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Obama will not change US policy on Uganda – Envoy

By John Njoroge

The Independents John Njoroge spoke to the outgoing US Ambassador to Uganda Mr. Stephen Browning on what the election of President Obama means to Africa and the world.

The election of Obama has brought hope and excitement worldwide. Will the Obama presidency fulfill these expectations especially as regards international hot spots like the Middle-East, and in Africa, especially Darfur and Somalia?

I do not know what he intends to do in the international hot spots but I can tell you that Obama deeply cares about Africa. For America, his election is a big step in the name of democracy. It has taken a long time for America to achieve this.

To reach a point where women can vote, Americans are looking at issues beyond race, colour, tribe and religion and this is a great achievement to our democracy. I am very proud to be part of this great change.

The US supported Uganda logistically and financially in Somalia. Will this continue?

 The United States government strongly believes that there should be a peace keeping force in Somalia. From the beginning, Uganda was very eager to go to Somalia. I believe that President Obama’s administration will continue to support Uganda and Burundi in Somalia. Nigeria is most likely going into Somalia soon to provide support to the remaining troops on the ground.

During the Bush administration, America’s engagement in issues of democracy and good governance in Africa and worldwide was minimal as opposed to the 90s when Bush Sr pushed for more democracy in Africa. Will the new administration engage Africa more on democracy, rather than limit itself to humanitarian issues like Bush did?

I am disappointed that people interpret President Bush’s government policy as being tolerant. How can one effectively bring change to a country? Standing on street corners criticizing governments is not a solution. Working with a leader encourages change. It is not good policy to spend time pointing fingers and outlining faults. I, for example, have effectively influenced change by having one on one, closed door interactions with government leaders. We should not interpret the absence of public criticism to be no criticism at all.

Why has the US administration given president Museveni a carte blanche on issue of democracy and good governance in Uganda, yet it came down hard on Moi in Kenya, and now Mugabe in Zimbabwe?

Every year we publish a human rights report on Uganda, documenting cases of human rights abuses. We go to the relevant authorities like the Uganda Police, the UPDF and many others and get them to comment on these issues. We advise them on areas that need improvement and applaud them on areas that have improved. President Bush’s administration has a policy of creating partnerships with African governments like Uganda. I, as ambassador do not have to stand on a street corner and wave my finger saying, ‘this is bad, and this is not going on well’. I do not shy off from giving my view to president Museveni and the Uganda government. I do not need to use the press to do this nor do I stand on a podium and do it.

Uganda has been central in the war on terror in this region. Will there be a re-alignment since Tanzania is emerging as a better option to the west since its democracy credentials are more in the Wests?

President Bush has been very impressed in Tanzania. Tanzania should be applauded for its improvement. Uganda on the other hand is now exposed to terror. To ignore this threat would be a mistake and so far it is doing very well in fighting this threat. Terrorist must understand that they do not have the freedom to operate wherever they want. I don’t think there will be any major re-alignments. President Obama will not abandon the objective of encouraging peace and stability in the region

In the coming administration, do you think America’s policy on Africa will change and in what ways?

I do not think there will be major changes in policy. There may be changes in the way ambassadors communicate with the countries they have been sent to. Other than that I think everything will continue as usual.

Funding to African countries for humanitarian and social services increased during the Bush administration. Do you think this will continue in the Obama administration?

During his campaign, President Obama said that he will look at every programme the US government is involved in. Programmes that have not been successful may not continue like the Malaria and HIV programmes. Uganda and the US have always had strong relationship which is critical when creating a partnership. Where we can, the US will partner. It has not be as easy as it is in other countries like Zimbabwe and Sudan where the governments have made it difficult to partner. In general, there will be no major changes.

Hillary Clinton is Obama’s nominee for Secretary of State. During her campaigns, she emphasized a more direct approach to hot spots like Iraq. Obama on the other hand had emphasized a more democratic approach to the same hot spots. In your opinion, was his selection of Hillary as secretary of state strategic or a mistake?

You must understand that these were two Hillary and Obama, have very strong egos. It was wise of President Obama to bring on board a person who fought him so courageously in the primaries. Clinton agreed to give up her Senate sit and join the Obama administration. President Obama’s choice of Hillary for Secretary of State was guided by Hillary’s record of experience in foreign policy. She has more foreign policy experience than Obama, thus making her the right choice.  He needs a strong team in his administration. I can assure you, the US president is responsible for foreign policy and his secretary of state will follow his lead.

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