A look back at the year in diplomacy

As the year comes to a close, Frederic Musisi looks back at some of the important diplomatic events that unfolded at in the country

President Yoweri Museveni and his Tanzanian counterpart John Pombe Magufuli sign an oil pipeline deal in November 2017. FILE PHOTO 

BY Frederic Musisi

IN SUMMARY

Recap. As the year comes to a close, Frederic Musisi looks back at some of the important diplomatic events that unfolded at in the country.

Refugees. President Museveni and UN Secretary General Antonio Guiterres agreed to hold a refugee solidarity summit to drum up international support for the more than 1.3 million refugees Uganda is hosting currently

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Like the rest of the world, 2017 started with Uganda closely following events in Washington leading to the inauguration of US President Donald Trump and particularly his policy prescription for Africa.
Throughout campaigns and after elections the billionaire businessman turned politician [has] said little about Africa. Later his transition team sent a questionnaire to State Department signaling a likely back-pedaling on aid commitments by his predecessors.
President Trump remained tight-lipped about Africa until September when he hosted select African leaders including President Museveni in New York, during which he expressed his administration’s commitment to continue partnering with Africa. Next year, Washington has offered Uganda Shs1.7trillion ($436m) in development assistance which highlights Mr Trump’s unchanged stance towards Africa.

Museveni reshuffles ambassadors
Later in January, President Museveni reshuffled diplomatic envoys, preserving only two career diplomats, significantly rotating around several and tapping some of those who had faded from the limelight to the coveted foreign service. The reshuffle also included Busoga King William Gabula Nadiope as Ambassador—Special Duties in the office of the President, which generated consternation especially from Busoga Kingdom who viewed the appointment as denigrating to their Kyabazinga, although he was later dropped.

Museveni, Guiterres moot solidarity summit for refugees
President Museveni and UN Secretary General Antonio Guiterres met in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, on the sidelines of the 28th African Union (AU) Summit. They agreed to hold a refugee solidarity summit to drum up international support for the more than 1.3 million refugees Uganda is hosting currently. The summit happened in June.

Queries over Uganda’s vote for AUC vote, ICC quit motion flounders
Uganda was said not to have rallied behind Kenya’s foreign minister Amina Mohamed, the candidate for eastern Africa, for the hotly contested job of African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson job to replace outgoing chair, South Africa’s Dlamini-Zuma. The commission is responsible for the running and delivery of the AU agenda aimed at advancing greater continental integration for a more prosperous Africa. The accusation stemmed from the fact that last year, Uganda’s candidate, former Vice President Specioza Kazibwe Wandira had lost miserably during voting at the AU summit in Kigali. Only Heads of State are mandated to vote by secret ballot. The ministry of foreign affairs dismissed the claims that President Museveni did not vote for Ms Amina.
At the same summit in Addis Ababa, the motion by some African, mostly rouge, leaders to pull out of the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) suffered a stillbirth.

IMF Chief visits Uganda
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Chief Christine Largade visited Uganda late in January as part of the three country African tour. Ms Largade held talks with Mr Museveni at State House Entebbe, and later held several meetings in Kampala.

World leaders convene in Kampala for Solidarity summit

Several world leaders, including five African Heads of State and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guiterres, convened in Kampala for the Refugee Solidarity Summit in attempt to try to raise Shs2trillion to assist aid agencies extend humanitarian relief to mostly South Sudan refugees. The leaders expressed displeasure with the unending political crisis in South Sudan, which has now turned into a humanitarian crisis with civilians as targets forcing thousands out of their homes, and called upon regional countries to speed up ongoing efforts to find a lasting peace solution.
The summit, which drew more than two dozens of dignitaries from countries in Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa and North America, brought in pledges of Shs1.25 trillion ($358.6m) which is far short of the earlier intended goal of at least $2b (Shs7t.).

Museveni weighs in on US-Russia row
President Museveni sucked himself into the verbal rattling between liberals and conservatives over new US President Donald Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, by penning a missive proposing a middle ground in the divisive international politics.
President Trump had been rebuked by the mostly liberal media in the US for his perceived [earlier] connections to Moscow, which was interpreted as likely to affect his administration’s bond with Moscow. President Museveni in the missive extensively delved into West versus East divide, illustrating how Africa comes into the picture.

India’s Vice President Hamid Ansari visits
India’s Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari visited in mid-February, in a move to deepen the Uganda-India relations. The two leaders toasted to the “long-standing excellent historical relations” between Uganda and India, and reaffirmed “the mutual desire to strengthen economic, diplomatic, military, technical, educational, scientific and cultural cooperation” between the two countries.

Museveni meets ICC President
The President of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi called on President Museveni early in March Ms. Fernandez was in Uganda at the invitation of the Board of Trustees of the ICC Trust Fund to find out the progress of the court projects as far as helping the victims the LRA atrocities.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn visits
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was in the country early in March, on a three-day state visit during which he held discussions with President Museveni over the fluid political situation in neighbouring South Sudan and River Nile issues. President Museveni against this background agreed to convene a meeting of other Nile Basin countries to iron differences on the new river waters sharing agreement.

Equatorial Guinea’s Obiang visits
The country’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo visited Uganda in April during which he held talks with President Museveni and also presided over closing of the Joint Oil and Gas Convention and Regional Logistics Expo at the Kampala Serena Hotel. Several MoUs mapping cooperation in different areas were also signed.

Museveni brokers release of Sudanese Prisoners of War
President Museveni oversaw release of Sudanese Prisoners of War (POW) by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) rebels, a mission that was executed by Uganda’s security and intelligence operatives. SPLM-N is a Sudanese rebel group that has been fighting Khartoum government since 2011, demanding political reforms. The POWs were flown to Uganda and later to Khartoum where they have reunited with their families after six years in captivity.

UPDF starts withdrawing from Central African Republic
UPDF started evacuating from Central African Republic bringing to end the nearly nine year man-hunt for one of the worlds most wanted but elusive rebel leaders, Joseph Kony. Neither the UPDF that was hunting him together with a coterie of regional armies under the auspices of the African Union Regional Task Force (RTF) nor the US Special Forces with their sophisticated intelligence gathering, to date has a clue about Kony’s whereabouts.
AU chair visits
A day after the solidarity summit, President Museveni hosted the Guinean President Alpha Conde, who also doubles as Chairman of the African Union. The two held bilateral talks before addressing a joint press conference where they urged African leaders to push for non-sectarian tendencies to avoid conflicts.

Museveni hosts South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Rebecca Garang
President Yoweri Museveni in mid-July hosted his embattled South Sudan counterpart, Salva Kiir and Ms Rebecca Garang, widow of John Garang, one of the founders of the ruling SPLM. The trio discussed ongoing political developments in South Sudan, including the peace process mediated by Mr Museveni himself and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad.)

Archbishop of Canterbury visits
President Museveni early in August met the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who was on a one day visit to Uganda as part of his Africa tour which also included a stopover in neighbouring South Sudan where he presided over inauguration of the autonomous Province of the Anglican Communion.

Germany Foreign minister Gabriel Sigmar visits
President Museveni, in August met and discussed the plight of South Sudanese refugees in West Nile, with the Germany Foreign minister Gabriel Sigmar, who was in the country for a one- day visit before leaving for Juba as part of interventions by the international community.

Sudan President Bashir visits
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived in the country two days after the Magufuli visit amidst tight security due to his wanted stature by the ICC and protests by the European Union. President Bashir is wanted by the Hague based court on two counts of crimes against humanity and genocide of more than 300,000 deaths in Sudan’s Darfur region.
The two leaders were once foes since the early 1990s but seemed to have buried their differences from 2011 when South Sudan eventually got independence in 2011. The two are also critical in the Igad-led South Sudan peace talks.

Other key highlights
The Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Rockefeller President Rajiv J. Shah also visited Uganda in the year ending.

UPDF deploys Equatorial Guinea
The first batch of UPDF troops left quietly for Equatorial Guinea late in 2016 but the government remained tight-lipped on the matter until early this year when the admission was made. Although the government said UPDF was in the Central African country on a capacity building mission of the Guinean armed forces, military sources told this newspaper they are on a covert mission of reinforcing security for the country’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

Museveni, Magufuli break ground for oil pipeline
President Museveni and his Tanzanian counterpart John Magufuli early in November laid the second foundation stone in Rakai district for the proposed East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), a gesture for political will, and to charm international lenders expected to pool 70 per cent of the project capital expenditure. The 1,445-kilometre pipeline, is to run from Hoima District in mid-western Uganda to Tanzania’s southern Tanga Port on the Indian Ocean coast.
Earlier in May the two signed the Heads of State Agreement, which was followed by the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on May 26 that binds the two governments on the project signed between Energy minister Irene Muloni and Tanzania’s Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Prof. John Palamagamba Kabudi.

Nile Summit ends in deadlocks
The much anticipated June 22 summit called by President Museveni to mediate the long standing grievance between Ethiopia and Egypt over sharing of the River Nile did not yield any positive result. The meeting was prominently attended by Egyptian President Abd El-Fattah El-Sisi and Ethiopian Premier Hailemariam Desalegn.
President Museveni had called for the meeting in March saying the disagreements that “never come to end are either because of disinformation or misinformation.” However after almost four hours behind closed doors, ostensibly working out a common position, the leaders eventually emerged out the meeting room but without one. The Nile’s annual flow volume was/is estimated at 85billion cubic metres at the Aswan High Dam by the colonial agreements which granted Egypt a 75 per cent share (55.5 billion cubic metres) and 25 per cent (18.5 billion cubic metres) to Sudan with the assumption that the other countries can get water through other sources like rain or even fresh water lakes.

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