People & Power

The diplomat who never returned to his country

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The former ambassador during the interview. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa 



Posted  Sunday, January 12   2014 at  02:00

In Summary

Home away from home. The retired ambassador of Germany to Uganda, Mr Klaus Holderbaum, served in the Germany diplomatic service for 33 years, with a 22 years’ experience in sub-Saharan Africa. Uganda was his last post when he retired in 2003 and made it his retirement home. Sunday Monitor’s Henry Lubega talked to the diplomat on why he chose to stay in Uganda.

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I came to Uganda in July 1999 as the Germany ambassador and because I would reach retirement age while here, Uganda would thus be my last posting. Like all civil servants, German diplomats retire at the age of 65.

Under the Germany law civil, servants are required to retire on June 30 of the year they clock 65. My service was thus cut short by about five months on June 30, 2003.
When I came to Uganda in 1999, I knew it was my last posting. I had spent four years in Cameroon before being posted to Kampala. Unfortunately, by the time of retirement, I was still strong to serve another term or two as a diplomat either in Uganda or somewhere else.
During the time of my service, I would go back to Germany either on business or on holiday. So through the 20 years I served in the Sub-Saharan Africa, I had lost track of what was happening at home and most Germans hardly knew who Holderbaum was. Finding interesting job offers in Germany was less likely than it was in Africa.
Making Uganda home
Almost two years before my retirement, I already knew Uganda would be the place I would stay after retiring. I planned my retirement to be in Africa.

I had the options of Cameroon, Zambia, Ivory Coast or Mali; they are beautiful countries, but when I soberly looked at the circumstances I was working in, I thought Uganda was the best.
I knew and still know a lot of people in all spheres - politics, business, cultural institutions, and media. It was easier to stay here [in Uganda] than any other place I have worked in in Africa.
During my posting in Kampala, the computer era crept in. As an ambassador, I had a secretary doing everything for me. But since I knew I would soon retire, I had to plan how to retire into the computerised world. I had to start learning how to use a computer and my first teacher was my secretary from the Uganda’s Foreign Affairs ministry.
Later on, a Dutch friend of mine also offered to teach me for free twice a week when I moved to my retirement home in Mbuya.
Staying in Uganda
The final decision to stay was made without consulting my family. By that time my wife and children were in Germany. They stayed behind when I was ambassador in Mali but would visit from time to time.
Uganda is now my home. I know you cannot get everything in Kampala but you can get nearly everything.

The beer here is excellent; I don’t have to import German beer. The food is fantastic as well- fresh fruits are available all the time and are natural. However, of recent there are some shops that are importing German foods and beers.
Things have improved a lot compared to when I first came, the weather is fantastic, and people are warm and friendly. This is not to say that other African countries I have served in are bad, but Uganda has something special that Ugandans don’t realize or they just do not appreciate.
First impression

When I first came to Uganda, I was impressed by the beauty of the country. I hope all Ugandans know they are living in a sort of paradise. I don’t want to put it as many people say ‘gifted by nature’. Many countries are gifted but Uganda is gifted by beauty, not only in nature but even the people.

I have not had any problem in other countries I have served in, but I find Ugandans very different from the rest, they are friendly hospitable, I don’t have the superlatives to describe them.
Life in retirement
This is not something that just came out of the blue, I knew I was to retire and I planned for it. I had to put my connection in different African countries and planned to exploit my experience in fields like economic cooperation. I had worked in the Germany foreign affairs ministry for five years as director for Humanitarian assistance.
Just a few months after my retirement, I became an advisor to the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Industry. My task was to increase the number of tourists to Uganda and the volume of trade between Uganda and Europe and Germany in particular and this was practically discussed and agreed during my second last meeting with President Museveni when I was still ambassador.

I told him: “Mr President, I intend to stay in your country after my retirement. I could be of help in some areas with my experience and connection with some African countries.” That is how I ended up with that post as an advisor at the ministry. After a few years I got other contracts with different private companies mostly in advisory roles.
In mid-November 2011, the President appointed me his senior special advisor on trade and tourism, for three years.
The Uganda I found in 1999 and the Uganda of today are very different politically socially and economically. There has been a great change for the better in all these sectors.

about the retired envoy

Ambassador Klaus (rtd) is a lawyer, academician, diplomat, foreign and public service officer. He took advanced level examination in 1958 in Frankfurt. From 1958 to 1963, he studied law in Frankfurt and Berlin and took the first state examination in law in 1963. Between 1963 and 1968, he did juridical preparatory service, served as an Assistant Lecturer at University of Frunkfurt and was a trainee at the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community in Luxemburg. In 1968, he took the second state examination in law. From 1968 to 1970, he was a lecturer at the Max-Planck-Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg.

Ambassador Klaus joined the German Foreign Service in 1970 as an Attaché at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in London. Between 1971 and 1974 he was the Second and First secretary, legal Department and lecturer for Public and International Law (School of Diplomacy).

His first African assignment was in Lusaka Zambia where he served as the Deputy Head of Mission and First Secretary from 1974 to 1977. He returned to the Foreign Service Office in Bonn in 1977where he served at the Africa Department from till 1980. He returned to Africa in 1980 and served at the German Embassy in Abijah, Ivory Coast as the Deputy Head of Mission and Counselor for four years. He returned to Foreign Office Bonn in 1983 and served in the Political Department as the Deputy Head of Division. Between 1986 and 1991 he was the, German Ambassador in Bamako, Mali.

He returned to Foreign Office Bonn in 1991 and served as the Head of the Division for Humanitarian Aid and lecturer for Humanitarian Assistance at the University of Bochum till 1995 when he returned to Africa and served as the German Ambassador in Yaoundé, Cameroon. During the same period he was also accredited to Equatorial Guinea, Chad and Central Africa Republic.

Ambassador Kluas Holderbaum’s last Ambassadorial service was in Uganda from 1999 to June 2003 when he retired from Foreign Service and decided to live permanently in Uganda

Since July 2003, he has worked as an Independent Consultant, Advisor and served as a member of the Board of Director of various organizations including the Ministry of Tourism Trade and Industries, United Assurance, Gauff Engineers, Board of Director, Nnabagereka Development Foundation, QNet Ltd and Board of Trustees Duke of Edinburgh Award (U).

Germany-Uganda relationship

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