Several of Uganda’s 36 foreign missions are locked in fights between politicians installed as supervisors and seasoned career diplomats.
One the one hand, Saturday Monitor has established, career diplomats feel through their years of service, they have had the drilling required to make more effective ambassadors.
On the other hand, a number of former politicians who have been appointed as ambassadors are deemed to be unable to execute the duties required of them.
The challenges that come with naming former politicians to ambassador jobs is now fairly old, and in a December 2018 report by the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee on the Auditor General’s findings for the years 2013 to 2017, the matter featured prominently.
In the report, political appointees at the embassies were accused of intrigue, arrogance, and in some cases outright incompetence in executing their diplomatic duties.
The report also cites problems of micro-management, and low morale among lower embassy staff.
The High Commission in Kenya is only one of Uganda’s 36 foreign missions where chaos is brewing while would-be-supervisors, technocrats in the Foreign Affairs ministry in Kampala, have their hands tied.
At best, the technocrats remain tongue-tied, with the Head of the Mission accused of conducting herself like she is only answerable to the appointing authority, the President.
Ambassador Phoebe Otala, a ruling party cadre, was named envoy to Nairobi during the latest ambassador’s reshuffle in January 2017. She replaced Ambassador Angelina Wapakhabulo, who elected to retire.
Over the past months, Ambassador Otala has been locked in a turf war with her would-be supervisors in Kampala over renovation of Uganda House in Nairobi, which sources indicated she wanted to fast-track outside normal public service procedures but was reined in on.
But Ms Otala reportedly asked the President to intervene, and President Museveni then wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa questioning why the ministry in Kampala was antagonising Ms Otala.
The Nairobi City Council had directed last year that the property be renovated to meet the required standards of buildings in the city.
Pulling of the rope between Ambassador Otala and technocrats in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Finance, over the renovation, continues.
While employment of non-career diplomats as ambassadors is a widespread practice globally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has previously argued that some of the President’s appointees in the latest ambassadors’ reshuffle, three years ago, are ineffective.
The result has been endless complaints, heightened tensions and mutual mistrust between ‘bossy politicians’, in the wording of a number of technocrats we talked to, and seasoned diplomats or embassy staff, who feel they are more competent.
The December 2018 PAC report on the Auditor General’s reports cited above says the “political appointees were often accused of arrogance, conspiracies, plotting, and in some cases incompetence.”
At the Uganda High Commission in Ottawa, Canada, the President designated former Kole Woman MP Joy Ruth Acheng as ambassador.
Prior to being named ambassador in 2017, Ms Acheng, a Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) party stalwart, who earlier in 2015 pledged support for President Museveni without crossing to the ruling NRM party, had been named state minister for Fisheries in the 2016 Cabinet reshuffle, but her name was later withdrawn.
The authorities in Canada invalidated the visa of Uganda’s Mission’s accounting officer, Mr Allan Tazenya, last year and he was expelled from the country. Ms Acheng has been accused over the incident.
She detailed Mr Tazenya’s ejection from Canada in a letter to the ministry’s Permanent Secretary Patrick Mugoya on March 28, 2019.
“This is to inform you that the Mission was contacted on March 14, 2019, by the Office of Global Affairs Canada – (Office of Protocol) to be informed of external fraudulent activity allegedly facilitated by the accounting officer, Mr Allan Tazenya, to Rogers Wireless Incorporated, a telecommunication in Canada,” the letter read in part.
But sources in Kampala claim that when the Foreign Affairs ministry permanent secretary asked the ambassador to produce the actual communication from the Canadian authorities, this has not been forthcoming.
The sources in Ottawa say Ambassador Acheng and Mr Tazenya did not get along well, which raised suspicions over the whole incident. At the time of ejection, Mr Tazenya was in Kampala to attend to his father’s burial.
Efforts to speak to Ms Acheng about the incident had not borne fruit by press time.
These continued squabbles have reportedly fractured work relations among the staff at several missions abroad.
In the last ambassador’s reshuffle, President Museveni retained only two career diplomats, significantly rotating several, including political rejects from the last Cabinet reshuffle, but who have got to learn on the job in Foreign Service.
Usually, the appointment of politicians in place of career diplomats raises questions about competence and ability of the new crop of ambassadors to pursue the country’s interests in the complex diplomatic world.
The last reshuffle saw Ambassador Mull Katende, a career diplomat, posted to Washington from Uganda’s multilateral Mission in Ethiopia and replaced with former Alebtong District Woman MP and State Minister for Northern Uganda, Ms Rebecca Otengo.
Relations between Ambassador Otengo and her deputy, Ambassador Idule Amoko, have been described by sources in Addis Ababa and Kampala as cold.
Besides, the ambassador has been described by diplomatic sources in Addis Ababa as largely unfamiliar with the breadth of the African Union work.
Uganda’s mission in Addis Ababa is both multilateral—covering the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)— and bilateral; covering Ethiopia and Djibouti.
The danger with first-time ambassadors who come from other fields, sources say, is that counterparts consider them inexperienced and not worthy discussing serious business with, which sours relations.
This is not to say, however, that all former politicians who have been appointed as ambassadors have encountered serious problems.
Trouble in Rome, Italy
Uganda’s Mission in Rome, Italy, is currently involved in four court cases with a total liability of Sh1.1b, which Auditor General John Muwanga in his 2019 audit report submitted to Parliament early last month, warns will bog down its finances.
In the four cases; a former accounts assistant at the embassy, Samuel Otala, was awarded Shs117m for unlawful termination, Esther Owusu, a former cook terminated in 2012, and is seeking Shs292m.
Also terminated in 2016 was Peter Mulindwa, a former driver, who has sued for Shs688m, and Fosca Ashepat, a former wardrobe assistant terminated in 2016, and suing for Shs90m.
The PAC report also details several issues of accountability, financial mismanagement and endless feuds among staff, which are openly exhibited through outbursts in meeting and reports of sabotage, intrigue, and divisions resulting into cliques which impede work, mainly faulted government on perpetuating inefficiency and poor service at embassies by not facilitating the embassies adequately.
The report also faults most mission charters / statements as unrealistic, saying they do not match budget provisions for the missions, and were a significant departure from the human resource capacity of the missions and served to demoralise staff rather than act as work plans for the missions.
The Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Permanent Secretary, Mr Patrick Mugoya (pictured), declined to discuss the case by case issues at some of the Missions, describing them as “administrative matters being dealt with internally.”
But on issues of poor funding as cited in the PAC and Auditor General’s reports, Ambassador Mugoya said they are being addressed through several measures.
He cited the ministry drawing up a strategic plan for all embassies from which each mission draws individual charters based on available funds allocated.
“Challenges are there but we work with what we have,” Ambassador Mugoya said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“During the last review of NRM manifesto, our ministry was appraised with a score of 70 per cent, which is good; in fact for us internally, we thought we averaged between 50 and 65 per cent. That we scored 70 per cent shows you where we are.
Of course, this doesn’t cut across the board; some missions are performing better, others slightly, and others not, but we strive to improve within available resources,” he added.
Role of ambassadors. Officially, ambassadors represent their countries politically and lobby for investments, trade and tourism.
But differences in bilateral relations and the peculiar nature of partnership with a country may inform the President’s choice on who to deploy as an ambassador.
Appointment. Whereas the appointment of ambassadors is the prerogative of the President, there have been calls to revert to an old-tested system of past governments that followed procedures of recruitment, promotion and assignment similar to those in the civil service.
This means one would join the diplomatic service on merit and rise through the ranks from a foreign service officer (3rd secretary), 2nd secretary, 1st secretary, counsellor, minister counsellor to ambassador.
This system, diplomatic sources say, would allow one pick up along the way vast knowledge through deployment at different desks needed for negotiation and presentation skills.
Qualifications. On average, it takes a career diplomat nearly 18 years of technical service to rise to the level of ambassador.
Critics fault the current system, which they say has stuffed the diplomatic service with politicians, loyal cadres of the ruling party, the diplomatically-connected and relatives of those already in the diplomatic service.
Saturday Monitor has learnt that the rank of minister counsellor is currently clogged, with several Foreign Service Officers going for years without promotion as a result.
By Daily Monitor