By Peter Nyanzi
Overwhelmed by hospitality, he gets dose of what to expect
Only days after arriving as the new US ambassador to Uganda, Scott DeLisi, 59, is already showing that he is an extraordinary diplomat. Ugandans too are also showing him the challenges his government must deal with.
Keen to try out Ugandan foods such as posho, matooke and of course ensenene, DeLisi does not appear to expect much of a cultural shock. A keen birdwatcher with his binoculars always close at hand, he and his wife, Leija, have combined bird watching with diplomacy for 15 years in various countries in Asia and Africa. “With more than 1,000 bird species, Uganda is a perfect fit for us,” he says. But the career diplomat’s foremost concern is diplomacy, which he has been doing for 30 years.
On August 28, the U.S. Mission in Kampala welcomed DeLisi following his nomination by President Barrack Obama on January 24 and his confirmation by Congress on May 24. A native of Minnesota, DeLisi holds a Juris Doctorate degree from the Minnesota University Law School, and is an alumnus of the university’s Hubert H Humphrey School of Public Affairs. He and his wife Leija have three children and two grandchildren. Before his posting to Uganda, he was the Ambassador to Nepal. He succeeds Jerry Lanier, who has been in Uganda since in 2009.
He was also previously in charge of career development and assignments in the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources where he helped to staff US Embassies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. He has also served as director for Southern African Affairs, vice counsel for the Embassy in India, the chief of the political section at the US Embassy in Sri Lanka, in addition to other postings in Madagascar and Pakistan. Also, as the director for Entry-Level Programs, DeLisi helped to shape the US’ newest generation of Foreign Service officers. He has been recipient of several accolades over his career including the Presidential Rank Award, the James Clement Dunn Award for Excellence, the DIA Director’s Award, four Superior Honor and two Meritorious Honor Awards.
He says he and his wife are excited to be in the Pearl of Africa, which he describes as one of the US’s “best partners in Africa.”
“I will work hard to strengthen the great friendship between our two democracies, highlight our vast common interests and truly get to know the people of Uganda,” he says. A keen user of social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, DeLisi on Aug.24 posted on his page that, “I just finished my last meetings in Washington. Now it is time to pack — including our three dogs — and prepare for our arrival in Kampala. We’re eager to begin a new partnership with the people and government of Uganda.”
DeLisi comes to Uganda at a time when the relationship between the US and the Uganda government is rosy thanks to the joint effort between the two countries to fight terrorism. But if he thought that it would be plain sailing, a few Ugandans must have given him a few surprises given their comments on Facebook. A one Yosefu Lukyamuzi, posted a scathing comment on the President Yoweri Museveni’s government. “Mr Ambassador you are welcome to Uganda and though I know you [have] come to further the interests of your country, I still think you can still be human and have empathy for the people of this nation,” he said. “America that yesterday promoted democratic values is today the very one in bed with autocrats of all kinds, just because they serve their interests. Specifically, I tell it to you straight that we in Uganda feel really let down by Washington’s hobnobbing with Museveni.”
Lukyamuzi could have been surprised to get a response to his comment, albeit a completely diplomatic one: “Lukyamuzi, thank you for your post and your concern. I have heard others voice similar concerns but would suggest that the issues are seldom black and white as you draw them. We can remain true to our democratic values and beliefs while also engaging your elected government constructively on the very wide range of issues that form our partnership,” he said.
Basing on the feedback the new ambassador is getting, bad governance, corruption, poverty and political transition appear to be the key issues on the minds of most Ugandans. Another post said: “We love you and we need you to help our country fight corruption.” Another said, “Ugandans are peace-loving and we pray that the guardians of the World, the U.S. inclusive [will] constructively advise our politicians to look forward to a change of government in 2016 and a peaceful transition of power.” Another comment said, “We hope that you will be able to complete the work of your predecessor Ambassador Lanier. We continue to appreciate the work of the American government to this country. However we call for strengthening of monitoring for the programmes funded and implemented by government to ensure services reach the intended people.” Another said, “We expect you to promote economic interests between US and Uganda and that will help us accelerate economic growth in our country.”
With the US through USAID, being the biggest donor to Uganda’s development programmes, and Uganda being a key partner on security issues, observers will be watching DeLisi closely. Despite pressure from the opposition and political activists, it is unlikely that he will put off his diplomatic gloves to hit at President Museveni too hard. “The Uganda – US relationship is robust and dynamic, and encompasses a tremendously wide range of issues. We are doing much good work together and I am proud of all that we have achieved in partnership,” he says.
“There are also differences, as almost always are even between friends, but, so long as we speak honestly together our partnership will succeed.” But admittedly, he says, he has “learned as well that it is often important to listen more than we speak.” “Right now I am listening — and learning and I look forward to learning from your nation’s leaders about their priorities.”
How much he will have learned and to what extent he agrees with Museveni’s priorities is what now remains to be seen.
10 US Ambassadors since 1985:
1. Robert G. Houdek (1985-1988)
2. John A. Burroughs, Jr. (1988-1991)
3. Johnnie Carson (1991-1994)
4. Michael Southwick (1994-1997)
5. Nancy J. Powell (1997-1999)
6. Martin G. Brennan (1999-2002)
7. Jimmy Kolker (2002-2005)
8. Steven Browning (2006-2009)
9. Jerry P. Lanier (2009-2012)
10. Scott DeLisi (2012-