The US Senate will likely soon confirm President Barack Obama’s choice of two men with strong military ties as the next American ambassadors to Tanzania and Uganda.
By nominating an advisor to the US Africa Command (Africom) as Washington’s envoy to Kampala and a retired US Army general as envoy to Dar es Salaam, Obama is signalling that security concerns will remain at the top of the US agenda in East Africa, just as they were during the Bush years.
Such a focus on the part of the Obama administration will disappoint critics who have charged that US policy toward Africa is becoming increasingly militarised.
Jerry Lanier, nominated as the top US diplomat in Uganda, directed a security unit within the State Department’s Africa Bureau prior to taking up his current post of foreign policy advisor to Africom.
Alfonoso Lenhardt, formerly commanding general of the US Army Recruiting Command, is currently president and CEO of the US National Crime Prevention Council.
In statements to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, both nominees put emphasis on fighting terrorism in the countries where they would respectively represent the United States.
If confirmed as ambassador, Mr Lanier told the Senate committee, “I will continue to seek co-operation on security issues for the mutual benefit of both countries, as I believe the US-Ugandan partnership is vital if we are to build greater stability in East and Central Africa and to provide a future in which Ugandans are safe from terrorism of any kind.”
Mr Lanier also pointed out in his prepared remarks that the 2,600 Ugandan troops helping protect the US-backed government of Somalia form “the backbone and most of the flesh of the African Union Mission in Somalia.”
The prospective ambassador also cited as one of his goals the achievement of “lasting peace and stability” in northern Uganda where, he suggested, “it appears much progress has been made” in combating the Lord’s Resistance Army.
In a separate appearance before the foreign relations panel the same day, Mr Lenhardt said that his “expertise in internal defence and security operations will assist with the issues facing the government of Tanzania in securing its borders, dealing with illegal migration, and confronting criminal and terrorist networks.”
Both nominees also offered kind words for the governments of the respective countries to which they would be assigned.
Ugandans critical of President Yoweri Museveni’s unyielding grip on power will find little comfort in Mr Lanier’s prepared comments.
He said “Uganda can count some genuinely amazing achievements” in the era defined by Museveni’s rule.”
Mr Lanier cited reductions in the prevalence of HIV/Aids as well as a three-fold increase since 1995 in the number of Ugandan children receiving primary education, adding that “wise economic policies” have produced a comparatively high rate of GDP growth.
In his statement to the committee, Lanier said nothing critical about Museveni’s record.
The ambassadorial nominee said Uganda today has “a vibrant and open civil society,” but later in his statement promised to “promote good governance and democracy.”
“The full promise of an inclusive, transparent democracy is still a work in progress,” he added.
Mr Lenhardt was effusive in his praise for President Jakaya Kikwete who “governs a culturally and religiously diverse nation at peace with itself and its neighbours.”
Relations between the US and Tanzania are “stronger than ever,” Mr Lenhardt observed, referring later in his remarks to a $698 million US development grant for Tanzania, the largest approved to date by the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
He likewise mentioned substantial US funding for Aids relief and malaria control.