Museveni’s strategy to counter backlash from Western countries

Saturday March 1 2014

A diplomatic brief to heads of mission warns them to take precautions against possible hostile reactions from their host communities and also advises them to interact with the host countries and reach out to lobby groups to explain Uganda’s position. TEA Graphic

A diplomatic brief to heads of mission warns them to take precautions against possible hostile reactions from their host communities and also advises them to interact with the host countries and reach out to lobby groups to explain Uganda’s position. TEA Graphic 

By BARBARA AMONG Special Correspondent

Uganda has sent a brief to its diplomats in foreign capitals instructing them how to deal with the expected backlash over the country’s new anti-homosexuality law, even as Kampala braces itself for more aid cuts that could see a drop in bank profits, a further shrinkage in government revenues and impact directly on ordinary Ugandans as foreign-funded NGOs scale down activities.

Meanwhile, a former assistant US trade representative for African affairs turned lobbyist, Rosa Whitaker, who was on hand as President Museveni appended his signature to the controversial law, is reported to have been assigned to help Uganda manage the expected fallout.

A day after warnings of aid cuts by Western donors went out, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent out a cable to its station chiefs, warning them to take precautions against possible hostile reactions from their host communities.

In the letter dated February 25 to all heads of mission, Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary James Mugume advises all heads of mission to urgently interact with host countries for security of staff and missions.

He adds that several heads of missions have been receiving threats from gay activists based in Western capitals and warns them to expect more demonstrations.

“You should also expect that some protests against the law will target our embassies and missions around the world, which requires that you pay attention to the question of security of officers and mission property,” states the letter.

The same brief advises diplomats to stick to the official position regarding the rationale behind President Yoweri Museveni’s endorsement of the new law.

They are instructed to treat President Museveni’s full speech when he signed the Bill into law, and what he said on CNN, as the official position of the government of Uganda.

As he assented to the Bill that criminalises homosexuality, President Museveni said: “I don’t mind being in collision but I need to be prepared for that collision.”

The diplomatic brief also advises the heads of mission to interact with the host countries and reach out to lobby groups to explain Uganda’s position.

Mr Mugume confirmed sending out the briefs and said those briefed first were ambassadors in Europe and North America, regions seen as the most opposed to Uganda’s decision to criminalise gay activities.

“We, as Uganda, do not regard homosexuality as a universal human right and they should not impose it on us,” Mr Mugume said, adding, “We have prepared a briefing for our ambassadors, especially in North America and Northern Europe, where the most threats are coming from.”

A government official told The EastAfrican that Uganda had engaged the services of Ms Whitaker, CEO of the Whitaker Group, a Washington DC-based consultancy, to counter the hostile reaction to the enactment of the law.

Ms Whitaker, a former assistant US trade representative for Africa in the Bush administration, was first hired by Kampala in 2006 to build the government’s image in the US.

According to insiders, the decision by Western leaders, including US President Barack Obama, to express their opposition to the Bill in public statements “that smacked of arrogance” left President Museveni no choice but to sign it, “to salvage national pride.”

“It was the provocation by the Western groups. Once these groups started pushing, the church then responded, our parliament also responded and the Bill was born out of that,” said Mr Mugume.

Speaking to the 17th Comesa Heads of State Summit in Kinshasa on February 26, President Museveni lamented the unequal and often misdirected priorities imposed by donor countries on aid recipients.

“We can talk about other subjects dear to the Western countries such as the homosexuals. However, even the homosexuals need electricity. Hence, electricity, railways, roads, ICT, piped water for, at least, the towns, education and health infrastructure must be our priorities in whatever forum we are in,” he said.

In yet another reaction by the Uganda government to the backlash, the Foreign Affairs Ministry held a meeting with representatives of donor countries as it sought to ascertain their position.

At the meeting on Thursday, which went on well into the night, the donors are reported to have agreed to limit aid cuts to areas that will not directly affect ordinary Ugandans.

According to sources, Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kuteesa called the meeting as part of efforts to get a clear picture of the likely scope of aid cuts following hostile statements from a number of Western countries.