Uganda: Sam Kutesa Apologises to China – Shame On Uganda!


Harold  Acemah, The Monitor

Date Published
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Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa Apologises to China – Shame On Uganda! According to the story, in a letter dated May 2, addressed to the Inspector General of Government, the all-knowing Sabalwanyi “accused two Chinese diplomats named as Li Wejin and Yinzhi of involvement in the illegal sale of ivory smuggled from the DR Congo.”

Sabalwanyi alleged that he was informed by senior officers of the Uganda Tourism Board that two Chinese diplomats connived with Uganda Wildlife Authority officials to engage in illicit ivory trade in Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Ambassador Zheng Zhuqiang of China was so incensed and shocked by the wild allegations made that he advised Sabalwanyi to cross check his information, which is standard practice in the diplomatic service. We were trained to always verify all information which comes into our possession before taking appropriate action.

The Chinese ambassador vowed to protest to Uganda’s Foreign Ministry and issued a stern rebuke as follows: “There are no such diplomats here (at the Embassy of China). I think all this is groundless (and) based on wrong (information). It is all totally wrong; no one at the embassy is known by such names. I think he needs to check his sources of information.”

Ambassador Zheng expressed hope that the Foreign Ministry would restore the good reputation of the Chinese Embassy.

Uganda offers unconditional apology

Ugandan Foreign minister Sam Kutesa told The Observer in a June 6 interview that he had offered an apology to the ambassador of China in an attempt to restore cordial bilateral relations between Uganda and China strained by some reckless and irresponsible allegations.

According to another story published by The Observer on June 12, titled, “Ivory scam: Uganda apologises to China,” Kutesa said: “One thing which is clear is that there was a mistake. We have since checked our records and found out that the two men have never worked at the embassy. None of them is a diplomat.”

Kutesa added that the two men in question entered Uganda, but left soon after – they did not stay in the country.

Diplomatic implications of the fiasco

Uganda established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1964 during the first UPC-led government and since then Uganda and China have enjoyed cordial relations.

China is today one of the most important development partners of Uganda. The Karuma hydro electricity project which is funded by China is the largest such project in the history of Uganda.

Against this background, one can empathise with and appreciate why the ambassador of China was offended when a top official of a friendly country casually accused so-called diplomats of his distinguished and respected country of being ivory traffickers.

If China had decided to take a hard line position, the consequences would have been dire for Uganda but like most foreign diplomats based in Kampala, I suspect the Chinese ambassador knows that ours is not a normal government which respects internationally accepted norms and rules, let alone Uganda’s own laws and regulations.

How did government of Uganda get stuck in such a despicable, embarrassing and diplomatically unacceptable situation in the first place?

First, when established institutions of government have been systematically undermined and rendered toothless, the vacuum is filled by unprofessional people who do not operate by accepted norms and rules. This incident confirms what I have argued for years, that after destroying the career Foreign Service, what exists today is an institution which is incapable of implementing a credible foreign policy.

Second, if there was a scintilla of truth in the allegations Sabalwanyi made against China, the proper procedure would have been for him to request Ministry of Foreign Affairs to summon the Chinese ambassador for a meeting with either the head of the Asia Department or the permanent secretary. This was after all a minor issue which a senior career diplomat can handle.

Third, Sabalwanyi has over the years surrounded himself with some loyalists, failed politicians and sycophants who lack competence, expertise and experience, but masquerade as his senior advisers on all manner of issues they have little or no knowledge of. It is, therefore, not surprising that government keeps making one blunder after another.

Make no mistake, China has the capacity, means and will to support or undermine national, regional and global governance systems. It is, therefore, unwise for political leaders to take China’s friendship and support for granted.

In the final analysis, Uganda’s foreign policy should not be made on the basis of rumours or half-baked stories or one man’s likes, dislikes and whims, but on the basis of our country’s national interest and might of ideas.

On July 1, Canadians celebrate the 150th anniversary of independence. Congratulations to Canada, land of the true north, strong and free!

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.