There’s something good to write about Foreign Affairs ministry

Friday October 30 2020
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Samuel Baligidde

By Samuel Baligidde

After a long time of negative reporting about the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its embassies, the story, ‘Commercial diplomacy starts to pay-off ‘at the Uganda Embassy, Abu Dhabi (Daily Monitor, October, 23) offers some relief. 

In my humble opinion though, at least a snippet of it above the indomitable Lizard on the front page would’ve been more appropriate than caching it on page 32.

Instead, there was one about ‘How Nyakana’s wife, govt. shared Centenary Park’! Do stories about who shared what with whom still make news? The public has been treated to so much negativity lately. 

The Daily Monitor must, therefore, be congratulated for succinctly publishing International Relations Minister Okello Oryem’s comments. Ordinary people have become business-oriented and more interested in foreign affairs than ever before.

In an age which foreign affairs specialist Russell Howe describes as “difficult to be a diplomat or a politician, and a hell of a time to be a soldier,” current wisdom in public diplomacy would have hyped the citizens “need to know” about the forthcoming UAE Trade Exhibition. 

The Foreign ministry is the hub of a dynamic network of State and non-State actors negotiating and concluding public and private sector trade deals. Globalisation; the resurgence of new methods of diplomacy; bilateral, regional, multilateral and “telescoping” of external and internal issues, the “democratisation” of diplomacy opened up a whole new world of States-to-State interactions.

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Diplomats in Uganda’s 37 embassies ought to be reminded that Bilateral Diplomacy should be skewed towards improving their country’s economic wellness index because it is one of the new building blocks of their profession. 

The Fourth Estate should likewise carry-out their responsibility of not only alerting the public when things go wrong, but also propagating positive information from the Foreign Ministry and its embassies in an appropriately visible manner.

Since commercial diplomacy takes priority, international trade relations are prominently indicated in the economic functions of Uganda’s Missions abroad. Apart from routine duties, diplomats analyse the multilateral trading systems, monitor the DOHA Round status and negotiate free trade agreements.

For perfecting their skills, they should be professionalised. I have often participated as a consultant in the Foreign Ministry’s induction, professionalisation and other programmes. 

Apart from teaching participants the lexicon of diplomacy, its fundamentals and 21st Century trends; pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of different diplomatic methods, the interactions are usually more practitioner-oriented due to the limited time frames.

The interactions are too short for the participants to internalise certain concepts and the achievement of learning objectives. Professionalisation by other means is also achievable through experience-sharing, international conference interactions, specialised in-service capacity-building courses, symposiums and seminars.

For benchmarking a diplomatic academy based on the Maltese and Chinese models would be advisable. Malta is smaller, but richer than Uganda and has conducted a relatively more successful subset foreign policy within the European Union.

China is the major economic power Africa has turned to for lessons on industrialization for economic transformation utilizing the best practices of multilateral diplomacy.    

To professionalise, this writer and 22 mid-career diplomats from seven African countries started with a post-graduate diplomacy training programme at the University of Nairobi, where they benefitted from renowned Swiss negotiation expert Prof Kepler’s numerous professional simulation exercises throughout the 1978/79 academic year. 

It ended in September 1979 with the First African-European Study Tour, that included a course for Commercial Attachés and Economic Counsellors sponsored by the Commission of the European Communities, the German Foundation for International Development and the Irish Export Board.

These are crucial in improving professional knowledge on export, investment, tourism promotion, negotiation techniques, etc.

Mr Samuel Baligidde is a former diplomat. Samuel Baligidde | sahebabogo@gmail.com

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