Ministers to be trained on manners ahead of NAM

Workers tarmac Mukwano roundabout in Kampala on January 2. With barely a week to the D-day, preparations for the two summits are underway including the spur-of-the-moment patchwork of roads and redecoration by Kampala Capital City Authority and Uganda National Roads Authority.  Photo | Isaac Kasamani

What you need to know:

  • The training of ministers and other government officials, knowledgeable sources told this publication, is “to avoid embarrassing incidents”

All ministers and dozen senior government officials are due to undergo a crash course on proper conduct, good behaviour, and etiquette for the back-to-back Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Third South Summit which will kick off in Kampala next Monday. 

The Cabinet Ministers and their juniors, and about a dozen other high-ranking officials, will be involved in the protocol function of the two high-level summits—receiving dignitaries at Entebbe International Airport and the venue, Speke Resort Munyonyo, starting this Saturday.

By press time last evening, at least 100 countries had confirmed attending the summit: the electric list includes 27 Heads of State and governments, five vice presidents, 45 ministers of Foreign Affairs, and majority of ambassadors at the UN in New York.

Representation by the Heads of State, however, keeps changing. Thirty-three had confirmed attendance by mid-last week but six including Venezuela’s Nichola Maduro opted out and elected to send either vice presidents or Foreign ministers.

The State minister for International Relations, Mr Henry Okello Oryem, told the Monitor at the weekend that 25 presidents had “confirmed presence” without a doubt. The number is, however, expected to increase or decrease in the coming days.

The training of ministers and other government officials, knowledgeable sources told this publication, is “to avoid embarrassing incidents”—from pushing and shoving, bickering, over excitement, requesting for business cards for future fixing of business deals, the dress code, flirting, and politicking; turning everything into the ruling party, NRM, affair—which is a custom locally but a diplomatic nightmare internationally.

Between 1,000 and 1,500 delegates are expected in the country for the two summits to discuss problems of the developing world.

The ministers and other officials’ function will be two-fold; receiving dignitaries into the country and the venue, and seeing them off at the end of the summits. Sources revealed that majority are irrelevant to the deliberations, hence won’t be attending. The same applies to MPs and heads of government departments, a section of whom had expressed interest to attend.

With barely a week to the D-day, preparations for the two summits are underway including the spur-of-the moment patchwork of roads and redecoration by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), hurried putting of final touches on both the arrival terminal at the airport and the venue, and the organising team, previously laid back and sulking over non-payment of allowances, doing last minute everything; from awareness, fixing solar lights on key roads, beautification, name it.

Inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the primary responsible ministry, several ambassadors abroad are expected back home to assist with the different functions of the two summits amid squabbling among the line ministers. One minister, who has not stepped in office for a month, told others to stop assuming his function as the primary spokesperson leaving everyone, including junior officers, flustered.

NAM is a grouping of 120 poor and developing countries; two in Europe, 26 in Latin America and Caribbean, 39 in Asia, and 53 in Africa. There are also 18 observer countries including Costa Rica, Argentina, Paraguay, Kazakhstan, and Serbia.

The alliance was midwifed in 1961 in Belgrade, capital of then Yugoslavia, initially as a foreign policy idea of countries allying neither with the United States nor the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) which collapsed in 1991. The alliance has since turned into a platform for collective voice for developing countries often christened “the global south.”

The term global south was famously coined 41 years ago by the former German Chancellor Willy Brandt in his famous Brandt commission report in which he advanced the “Brandt Line”—developed countries in the north and majority poor ones in the south, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

Uganda joins Egypt, Zimbabwe, Algeria, and Zambia to have hosted the summit in Africa. The summit was initially slated for April 2020 but was deferred indefinitely after the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

The 19th NAM summit under theme, “Deepening Cooperation for Shared Global Affluence” will kick off next Monday with a meeting of senior officials for two days, whose deliberations will feed into the meeting of foreign affairs minister, and climax into the heads of state and government meetings to take place on Friday and Saturday when Uganda will assume the rotational chairmanship of NAM from Azerbaijan, which held the last summit in October 2019.

The Kampala summit will build upon resolutions adopted during the 18th and 17th summits held in Baku, Azerbaijan and Isla Margarita, Venezuela, respectively.

Uganda, as the chair country until 2027, will have to display diplomatic dexterity in pushing the agenda of developing countries at the UN while balancing its own foreign policy objectives and navigating several geo-political minefields; the West (US/European Union) versus Russia and China, China versus her small neighbours who are NAM members, among others.

The Kampala regime, in 2021 and 2022, elected to stay neutral by voting “abstain” during the back-to-voting at the UN General Assembly, the world’s parliament, called the US and its European allies to reprimand Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Uganda, through the London based peace and conservation organisation, The Brazzaville Foundation, has also been attempting to broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine.

NAM has no secretariat and any chairing country coordinates the grouping’s activities out of its diplomatic Mission at the UN in consultation with the different sub-committees led by different countries—Indonesia on Palestine, Morocco on peace keeping, Iran on legal issues, among others—and NAM chapters elsewhere such as Geneva, Switzerland.

The NAM summit will be immediately followed by the Third South Summit, the apex organ of the G77+China alliance, under the theme “Leaving No One Behind” from 18 to 22 to discuss social crises from poverty to climate change, trade and investments.

It is the first time the summit is being held in Africa after the second summit 20-years ago in Qatar, and the first summit, five years earlier, in Cuba.

Uganda will simultaneously assume chairmanship of the alliance from Cuba which held its summit last September, and attended by Vice President Jessica Alupo and Foreign Affairs minister Jeje Odongo. Other African countries that have previously chaired G77 include Madagascar, Algeria, Tunisia, South Africa, Nigeria, Guinea, Tanzania, Sudan, and Egypt.

Established 59 years ago with initial membership of 77 countries, the G77 alliance has since grown to 134 countries becoming the largest inter-governmental organisations of the UN with the mission to promote members’ collective economic interests. China, the world’s second largest economy, is not fully a member of the forum but maintains observer status and attends annual meetings hence tag ‘G77+China.’

If the two summits are pulled off well, they will be the largest high-level event hosted by Uganda. If more Heads of State and government confirm attendance, the two summits will tie with the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which was attended by thirty six heads of state and government.

Had President Museveni personally attended the last UN General Assembly meeting in September in New York—where the functions of both NAM and G77 are centered—and rallied other heads of state in attendance, there is likelihood that more principals would have attended in person in show of solidarity. He, however, delegated Vice President Jessica Alupo.

The intended gains from the two summits are diplomatic, neither measurable not tangible, depending on how the country plays its cards. The outgoing chair, Azerbaijan, for instance leveraged its chairmanship to outmaneuver its neighbour, Armenia, on the long running Nagorno-Karabakh conflict—an ethnic and territorial war that broke out in 1988. Azerbaijan also won the bidding war to host the next UN climate pow-wow, COP29, later in November.

“It will require us to be proactive and effective as a country,” Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Adonia Ayebare told the Monitor during  a recent interview in New York. “We will build many relations that we will have to leverage on.”