During the first half of 2002, I took part in a retreat organised in Jinja jointly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Parliamentary Committee on Presidential and Foreign Affairs (PCPFA) to review, among other things, the state of Uganda’s foreign relations and make recommendations on ‘the way forward’.
The participants included serving and retired Foreign Service Officers (FSO) and members of the PCPFA. I particularly recall meeting Nsaba Buturo, PCPFA chairman at the time, Mr Aggrey Owori, Mr Reagan Okumu, and retired high ranking FSO Paul Etiang and Ms Winnie Byanyima were also present.
One of the burning issues that were raised at the retreat was the classification of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a ‘non-productive’ ministry as opposed to ministries such as Agriculture and Forestry, which are classified as ‘productive’ and receive preferential treatment when it comes to budgetary decisions. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials argued that since the ministry is a key negotiator and coordinator of foreign financial assistance to Uganda, it should be reclassified as a ‘productive’ unit.
That meeting unanimously supported the proposal, and the members of PCPFA enthusiastically undertook to raise the matter with the appropriate government bodies to ensure that the ministry is reclassified without further delay. That was 12 years ago. I was, therefore, surprised to learn from Prime Minister Mbabazi’s address to Uganda’s ambassadors on January 6, that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is still listed as a consumptive public administrative unit, a great liability to the nation in other words.
Mr Mbabazi said, “In today’s globalising world, foreign affairs are absolutely an essential function for productive and economic participation in the global arena.” He hence expressed support ‘for the efforts the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is undertaking’ to move from the public administration sector to ‘an appropriate productive sector’. He apparently had not done enough homework, because it may take the decision-makers another decade to determine an ‘appropriate’ sector for the ministry.
As things stand, the classification of ministries has always been done by the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. Yet this is the very ministry that, since independence in 1962, has failed to recognise the role played by the Foreign ministry in coordinating and promoting commercial and economic diplomacy.
The best it has done is to identify and poach from the Foreign ministry, officers who have exhibited proficiency in finance and economic fields. After years of training and exposure to the outside world, its own officers end up in fat jobs with international financial institutions.
It follows, therefore, that short of a presidential directive, which the Prime Minister himself must ensure is implemented; the Foreign ministry may never join the ranks of ‘productive’ ministries in Uganda. Such a prospect does obviously not augur well for Vision 2040, and the earlier Mr Mbabazi acts, the better for the country and its well-wishers.
Last but not least, it is not clear whether all the ambassadors Mr Mbabazi addressed are fitted for the responsibilities he has placed on their shoulders. The successful marketing of Vision 2040 will require men and women with marketing, public relations and related abilities.
Mr Kiwanuka is a journalist and retired Foreign Service Officer. firstname.lastname@example.org