John Trainor Talks About His Trip To Uganda

Downpatrick man John Trainor (27), a local SDLP Councillor, went off to Kampala in Uganda on a four day trip to Africa as part of his party’s political development work with the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

John said: “Uganda is described as the ‘pearl of Africa’. It is very green and fertile and my first impression was that it is really in that respect a bit like Ireland. It is a country with huge potential. The SDLP has been taking part in this exchange since 2011 and it has really helped the PPP to develop as a party in a young democracy in the heart of Africa. This is a small but significant contribution in international development helping to provide a stable and economically prosperous Africa.

“The PPP was set up in around 2000 and was composed of members who were in the ruling government at that time. They had worked with President Misavveny who was in Idi Amin’s government. The PPP now has tens of thousands of supporters across Uganda and is a young political party. The SDLP’s role is to help them develop their various systems so they can function as an effective political group across the 120 electoral districts. With a population of around 40 million, Uganda is no backwoods country. It is developing steadily.

Councillor John Trainor (pictured fifth left) at a reception in the Irish embassy in Kampala in Uganda.

“Interestingly, if companies are not Uganda-based, they could have their land stripped from them and this land would be redistributed to the poorer land-based workers to get a start in life.

“One of the key features of political culture there is the intense clientelism that occurs. People here see it as corruption, but it certainly is a controlling of assets often for the benefit of the ruling class – it does provide some stability but is often one-sided. It needs to be of mutual benefit. ”

John explained that the SDLP group’s role was to advise and support in the development of the PPP’s organisation and administration and the development of strategic policies and community outreach.

He added: “This party wants to run with genuine democratic support, not by buying votes. At the next election it hopes to bid for fifty seats in the Uganda parliament. Already there are five PPP branches set up in different districts reaching out to the local population. People attend these branches and receive training in the political methods we assist with. It is very focussed work. I was also there with Councillor Tim Atwood from Belfast.

The office: People’s Progressive Party members meet in the open air in Kampala to discuss party development.

“We were invited to the Irish embassy in Kampala and that was a very interesting occasion. There were around 200 guests there and it was useful to get a feeling for the cross-section of Ugandan society. We really enjoyed the hospitality and it was amazing the number of Irish people there were out there working in Uganda and in business.

“On one visit, we went to a district near Kampala. It was a lovely township, reflecting the more comfortable side of life in the country. The PPP essentially wants to bring all the parties along together, not is a culture of hard opposition. They are opposed to violence, corruption and confrontation. This is a society which discourages people gatherings that are not condoned by the ruling party.

“And one of the key problems in education and training they are addressing is that many of their young people are qualifying with agrees but can’t find suitable jobs. For example, some may have been better taking vocational training.

“Ugandan society is one where the elderly are respected but with a changing lifestyle, it is difficult for the younger family members to care for their elderly parents and family members. Often the older ones recognise and accept this and they strive too for their own independence.

“Given that women’s rights is a major issue in Uganda, the PPP is trying to ensure that at least half of their candidates and representatives are female. That is real progress.”

John was in no doubt that the experience in Uganda, although quite short, will put him is better stead as a young politician. He said: “This trip has given me a renewed sense of purpose. I saw how my efforts and that of my party were making a difference in a country struggling towards democracy. What I have been doing will make me better as a young politician and more thoughtful in my work in the party.

“I fully respect the PPP’s work in trying to move ahead safely in a difficult political environment, trying to extend democratic freedoms in a country that is looking much healthier and dynamic than it did a number of years ago. So I’m proud of the SDLP’s contribution in Uganda in the great scheme of things and hope in years to come the seeds of democracy grow so all can prosper”.