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America hopes 2011 elections will be better than before

By John Njoroge

The Independents John Njoroge attended a press briefing by the new U.S. Ambassador Jerry P. Lanier. Excerpts.

What is your opinion about Uganda’s preparedness for the 2011 general elections?

We are anxious that the preparations move forward. We know that there are some questions about a number of issues but on the whole we think that a free and fair election is possible in 2011.

Courts of law in the last two elections have ruled that the elections were not free and fair, yet the same Electoral Commission is set to oversee a third election. Has the US expressed discontent to the government of Uganda for re-appointing the same Electoral Commission?

We are aware of the complaints over the last election. We have contributed about US$2.5 million to have a better electoral process. We will be monitoring the elections and reporting back to Washington. We are hopeful that these elections will be better and more transparent than they were before.

What if the same scenario of the two previous elections happens again?

That would be a decision I cannot speculate on at the moment.

What does America think about leaders who overstay in power?

President Museveni’s stay in power is a reflection of the will of the Ugandan people. America had a president that served four terms, President Franklin Roosevelt. We then limited constitutionally our presidential term to two terms. There was a constitutional term limit here. The constitution was amended so that the president can run again. We think that there should be a rotation in office over time. The dimension and scope of that change is up to the people. 24 years is a long time. I think he is the third or fourth longest serving president in Africa but the next elections will be an opportunity for the Ugandan people to speak out through the ballot if they want another leader.

Do you think Obama’s choice to visit Ghana as opposed to countries like Kenya and Uganda was a political message to Africa?

I think he was sending a message to Ghana that he was happy with their performance. That was his main message and we hope that it will be interpreted by other countries that America would like to see a real transparent democracy and I think Ghana has been able to achieve that so far. Each country develops its democracy in its own way and pace.

What is America’s position on the Anti-Homosexuality bill?

I think my government has made its position very clear that it is totally against it.

The Buganda riots…

I have seen footage; buses were burnt, shops were looted, crimes were being committed. There was a threat to domestic disorder. There may have been individual cases of excessive use of force but I think that the Ugandan government, the police and military were right to step in to prevent this.

What would the US do if the anti-homosexuality bill is passed?

I cannot speculate what my government would do if that happened. Am sure the President and his government would be looking at what is best for Uganda in this bill and to do what is best for Uganda in the end.

Why is the US so vocal on the Anti-Homosexuality bill and lukewarm on issues of corruption and human rights? 

We have registered our concern about what seems to be growing levels of corruption in Uganda. We have spent over US$10 million to help Uganda build various institutions to combat corruption.

Has Uganda benefited for AGOA?

Uganda has not benefited as much as other countries in Africa have benefited. Uganda is simply disadvantaged by it geography. Freight costs, shipping costs, here would be higher than in other cases which make Ugandan products a little less competitive.

How much more will the US support Ugandan agriculture?

I do not know the exact figure for Agriculture but our total assistance to Uganda currently stands at a little over US$520 per year. Most of that goes into the health sector and the lions share in that is for HIV/AIDS. We believe that Uganda can be a bread basket to the region since it exports food to other areas like Southern Sudan.

Malaria is killing more people than HIV/Aids in Uganda. President Museveni has blamed his frustrated efforts in fighting it on the US especially on DDT. Has the US changed it stand on DDT?

Ugandan is now using DDT although it is not generally used in the United States, it is banned. If we had the number of deaths caused by malaria as you have in Uganda we would probably use DDT to save lives.

How strategically important is Uganda to the US?

Uganda and the United States have a very strong partnership. We do provide considerable training and assistance to the Ugandan military; particularly with logistic support in the campaign against the LRA.  Uganda is in Somalia for peacekeeping sanctioned by the AU and supported by the UN.

What is the US take on the non-payment of the recent contingent of the UPDF in Somalia?

Uganda and Burundi have done outstanding work in Somalia and a great sacrifice in troops. We will do what we can to make certain that they get paid. I am confident because we have talked to the AU about it.

What is your general feel about Uganda?

 I am enjoying Uganda very much. Obviously in the north they are still in the recovery stage and much development is needed. I was impressed by the richness of the land and the amount of space that could be put to cultivation. It is a lovely country, lovely people.

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