Will Kutesa’s UN Presidency Turn Around Uganda’s Struggling Foreign Policy?

Sam Kutesa

information pills geneva; font-size: small;”>A politician and lawyer by profession, story Kutesa has been in charge of Foreign Affairs docket since January 13 2005.

He has managed to sail through cabinet reshuffles of June 2006, February 2009, and that of May 2011 and also the drama that surrounded the award of contracts for executive cars for officials during the 2007 Common Wealth Meeting in Kampala.

Speaking to the media in Kampala last Tuesday, Kutesa said Uganda is competing with Cameroon for the post of President of the United Nations General Assembly for the 69th Session (2014-2015).

This position is voted for by representatives in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on a yearly basis. The President presides over the sessions of the General Assembly.

Kutesa elaborated such a position would “enhance the country’s Foreign Policy strategic objectives and visibility.”

He added: “This will be Africa’s turn to provide a President, and Uganda is competing with Cameroon. I have been nominated to fill the position if our bid succeeds.”

“No doubt, membership to and aspirations in the above, place Uganda in the main stream programmes of the Union and enhances the country’s Foreign Policy Strategic objectives and visibility.”

The Minister emphasized there is also no doubt this places additional responsibilities to the country, in terms of financial resources.

Observers say scooping such a position would bolster Uganda’s foreign policy at a time it’s at its weakest point.

The foreign policy has lately been frail owing to many factors including poor remuneration of ambassadors and failure to uplift their living conditions.

An annual meeting of Ambassadors planned for December 2012 was called off due to lack of funds.

During these meetings, envoys discuss the country’s foreign policy’s weaknesses and strengths and challenges they encounter in execution of their duties.

Experts say poor funding of Ugandan missions have cost the country billions of dollars in tourism.

Sources say most embassies in foreign countries do not have the skills and resources to market Uganda’s tourism attraction centres such as wild life, mountains, source of River Nile among others which would boost foreign exchange from tourists.

“Some of the flyers aimed at promoting Uganda tourism at foreign embassies, for example in Germany, are in English language instead of Germany. So you wonder whether our diplomatic staff there is serious.”

Rwanda, through Rwanda Development Board (RDB), managed to generate $281.8 m in 2012 due to promotion of tourism in foreign countries.

This is compared to $251.3 m generated in 2011 at the same period which corresponds to an increase of 12 percent.


Diplomatic sources say Uganda virtually has no specific foreign policy.

Uganda appears to have started waking up from slumber when United Nations published a report accusing Kampala of supporting M23 rebels in DRC.

Government had to dispatch several teams led by ICT Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to United Nations to arrest the situation.

The bad publicity that came with accusations of bankrolling M23 operations and threats to pull soldiers from Somalia left Uganda’s international image in shreds.

It’s important to note that a recent tax evasion scandal involving former UK envoy Joan Rwabyomere added salt to the injury.

Analysts concur the recruitment of NRM cadres as envoys at Uganda’s foreign missions instead of career diplomats has weakened the country’s foreign policy. Instead of pushing for national interests, the envoys tend to relax and carry out administration work.

If one asked US President Barack Obama his foreign policy successes, he would quickly point to ramping up campaign against Al Qaeda and killing Osama Bin Laden, pushing for no-fly zone over Libya that led to eventual fall of Muammar Gaddafi, withdraw of troops from Iraq, isolation and weakening of Iran, halving the number of Russian and American nuclear missile launchers and supporting democratic transition in Egypt among others.

However, an assessment of Uganda’s foreign policy shows apart from weakening Kony, supporting efforts to stabilize Somalia, Uganda is yet to score highly on the international scene.

But what stands out is the renewed relations between Uganda and Rwanda.

Uganda’s envoy to Rwanda Richard Kabonero and his Ugandan counterpart, Maj Gen Frank Mugambagye with the support of Rwanda Development Board, managed to pull investors from both countries to the Rwanda-Uganda Business Forum 2012 at Kampala Serena Hotel in 2012.

It focused on the theme “Expanding Business Opportunities Beyond Borders.”

The Forum was aimed at providing a strong platform to promote bilateral relations between the two countries; increase trade and investments; support business and other networking for business opportunities and also facilitate dialogue on best business practices in the region.

Mugambage said the initiative would facilitate opportunities for companies to showcase various services and products to potential clients through exhibitions. This eventually promotes trade and infrastructure between the two countries.

At the Ugandan embassy in Kigali, one notices flyers marketing Uganda’s tourism potential. The embassy is also very active on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, selling the country’s rich and diverse tourist attraction centres to the outside world.

The question: Will the rise of Kutesa to the top UN seat boost Uganda’s weak position to influence international decision making on issues that affect the country and the region?

Kutesa says membership to several international bodies provides Uganda with an opportunity to play a constructive role in conflict prevention, management and resolution, especially regarding conflicts in our region.

Foreign Policy is defined as a set of strategies, decisions and actions taken by a state /government to safeguard its national interest and achieve its goals on the international arena.

The officially stated goals of the foreign policy of the Republic of Uganda as mentioned in the Foreign Policy Agenda include “safeguarding Uganda national interests and achieving its goals on the international arena for the benefit of the people of Uganda, the region and the international community.”

The foreign policy vision of Uganda is predicated on “a conducive regional and international environment that promotes a secure and prosperous Uganda in which the peoples’ interests are at the centre.”

From the broad foreign policy guiding principles, and the doctrine of Uganda, the country’s national interest has been anchored on three broad pillars namely; National Security (survival of the State, the people and endowments), National prosperity and wellbeing of the people.


Despite all its failings, Uganda has managed to promote regional and International Peace and Security through contributing to Somalia peace building.

The war-torn country is relatively stable after several foreign nations including Ethiopia and United States fell short of restoring sanity. The UN, US, UK and Canada are now funding post-war recovery projects.

Uganda has also moved a step forward in promoting regional and economic integration by join the COMESA Free Trade Area, an economic bloc that has a combined population of almost half a billion.

According to Trade and Industry Minister, Amelia Kyambadde, government intends to consolidate and improve Uganda’s access to a lucrative and expanded market base for goods and services produced in the country.

“The decision, which means that Uganda’s exports to the Free Trade Area Member Countries will not be subjected to import taxes by the importing countries, is projected to increase the country’s exports to COMESA by 50%,” says Kyambadde.

“Similarly, producer competitiveness is expected to increase since intermediate inputs imported from COMESA Free Trade Area Members, on which a 4% import duty was levied, will now not be subjected to import duties,” she adds.

Kyambadde also insists that consumer welfare is also projected to improve since Uganda’s imports from the Free Trade Area Members will not be subjected to import duties, hence lower consumer prices.

However, Uganda has failed in promotion of the national image abroad through public diplomacy and media. Rarely do Ugandans see articles and footages promoting the country’s brand in foreign media such as CNN which is viewed by billions of people across the world.

Uganda has also lost on the front of “mobilization of bilateral and multilateral resources for development” considering that western countries such as Ireland are now suspending aid to the country due to corruption.

It remains unclear if Russia will release funding for planned transport infrastructure overhaul projects as requested by President Museveni during his recent meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Should he take the UN seat, experts say, Kutesa can only promote Uganda’s image abroad if he consolidates the relationship between government and its allies in foreign countries such as Hilary Clinton, Israel top leadership; mobilizes Ugandans in Diaspora to market Uganda’s tourism potential and isolate Sudan on the international scene.

Kutesa’s ability to position Uganda as a hub for investors will also be tested by his embrace of online and social media.


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