MIREMBE Nantongo is a US diplomat currently working as a spokesperson for the US embassy in the volatile Iraq.
She was appointed to the job just a month ago with a duty, among others, to enhance trust and credibility for the United States of America (USA), which has had a series of scandals in
She was appointed to the job just a month ago with a duty, among others, to enhance trust and credibility for the United States of America (USA), which has had a series of scandals in the war-torn Iraq.
Since taking up her new assignment last month, Mirembe has taken a centre stage in the Iraq/US public affairs, addressing numerous press conferences with US top army brass.
Her most recent appearance was when she was clarifying about the controversial US security contractorsâ€™ firm, Blackwater, following a shooting by one of its security guards in which seventeen unarmed Iraqis were killed. Ahmed Mukiibi interviewed her via email because she is in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad and below are excerpts from the conversation.
Tell us about your family background.
I was born in Tanzania to a Ugandan father and a European mother, and we moved to Uganda when I was very small. I have two sons; one is 15 and the other 7 years old. For their safety, I will not mention names or where they are based.
Where did you go to school?
I attended Nakasero Primary School until P.7 and then Gayaza High School until Oâ€™level. I completed my Aâ€™level in the United Kingdom at St. Margaretâ€™s School in Hertfordshire and subsequently read French and Italian at Exeter University in Devon.
We first read about you when you worked as Public Affairs Officer at the Qatar embassy, what other jobs have you held before?
My first job was at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala. I began working there when I returned from the UK to Uganda after graduation and that is where I met my first husband, who was assigned to Kampala as a State Department employee. My marriage to him automatically made me a US citizen and we left for USA soon after getting married in Kampala.
How did you join the State Department in the USA?
In the US, I worked as a reporter for a small newspaper in Central Virginia. We were subsequently assigned to Panama City, Panama, where my oldest son was born in 1991 and where I learned to speak Spanish and I took the Foreign Service Exam.
In 1995, I joined the State Department, after the divorce from my husband. I have since served as Vice Consul and Political-Economics Officer at the US Embassy in Bogota, Colombia; was head of the Consular Section and Economics Officer in Muscat, Oman and Political-Military Officer at the State Department in Washington, DC.
Following my tour in Muscat I re-married (to a fellow Foreign Service Officer) and my younger son was born in 2000, during my assignment to Washington DC. I then went on to work as Political Officer in Dakar, Senegal.
From Senegal, I entered the State Departmentâ€™s two-year Arabic language program, completing a year studying at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington and a year at the Departmentâ€™s field school in Tunis.
Prior to coming to Baghdad, I served two years as Public Affairs Officer in Doha, Qatar, and I am currently serving as Spokesperson (in Arabic and English) for Embassy Baghdad.
Does your name attract attention since you did not change it to a western one like some Ugandans do when they get out there?
It does stand out and many people have a problem remembering it or spelling it correctly! But my first name, Mirembe, has a beautiful meaning in Luganda and when I explain it to people they find it very charming.
Were you scared of working in Iraq?
I chose to work in Iraq and consider it a privilege to serve my country here. Iâ€™m proud to say that, like me, all my Foreign Service colleagues are here by choice.
What challenges do you face in Baghdad especially as a woman working in country where women are supposed to dress and behave in a certain way?
Moving from country to country and region to region as a diplomat, one becomes accustomed to adapting to different cultural environments.
I have always found it possible to do my work effectively, regardless of gender.
Is your security guaranteed against the atrocities that we read about everyday?
The security situation here of course remains a great challenge and many heartbreaking acts of violence occur here on a daily basis.
There are certainly risks involved in moving outside the Green Zone where the Embassy is located, and there is also the possibility of receiving mortar fire inside the Green Zone itself. We are constantly reminded, and remind ourselves, to practice good security habits and not take unnecessary risks.
Those of us in staff positions inside the Green Zone also remind ourselves daily that the risks we face are nothing compared to those faced on a daily basis throughout Iraq by our comrades on combat duty in the Coalition Forces and the Iraqi security forces, and by Iraqi citizens throughout Iraq.
Despite the enormous difficulties that still must be overcome, I remain optimistic for the future of Iraq.
The Uganda government plans to open a consulate in Iraq, whatâ€™s your advice?
I had not heard that news. The Iraqis need all the support from the international community they can get, so it would be a great gesture of support if it occurred.
When was the last time you came to Uganda?
I have not been back to Uganda for many years, but am planning a return in the relatively near future with my two sons. My older son has visited Uganda, but the younger one has not yet.
How often do you communicate with your family in US and Uganda?
I communicate on a daily basis with members of my family all over the world, thanks to telephone and internet.
Have you met any Ugandan in Iraq?
Not yet, but I have only been here for a month.
The Ugandan who speaks for the American Embassy in Iraq