By Prince Kurupati
An expose by a whistleblower has revealed rampant acts of sexual exploitation by United Nations workers working in Uganda. The expose singled out a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) staffer who used his position to sexually abuse and exploit a “female victim”. At the same time, the expose also revealed a more general pattern of rampant sexual misconduct by UN staff working at the World Food Programme compound in the town of Moroto, Uganda’s poorest region.
Following the expose by the whistleblower, the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services opened an inquiry earlier this month (September) to investigate and potentially prosecute those fingered as culprits.
In the expose, the whistleblower highlighted that there was a rather unfortunate pattern of gross sexual misconduct amongst UN staff working at the World Food Programme compound in the town of Moroto. The expose revealed that a significant proportion of UN staff at the WFP compound was demanding sex from local women in exchange for food. Some even went to the extent of hiring sex workers whom they brought into the compound breaching UN security protocol regulations.
Reports of entry into the compound by sex workers has also put private guards at the compound in a dilemma as all visitors to the base are supposed to be vetted before entry into the premises.
The reports of gross sexual misconduct as revealed by the whistleblower were corroborated by some of the staff working at the compound that preferred to speak on condition of anonymity.
The World Food Programme compound in Moroto is home to several UN staff as it provides office space as well as sleeping quarters. The compound is located in one of Uganda’s poorest regions. According to the WFP, more than 500 000 people living in Moroto are in critical need of food assistance.
Speaking after the expose by the whistleblower, WFP’s Nairobi based regional spokesperson, Amanda Lawrence-Brown said, “We have been informed of the allegations made against UN staff residing at the compound managed by WFP in Moroto and are investigating…There is no place for any form of sexual harassment, exploitation, or abuse at the World Food Programme, including by non-WFP staff residing at compounds managed by WFP in the field.”
The UN’s Resident Coordinator in Uganda, Rosa Malango did weigh in on the issue as she sent an email to all UN heads of agencies in the country stating, “I look forward to the updates from UN heads on action taken so far including the immediate suspension of staff pending the conclusions of investigations.’’
Speaking to The New Humanitarian, Malango said that the allegations on sexual misconduct by UN staff are serious and investigations are already underway. However, she said she is not in a position to say much as she is awaiting the whole process to be completed before speaking authoritatively. Malango said the “concerned agencies are dealing with the issue…Internal procedures are under way and we cannot comment until the facts have been established…These are allegations which need to be investigated.”
Sensible as Malango’ statement is, she however has received criticism from a group of UN staff. In an email to The New Humanitarian, the group said Malango’s email to the heads of UN agencies contained “confidential and sensitive information” which should “never have been circulated to internal email groups.” The group further said that Malango’s email was a plot on her part to play politics and divert attention away from her own “incompetence”.
The email sent to The New Humanitarian by the group used a suggestive title, “Uganda the next Haiti for the UN.” This in reference to the Oxfam scandal in Haiti which saw the British NGO being accused of covering up claims of sexual exploitation by its staff to the victims of the 2010 earthquake.
In her defense, Malango said that her email was never supposed to be shared externally.
The recent scandal is not the first time that UN agencies have found themselves under scrutiny in Uganda. In 2019, at least four people died while more than 300 got sick after eating WFP fortified cereal. The incident happened in the Karamoja region.