programs.
While evangelicals clearly influenced Ugandan development, experts within the countries’ nonprofit sector are debating if that influence was positive. Members of evangelical NGOs believe their presence in Uganda bolstered the population’s socio-economic and political stability during a volatile period in Uganda’s history, while critics representing secular NGOs argue that evangelicals brought more harmful social attitudes than reform.
Members of evangelical NGOs take particular pride in their efforts to eliminate poverty and hunger in Uganda. Uganda still faces great development challenges: ranking 161 out of 186 countries on the 2013 UNDP Human Development Index, making it one of the poorest countries in the world.
Over the last two decades, Uganda’s economic status improved significantly as the percentage of Ugandans living in poverty decreased from 38.8 percent in 2002 to 24.5 percent in 2010. Uganda’s improved economic status came about during a period in which Uganda’s government provided virtually no social services.
Evangelicals believe that continuing their efforts in Uganda could decrease the poverty percentage even further.
One such evangelical, Edward Okiror, a program consultant working for World Renew, views Uganda’s positive macroeconomic development as originating from micro-development projects.
In a July World Renew blog post, Okiror reported World Renew’s success with a micro-lending program that supported women’s small businesses.
Ariokot Angella celebrated World Renew’s investment in her textile business.
“I had a sewing machine but lacked the capital to buy fabric for sewing,” Angella said. “I got a UGX 300,000 (about $120) loan from the group which I used to buy 10 rolls of textile materials. Then my neighbors began to request made-to-order clothing from me. I earn UGX 30,000 (about $10) a day from my tailoring business and that has helped me to be able to support my husband in providing for our family.”
In a separate blog post, Okiror described the implementation of World Renew’s fourth consecutive food program, which brought equipment and agricultural skills training to 1,800 framers in Eastern Uganda’s Katakwi and Amuria districts.
Okiror pointed to Asano Christine, a widow, mother of five children and farmer, as one of the food program’s success stories.
“As a group, we participated in training about food security and income generation,” Christine said. “We spent 18,000 Ugandan Shillings ($7) to buy the seeds, and from our harvest and we earned a total of UGX 800,000 ($320.)”
Okiror argued that the initial support given to Ugandans by organizations like World Renew serves as a launching point from which they may gain the confidence needed to succeed economically.
James Kassaga Arinaitwe, the school partnership manager at Educate! Uganda, recently penned an op-ed questioning many of the assumptions made by evangelicals.
“There has been widespread criticism of the role that U.S. evangelical groups had in influencing Uganda’s recent draconian anti-gay legislation,” Arinaitwe said.
This year, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni passed the Unganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, which deems practicing or advocating for homosexuality a crime punishable by life in prison.
Arinaitwe said that evangelical’s opposition to homosexuality set the stage for the bill’s passage.
While some evangelical groups such as the International House of Prayer laid the groundwork for anti-homosexual attitudes to take hold amongst Ugandans, evangelical groups such as Integrity Uganda, Exodus International Accepting Evangelicals and others wrote letters in opposition to President Museveni’s passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
Arinaitwe also attacked the claim that evangelicals boost Ugandan’s self-confidence, instead making the case that evangelicalism preaches hateful and misinformed views on social issues.
To illustrate his point, Arinaitwe recalled a visit to a service at the evangelical Every Nation church in Uganda. Arinaitwe was shocked to hear the pastor’s sermon, which emphasized the need for Westerners to save Africans from their sinful behavior.
Regardless of which side of the evangelical debate is correct, Uganda clearly needs change in some form to climb the ranks of the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index.
– Nathan Slauer