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Kutesa’s UN job puts Uganda in sharp focus

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By Tabu Butagira & Frederic Musisi

Posted  Friday, June 13  2014 at  01:00

In Summary

UN General Assembly President-elect says he has no problem with gays “as long as they respect privacy”.

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Kampala- Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa has, as the next President of the UN General Assembly, set monumental targets to achieve, including reforming the organisation’s powerful Security Council and committing to play by the rules.

The latter binder is important because Mr Kutesa’s candidature had, before Wednesday, unanimous decision been contested on account of questions about his integrity and noisy arguments that Uganda’s new anti-gay law contravened core UN principles.

Still, the 193 UN member states assembled in New York through a procedural acclamation vote picked the minister to replace outgoing John Ashe.

These latest controversies against Mr Kutesa are likely to swell like a discomforting boil instead of shrinking in the shadows of his rising star.
The minister faced harsh questioning from a battery of journalists during his maiden press conference on Wednesday, forcing the moderator and Foreign Affairs spokesperson Fred Opolot, who accompanied him to New York, to step forward and subdue the verbal fire.

Most questions focused on whether Mr Kutesa was homophobic or corrupt, with the probing stretching at a point to if he already had been in business with the UN peace-keepers through his Entebbe Handling Services or Enhas Company.
The firm is responsible for ground or cargo handling at Uganda’s only international airport where the UN has an operational base for its east and central Africa assignments.

The press conference took dramatic turns too. A journalist pointing at a sculpture of Arthur Robert Steiner, a very famous pianist and musician who was gay, wondered if that was something the incoming president would celebrate.

Mr Opolot scrambled to defuse it by telling reporters that, “excuse, the minister has already answered that question.”

Another journalist asked Mr Kutesa: “Given your government’s (Uganda’s) position on gay rights and the allegations about corruption that have been swirling against you personally, do you think you are the right person for the job?”

Kutesa deflected the accusations against him as orchestrated by his opponents both in and outside Uganda.

“I have never been found corrupt, I am not homophobic,” he said, “I believe I am a sweet person to lead this organisation for the next session.”
Kutesa soothed critical journalists by announcing he surrendered all of his business interests before presenting himself for election.
The minister’s tenure formally begins on September 16 when he will chair the General Assembly attended by heads of state and government of all UN member countries, including President Barack Obama.

That means he requires a firm hand to read members’ moods particularly on contentious issues in the shifting underworld of diplomacy, muster consensus and with it, elevate his and Uganda’s profile.

A supportive team at Uganda’s New York Mission means Mr Kutesa has wings ready to fly. But will he?

“Our ultimate objective should be to formulate a transformative agenda that supports global solutions, guides national development efforts, empowers people to improve their livelihoods and determine their future,” Mr Kutesa said in his speech.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com