By Prof Semakula Kiwanuka
For quite some time, there has been a sustained campaign and wild tirades in the press against President Museveni for appointing non career Ugandans as heads of diplomatic Missions.
The campaign is sustained, among others, by UPC’s Harold Acemah. There is blackmail and intimidation that the continued appointment of non-careers can be counterproductive because they ‘lack diplomatic skills’.
In Acemah’s tirades against President Museveni, he conveniently keeps quiet about past governments non career political appointees as Heads of Missions.
Former President of Tanzania, Ben Mkapa, was Ambassador to the UN.
He was not a career diplomat. Former UK Prime Minister, James Callaghan, appointed Douglas Jay, then the Editor of the Times to Washington. The list is long.
‘Diplomats must know that which they represent’.
The current propaganda against non-career heads of Missions creates the impression that there is something intrinsically mysterious and unique about foreign affairs and only career diplomats understand it.
It was president Mkapa, a former diplomat and Head of Mission and a former foreign minister who once made that statement while addressing Tanzanian diplomats at one of their annual retreats. The significance of that statement is that what diplomats must know is far-wider than the confines of the ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Diplomacy brings nations together.
But today’s diplomacy is not only about politics and foreign or international relations, it is about agriculture and food security, it is about environment and climate change.
It is about trade and investment; health, malaria and HIV AIDS. It is about children, maternal health, gender and women; education and human resources. It is about national security as well as conflict resolution and post conflict nation building. It is about energy resources. It is about the whole gamut of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS).
Do the career diplomats have a monopoly of knowledge in these areas? The answer is no because of the practice whereby a person is in one unit or department for years. The idea of a broad based and versatile background is absent.
Rotate key Civil Servants
Because of my background as an educator and a professor in many universities, who has also worked as a senior consultant of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it was easy for me to identify the capability weaknesses of the people who manned our Foreign Service.
Hence in the early 1990s, I recommended that Foreign Service civil servants should rotate in key Government ministries and departments in order to learn and know what President Mkapa called “that which they represent”.
That is what their government does so that they represent it better and more effectively. I raised this issue with Madamme Mugisha, a former Head of the Civil Service. She told me that when this proposal was made, the foreign affairs civil servants did not like it and it was, therefore, stillborn.
I am nevertheless still convinced that a rotation in key Government ministries would enhance their knowledge and effectiveness. What have the maligned political appointees achieved? To begin with they come to their posts with far-wider experience often in a very rounded manner and because of that they produce results. Here are some examples.
When President Clinton launched The African Growth and Opportunity ACT (AGOA) which President Museveni championed, Ambassador Edith Sempala in Washington did a tremendous job lobbying the USA Congress. I gave lectures at Africa Centre of Columbia University in support of AGOA. One of these lectures was chaired by Suzane Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN who was then Secretary of African Affairs.
Long before us, there was the late Apollo Kironde former minister in the colonial government. When he was Ambassador to the UN, he used his vast knowledge and contacts to purchase the land where our Embassy was built, next to that of the US.
He also purchased a residence in upper Manhattan on 73rd Street of New York. During the 1990s when our Embassy building in NY was about to be condemned, it was Prof. Kamunanure, as Ambassador to the UN, who initiated and implemented a rescue plan.
He raised a loan with the Riggs Bank in Washington DC and rehabilitated the Chanceries in NY and Washington DC as well as the Residence in New York. When I became Ambassador to the UN, I converted the penthouse on top of the Embassy building into offices, and I also expanded office space, which were all rented out. This earned money for the Government of Uganda.
When I found that I had no need for a five-storey residence, I chose to live in an apartment and the residence was rented to earn money for Uganda. Recently, one daily in Uganda wrote with derision about the recently appointed ambassadors such as Woneka to the US and Dr. Nduhura to the UN.
These are highly educated with wide experience as ministers and legislators. Politics in Washington DC is about lobbying. I can foresee Woneka doing a good job just as Edith Ssempala did.
The political appointees have broader experience and knowledge and despite the hostile propaganda, our foreign service is not worse off simply because civil servants are not heads of Mission.
Writer is Uganda’s Ambassador to UAE
Diplomacy more complex now