By Michael Nataka
THE Uganda Red Cross Society joins the rest of the country to celebrate 50 years of independence.
Indeed there is every reason to celebrate because it was rare for a Ugandan to work for a relief agency in the 1960s.
Mainly because most of the relief services at that time were offered by British nationals or UN expatriates.
Very few relief organisations, as they were referred to at that time, were active. For those that existed after independence, using the title president was prohibited as there was only “one president.”
Uganda Red Cross Society was among the first relief organisations recognized through an Act of Parliament on July 30, 1964.
Its mandate was provision of aid to the sick and wounded in time of war and to nonbelligerent and to prisoners of war and civilians suffering from the effects of war; and the improvement of health, the prevention of disease and the mitigation of suffering throughout the world without any distinction based on race, nationality, class, religion or political opinions.
During peace time, these organisations focused more on educating communities about their respective mandates.
For instance at that time, Ugandans thought the Red Cross was another political or religious organisation.
Between 1962-70, the then President did not see the importance of relief organisations.
For those few that persisted to fulfill their missions, they had to do what the government told them to.
At one time, a Uganda Red Cross Society vehicle was blocked and diverted into a military barracks until the International Federation of Red Cross in Geneva intervened.
The growth of what is now referred to as humanitarian organisations was witnessed during the time of succession wars in the late 70s and early 80s when Ugandans were in need of basic necessities like milk, sugar, soap and food stuff.
From then on, the scale of humanitarian and relief needs in Uganda has increased by bounds.
Humanitarian organisations have moved away from only carrying out relief services into long term development work.
Whereas the programmes implemented are in line with the Government plans, humanitarian agencies are run independently with less or no government interference.
Today, organisations like Uganda Red Cross Society, which is auxiliary to the Government of Uganda humanitarian service delivery, operates in the entire country through its 51 branches, offering a wide range of interventions ranging from emergency services to developmental work and community empowerment.
While we have moved away from just being a relief organisation to become the leading humanitarian agency in Uganda, it is important to have the Red Cross Act 1964 updated.
This would incorporate the various aspects of humanitarian services we are offering to the country.
We have had sessions with representatives from the various Government ministries and districts to get input into the proposed draft bill to amend the Red Cross Act.
Specifically, the objectives of the proposed bill are to:
- Provide for the widening of the mandate of Uganda Red Cross Society to operate freely in situations of International Armed Conflict and Non International Armed Conflicts and other situations of violence in accordance with the four Geneva conventions, their additional protocols, International Human Rights Law, the Statutes of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the resolutions of the International Conference of State Parties to the Geneva Conventions,
- Provide for a tax free status for the Uganda Red Cross Society and its affiliates
- Provide powers for Uganda Red Cross Society to invest in income generating activities to support the carrying out of its humanitarian activities inconformity with the principles, policies and regulations of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
We are hoping that the line minister in the Prime Minister’s Office will present the draft amendment Bill to cabinet once all partners have made input to it. That would be the perfect golden jubilee gift to the country.
Writer is the secretary general Uganda Red Cross Society