Envoy asks for gun as intrigue, fights intensify

Monday January 11 2016

Uganda’s ambassadors with Vice President Edward

Uganda’s ambassadors with Vice President Edward Ssekandi, (2nd row, 5th left), Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa to his right and Permanent Secretary James Mugume (2nd left) at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala. PHOTO credit: Foreign Affairs ministry website 



One of the two Ugandan ambassadors alleging death plots by subordinates has asked for a gun for personal protection, another is demanding staff he says belong to one ethnic group disbanded while four others want out-of-favour accounting officers transferred immediately.

Our investigations show wide-ranging breakdown of personal and professional relations, particularly among mission heads, their deputies and financial controllers, splitting their charges into rival and mutually suspicious camps.

Insiders say the problem has been fueled by crowding ambassadorial appointments with election losers, which suffocates progress for and demotivates career diplomats, and is exacerbated by indecision and cowardice by leadership of the parent Foreign Affairs ministry.

The simmering tensions, which has seen Uganda’s ambassador to Turkey John Olwa Agara reportedly asking for his own firearm, comes to light as all the country’s envoys gather at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala for their annual conference. This is after Richard Laus Angualia, Uganda’s Ambassador to Cairo, who complained of plans by his subordinates to eliminate him, resigned after Uganda government declined his request for special guards.

In Brussels, Ambassador Miriam Blaak has written to Kampala requesting the transfer of accounting officer, Mr Asaba Amooti, over alleged incompetence shortly after disagreeing with him on money and contract for renovation of the embassy building.

The financial controller is arrogant, Amb Blaak told Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters, less than two years after she labeled similar allegations against the former accounting officer, Mr James Wafula. The latter was transferred on President Museveni’s orders following Amb Blaak’s direct petition.

She also wants her deputy Frank Katungwe, whom she accuses of “doing nothing”, to be transferred, preferring to work with Amb Catherine Otiti for whom she got an extension following lapse of her four-year posting in 2014.

In Kampala, Foreign Affairs ministry officials are second-guessing what to do about the fall-out between Paris embassy principals, both of whom are close to President Museveni. This newspaper understands that the tiff between Amb Nimisha Madhvani and accounting officer Dorah Kutesa, wife of the UPDF director of Doctrine, Maj Gen Pecos Kutesa, derives from use of embassy finances and bankrolling of the ambassador’s foreign trips. The ambassador has notified Foreign Affairs to move Ms Kutesa away, but Kampala bureaucrats have decided to stay put because they do not know the president’s position on the matter.

Mr Enock Nkuruho, Uganda’s ambassador to Australia, who has expressed fear for his life, is being accused of turning away married diplomats from serving at the embassy he heads. He told Daily Monitor on Friday that he is not cold-hearted as portrayed, but that he is against posting of couples because of the exorbitant living costs in Canberra, high minimum wage for domestic servants, lack of required health insurance for the diplomats and family as well as perennial underfunding.

For instance, the ministry budgets $1,500 (Shs5 million) as monthly pay for each support staff at foreign missions, but the lowest threshold take home for domestic workers in Australia is $3,000 (Shs10 million) excluding pay for extra-hours after 5pm and work on weekends. Now Uganda’s Canberra embassy has been indicted for underpaying the envoy’s house help, Ms Connie Tanda.

“It is not that I don’t like married people or children, but I don’t want them to come to Australia and suffer,” Amb Nkuruho said, citing the death last year of his daughter overseas to illustrate the gravity of the problem.

In Rome, the Head of Mission Amb Grace Akello reportedly has differences with both her deputy Ms Mumtaz Kassim, previously at Uganda’s London High Commission, and accounting officer Julius Mwijusia whom the ambassador wants shuffled. Amb Akello, the former principal private secretary to President Museveni, accuses her subordinates of undermining her and, like other embassies, the differences anchor on use of embassy resources and counter-accusations of lack of respect.

Across the Atlantic, employees at Uganda’s Washington DC embassy are reportedly split in rival camps along differences between the the Head of Mission Oliver Wonekha, and the accounting officer Stilson Muhwezi. The Ambassador, whom the financial controller says interferes with his work, accuses Mr Muhwezi of insubordination and spying on colleagues.

Permanent Secretary Amb James Mugume visited the embassy last September, but his findings remain under wraps. Separately, Uganda’s ambassador to Sudan Abraham Isamat reportedly complains that his charges all hail from one ethnic group and conduct official business largely in their vernacular, leaving him clueless. Amb Mugume, in an interview on Friday, said he was aware of the spreading disputes at Uganda’s 35 diplomatic representations in foreign capitals, which he said is “deliberately inbuilt” to ensure balance of power and transparency between ambassadors and financial controllers.

“If there is no tension or too much harmony, you should be worried that there might be collusion,” he said in an interview at his office, pointing out that the principals need to stick by the rules, adhere to proper work methods and embrace transparency. Ambassadors head the missions and are under Foreign Affairs while accounting officers are deployed by and report to the Ministry of Finance permanent secretary and are, under the law, held personally liable for misused public funds.

As a result of the widespread disputes, government last September summoned all ambassadors and their accounting officers to Kampala to iron out the work differences.

The PS said: “We think that by putting them in the same room and explaining to them the rules, there will be a better understanding and appreciation [of each other’s work].”

However, Amb Harold Acemah, who retired in 2007 while deputy Head of Mission in Brussels after 36 years in Foreign Service, said the altercations and divisions highlight a broader malaise caused by “patronage and nepotism”.

“If there is no harmony and the diplomats are constantly fighting, when will they find time to do tyheir work? Because of that, they are unproductive and ineffective, and they cannot justify increase in their budgets because they are just in foreign capitals to fly the flag of Uganda on their cars,” he said.

The core mandate of ambassadors is to promote investment, trade and tourism. And that the Foreign Services is now saturated with politicians is an anti-climax for government of President Museveni, who after seizing power in 1986, accused former president Milton Obote of the vice and promised politicians in diplomatic service would under him would not exceed 30 per cent.

“The [problem] is that President Museveni has not heeded the advice that diplomatic service should be run by professional diplomats just like lawyers run the Judiciary and doctors in Health,” Amb Acemah said, adding: “There has been a lot of damage to the international image of Uganda, morale is low among career diplomats at foreign missions and worse that now even some of the junior officers appointed are not career diplomats.”

In Part III tomorrow, read about the US government asking Uganda to waive immunity for one of its diplomats to face prosecution.