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Uganda beats Kenya on donor diplomacy

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Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga accompanies Ugandan President Moweri Museveni on  the campaign trail in December 2010. According to a scholar, Museveni’s dominant standing “makes it easier to maintain a coherent foreign policy narrative.” Picture: File

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga accompanies Ugandan President Moweri Museveni on the campaign trail in December 2010. According to a scholar, Museveni’s dominant standing “makes it easier to maintain a coherent foreign policy narrative.” Picture: File 

By KEVIN KELLEY

Posted  Saturday, May 19  2012 at  12:54
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Uganda has been more effective than Kenya in its diplomacy toward donor nations in recent years, especially in the context of the global war on terror, a scholar specialising in Ugandan foreign policy told an audience at a Washington think tank last week.

The leading role played by Uganda in the African Union Mission in Somalia has been of particular importance in the Museveni government’s relations with the United States, said Jonathan Fisher, a post-doctoral research fellow in the International Development Department at the University of Birmingham in England.

“Uganda volunteered its involvement in Amisom, and that went side-by-side with US policy,” Fisher said in an interview prior to his talk entitled “Donors and the Global War on Terror in East African Diplomacy.” He spoke at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Kenya, by contrast, became involved in the war against Al Shabaab militants at a much later date. And the Obama administration at first seemed unenthusiastic about Kenya’s military move into Somalia, Fisher noted.

David Throup, an Africa analyst at CSIS, pointed out at the forum that Kenya’s military has been viewed in Washington as “small and weak” because prior to the move into Somalia “it had never really done anything.” Uganda, by contrast, was seen as having an “experienced and large” army due to its “having tromped all over Congo.”

Fisher maintained that Uganda has also generally been “more aggressive” than Kenya in “image-building” intended to impress donor states such as the United Kingdom as well as the United States.

He cited Uganda’s publicity efforts regarding its campaigns against HIV/Aids as well as its economic reforms. But Kenya has also been taking a more active approach in its dealings with the US since 2007, Fisher continued. He noted that Kenya has contracted with a prestigious Washington lobbying firm to advance its interests through contacts with US congressional representatives and State Department and White House officials.

Throup suggested that Fisher’s overall view of Uganda as being more diplomatically active and effective than Kenya may be “a little out of date.” Kenya’s current ambassador in Washington is more dynamic than Uganda’s envoy, Throup said, adding that Uganda no longer retains the services of a lobbying firm in the US capital.

Comparative perceptions of Kenya and Uganda also reflect an attitude in the US that “more is expected of Kenya,” added Jennifer Cooke, director of the CSIS Africa programme. “The US has in some ways taken Kenya for granted,” she said.

Throup drew a contrast between Kenya’s “complex democracy,” which makes it difficult to present a simple and unified image to the world, and Uganda’s “more absolutist state power.” Fisher offered a similar assessment, saying President Yoweri Museveni’s dominant standing “makes it easier to maintain a coherent foreign policy narrative.”

Fisher also acceded in part to Throup’s contention that Kenya is now the more diplomatically effective of the two countries. The shift toward more active engagement on Kenya’s part may reflect a new dynamic that came into play with Raila Odinga’s appointment to the post of prime minister, Fisher said in the interview prior to his talk.

Uganda’s earlier efforts to influence donors may be attributable to the fact that it is far more reliant on aid than is Kenya, Fisher added.

Differences between Kenya’s and Uganda’s domestic politics also play a part in the two countries’ differing degrees of involvement in the US-led war on terror, Fisher continued. He noted that Uganda has a much smaller share of Muslim voters than does Kenya, making it politically easier for Kampala to go to war against Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

Washington’s own policy toward Uganda seemed likely to become less favourable following Barack Obama’s move into the White House in 2009, Fisher added. Johnnie Carson’s appointment as the top Africa official in the State Department made such a shift seem particularly likely, since Carson had earlier spoken critically of Museveni’s performance, Fisher said. But no such change has been discernible in US dealings with Uganda during the past three years, he added.

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