How an ambassador erred

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Added 6th March 2017 10:28 AM

Ambassadors react by writing negative reports about the officers whose careers are jeopardised

By Samuel Baligidde

Ambassador Kintu Nyago’s arguments (New Vision, March 2, 2017) using a purposively selected sample of politically-appointed ambassadors in Uganda’s checkered diplomatic history and my earlier reflections are not invariable.

In hypothesis testing his arguments are, with due respect, a Type I error because they are skewed towards rejection of a ‘true’ null hypothesis which, with varying degrees of accuracy, describe the current phenomenon.

He rejects with historical evidence, albeit succinctly, what is alleged about politically-appointed ambassadors. He also commits a Type II error by failing to assert the truth in the current population.

In the past, a politically-appointed ambassador [whose name will remain anonymous] was concurrently also a member of the NRC during the good old days of the Movement System [never mind the late Ali Mazrui’s contention that nostalgia is an indictment on the present], boasted of having direct access to the President and that he could not ‘be bogged down by either the cowardice of career diplomats or bureaucracy of the Ministry’s Headquarters!

In the 90s, he erred when, contrary to Foreign Service Regulations and the Public Service Code of Conduct, put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicted with his duties, by refusing to travel to the Island country of Malta in the Mediterranean where the same Head of State he claimed to be close to was to make a ‘technical stop-over’ while on a trip overseas.

At the time, NRC members were being given pick-ups. He said he had to travel home to get his and to visit his farm! Advice that he meets the President first before proceeding on personal errands fell on deaf ears whereupon he delegated the Head of Chancery [this writer] to do the necessary diplomatic protocol procedures.

Shortly afterwards, instructions by telex to ‘arrange to pack the ambassador’s personal effects for forwarding to Kampala because he had been recalled were received by the Embassy while still on his farm in rural Uganda! Ambassadors err when they refuse to listen to the advice of their subordinates.

Although true ambassadors are the representatives of the Head of State, they sometimes fail to realise that he is an embodiment of the State and its citizens and therefore serve the people who pay the taxes from which their meagre salaries and Foreign Service allowances are drawn.

Even though ambassadors are the Accounting Officers of the Embassies, the Heads of Chancery can refrain from carrying-out instructions that are not in tandem with the standard guidelines issued by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Finance as well as the specific Treasury procedures, are crucially responsible for implementing the financial and administrative regulations.

He erred when he failed to understood that the Head of Chancery was an inevitable extension of the Bureaucracy he despised!

Non-compliance with ambassadors’ demands, or even wishes, is perceived as insubordination. Ambassadors react by writing negative reports about the officers whose careers are jeopardised.

The phenomenon is partly responsible for conflicts in Embassies abroad. Irreverence towards heavy-handed ambassadors causes irritability in interpersonal relations but is hardly an excuse for disruptive discordance.

It is however remarkable that ‘pugilistic diplomacy’ [fist-fights] are still conspicuous by their absence even though implausible allegations of ‘juju’ or suspected witchcraft have with justified titillation been reported by the media.

Whereas it may be true that some estranged career diplomats can engage in subterranean activity to undermine Heads of Mission, it is also true ambassadors whose interpersonal human relations vis-a-viz their subordinates are good and accept advice become successful.

Unlike the Embassies of the major powers of the world such as the US, Russia, China and Great Britain, which have big Embassies; Uganda’s Missions are relatively small.

Uganda’s Foreign Service Espirit d’Corps wouldn’t be a bridge too far but some political appointees, with the distinct exception of Mr Nyago and a few others, are diplomatic liabilities to the country.

Writer is a former diplomat

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