US Ambassador’s tour of duty comes to an end

Thursday November 21 2019

 

By Karoli Ssemogerere

Deborah Malac will be replaced by an African-American woman Natalie Brown as US Ambassador to Uganda. She moves to the US mission to the UN communities in Rome.

The recent pick of ambassadors to Kampala by Washington, Scott de Lisi and Deborah Malac doesn’t reach the profile of their decades earlier predecessor Johnny Carson and Nancy Powell, who both rose to become Assistant Secretary of State. Nonetheless in the circumstances, Ms Malac’s tenure has been a success.

First, she established some form of independence from the host country. Her predecessor, who was serving his last tour, was far closer to the country’s leadership.

Second, she arrived at a sensitive time, the period of the 2016 polls in which former prime minister Amama Mbabazi attempted to mount a major campaign against President Museveni and Col Kizza Besigye both of whom ended up with an official vote tally of 88 per cent. Mr Mbabazi’s campaign hobbled internally by disorganisation, infiltration and disagreements among his allies fell into the trap of failing to meet soaring expectations, which among others, included support from Washington D.C.

In the political tension that followed the elections, Col Besigye corralled into his Kasangati home, the US Ambassador did not shy away from making efforts to visit him. She also spoke out candidly on corruption, lack of an open and democratic dispensation and using back channels, the US continues to sponsor seed grants to a number of activities in civic society even though it’s questionable what the positive outcome has been.

Uganda remains a vital peg, (however small, for US interests in the region). Uganda is sandwiched by three of Africa’s largest countries, the DRC, Sudan and Ethiopia. Uganda controls major access on Lake Victoria and has now discovered oil. Officially, the Americans are not involved in the oil sector, but they keenly watch oil as regional stability periodically threatened by flare ups between Uganda and her neighbours ,especially Rwanda.

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The announcement that Uganda had struck commercial oil quantities in 2011 is partly responsible for the current political impasse that drove Parliament in 2017 at great cost to amend the Constitution, deleting age limits from the Constitution, a decision that was upheld by a sharply divided 4-3 majority Supreme Court.

Ms Malac’s tenure has shadowed President Donald Trump even though strictly speaking, she is a career diplomat who entered the Foreign Service in 1983. However, having served for years in Africa, she seems to have had a more realistic view of African politics. Even while retrenching US aid, last week the Americans ended buying free meals and paying for transport for Ugandan health workers, she managed to do it with a smile.

Mr Trump has been the anecdote of American generosity (under Bush) and diplomacy (under Obama). His time in office short of major initiatives, has seen implementation of a new number of initiatives to promote good governance. It’s a major issue that the Americans in this period have trotted out carrot and stick slapping travel bans, asset freezes even while they are maintaining strong bilateral ties. Officially, the ambassador would be summoned to receive protest notes from the Foreign ministry as the individuals involved are all high profile. This has not happened. American delegations continued to troop in, including US Senators, yet no high profile US government visitor has come to Kampala in years.

Socially, Ambassador Malac has been a hit. Senga is her moniker on social media. She even had time to wade into the Team Rema, Team Kenzo problem that took a turn into State House before dominating media news in November 2019. Photos of Ambassador Malac taking selfies with groups of young people in far-flung places like Uganda’s game parks show she mastered the basics of diplomacy.

A diplomat is both a political and cultural representative of his or her home country. That’s why ambassadors from Uganda present credentials in traditional wear.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law
and an Advocate. kssemoge@gmail.com