Uganda is expected to assume the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly next week despite opposition from major Western powers keen to punish the country for passing a law that prescribes stiff penalties for homosexuality.
As Western powers — notably the US and the UK — spoke out against the impending election of Foreign Minister Sam Kuteesa to chair the UN organ for the next one year, Uganda was quietly working to secure endorsement from three key voting blocs, eventually breaking through the opposition.
By the middle of this week, the African Union, the Non-Aligned Movement, which has a membership of 120, and the Organisation of Islamic Conference had endorsed Mr Kuteesa’s candidature, effectively securing Uganda more than two-thirds of the votes in the assembly.
Uganda is now confident that, despite an online campaign by pro-gay activists and hostile statements from the West, it will assume the presidency of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly when delegates meet to vote on Wednesday.
While Mr Kuteesa’s prospective appointment has been opposed by a number of US senators, it is believed to have the support of US Secretary of State John Kerry and UK Foreign Minister William Hague.
To show his confidence, Mr Kuteesa has already appointed aides for the UN job. He has picked Arthur Kafeero for chief of staff, Leonard Mugerwa as adviser and Robert Mugimba his assistant.
Although more than 5,000 people have signed the online petition by Change.org, organised by Ugandan campaigner Milton Allimadi, it is more of an irritation for the country and embarrassment for Mr Kuteesa given the lack of opposition both within Africa and at senior levels of the international community and at the UN itself.
Regional Affairs Minister Asuman Kiyingi told The EastAfrican that he was confident Mr Kuteesa would take the top job. “We have not received any formal protest from member countries,” said Mr Kiyingi. “The minister has held meetings with officials in Washington, DC, the UK, Canada and China and none has indicated otherwise.
“We are confident that Uganda will take the presidency.”
The petition by Change.org on the social networking website Facebook claims that Mr Kuteesa is unsuitable to become president of the UN — a largely ceremonial post — because of his support for Uganda’s controversial new legislation against homosexuality. Criticism has also centred on recent allegations of corruption against him.
Uganda has in the past two months engaged intense diplomatic campaigns aimed at improving its international relations with Western countries that had threatened to cut ties or aid over the anti-homosexuality law signed by President Yoweri Museveni in February.
The US, which made the loudest protest against the anti-gay law, is yet to pronounce itself on whether it will cut aid to Uganda. In March, it gave Uganda more military aid.
No aid cuts
In April, the 28 members of the European Union were in agreement that cutting aid to Uganda in the wake of the law was unnecessary and that other options should be explored to resolve the difference of opinion over it.
The UK has said it will not cut aid to Uganda while the World Bank, which had announced a $90million reduction of aid to the health sector in March, last month confirmed that it would give the country up to $500 million for development projects.
Countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway individually suspended aid to Uganda.
Besides equipping its heads of mission in Western capitals, ministers and all government officials travelling abroad with answers in relation to the anti-gay law, information indicates that the country is in the preliminary stages of assigning a British PR firm, BTP Advisers, to carry out a public relations campaign to bolster its image abroad.
The firm’s officials are said to have recently organised interviews for President Museveni with various media houses in London.
Although Minister for Information Rose Namayanja said the government had abandoned the idea of entering into such a contract, International Affairs Minister Okello Oryem last month told the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee that Uganda was engaging a foreign firm to help bolster its image following its criminalisation of homosexuality.
BTP Adviser maintains it has no contract with Uganda but admits to having met government officials over the matter.
“No, we have not signed a contract of any kind,” said BTP Adviser official Mark Pursey. “We have met with representatives from the government in the past, but we have also met with representatives of many governments in the course of our business, both in London and elsewhere.”
By Barbara Among and Paul Redfern