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Ambassador Onen’s recall is part of the rules of diplomatic service

By Vision Reporter

Added 10th May 2009 03:00 AM

The Greater Northern Uganda Parliamentary Association has taken the recall of my friend, the former colleague ambassador J.B Onen, at the end of his deployment as deputy secretary-general of the East African Community, as an instance illustrative of the m

BY JUSTICE RALPH W. OCHAN

The Greater Northern Uganda Parliamentary Association has taken the recall of my friend, the former colleague ambassador J.B Onen, at the end of his deployment as deputy secretary-general of the East African Community, as an instance illustrative of the marginalisation of the sons and daughters of the Greater North in deployment in the public service.

I beg to differ in the case of Ambassador Onen, whose Foreign Service track record I am familiar with. Onen joined the Foreign Service together with the current permanent secretary in the foreign affairs ministry, ambassador James Mugume, myself and others in May 1973. He has had a distinguished, unbroken career since that year.

In 1991, he was appointed ambassador and posted as high commissioner to Nigeria where he opened our mission to that country. He worked hard to cultivate and strengthen relations between Uganda and Nigeria. At the end of his tour of duty, he was recalled home and was shortly appointed director of the regional co-operation directorate in the ministry.

With respect to both the above appointments, I can confirm on good authority that Ambassador Onen was most certainly not the sole candidate for those jobs, especially the Nigerian assignment. There were a host of candidates from all regions of Uganda, many claiming to be “well-connected” to various centres of power.

However, Ambassador Onen emerged the winner and the only career officer to be appointed in that lot of ambassadors.

In 2002, I was moved to the gender labour and social development ministry. Ambassador Onen emerged first from a large, complex and well-qualified pool, again from many regions and groups in Uganda. He was appointed the permanent secretary.

Regarding his most recent appointment as deputy secretary-general in Arusha, I know there were also many candidates. Again Ambassador Onen triumphed. I do not recall any message of recognition for this sterling achievement from any quarters in the Greater North.

My simple and straightforward conclusion from this brief exploration of the career progress of this son of the Greater North is that it refutes the suggestion of marginalisation, at least in this one case. On the contrary, it suggests that hard work, dedication to duty, integrity and a mastery of the job at hand will, in the end, pay dividends.

The recall of Ambassador Onen at the end of his tour of duty is simply an inbuilt dynamic of the diplomatic service. You serve abroad and at home. I know that is how Ambassador Onen understands and takes it. It is a great pity that a successful career of an accomplished diplomat should be so misunderstood and dragged into the unsavoury waters of divisive politics.

This is not in any way to suggest that there are no areas of discontent in the Greater North. There are many. One that pains me most is the terrible performance of our children in last year’s Primary Leaving Examinations. In my beloved Amuru district, there was not a single candidate who attained a first grade, yet what is the main political debate in Amuru today? It is about “to sell or not sell” our land”.

In the Greater North, there is unprecedented destruction of trees for charcoal for the metropolitan markets in the south. Commercial tree planting, touted as the saviour of a green future, is woefully behind the tree destruction activities which will affect climate, soil and food production.

No leader has issued any press release on this terrible destruction of our environment.

Incidentally just a few weeks ago, another dear friend of mine from the north returned home at the end of his diplomatic tour. Instead of being quickly processed for retirement attained at the golden age of 60, he was recommended to Parliament for appointment as ambassador and was duly approved by that August House. No word yet on that from any quarters.

l Send a topical opinion with your picture to guestwriter@newvision.co.ug. We take 600 words only

Ambassador Onen’s recall is part of the rules of diplomatic service

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