BESIGYE GHANA TRIP: What You Need To Know
By John V Sserwaniko
Opposition leader Col Kizza Besigye travelled to Ghana to attend incoming President Nana-Akufo Ado’s swearing in ceremony.
Whereas his FDC party officials claim he was invited because Nana recognizes him as Ugandan people’s legitimate president, government officials dismissed the trip “as Besigye’s usual political comedy.”
FDC Deputy Secretary General, the outspoken Harod Kaija claimed Besigye was invited largely for three reasons.
One he is the people’s president. Two Besigye heads Democratic Union for Africa (DUA) to which Nana’s National Patriotic Party (NPP) is a member. Three Besigye is personal friends with Nana-Akufo.
Whereas he was unusually very reserved in his comments, veteran journalist and analyst Andrew Mwenda shared Kaija’s view on the 3rd point.
“I’m sure Nana Akufo Ado, who has been in opposition, must feel some solidarity with Besigye. They could even have had some connection,” said Mwenda in a whatsapp chat when asked for his insights on Besigye’s invitation.
On whether the invitation could offend Kampala and complicate diplomatic relations between the two governments, Mwenda said: “there is little diplomatic relationship between Kampala and Accra to cause much ado.”
His views differed from what International Relations Minister Okello Oryem told us.
“We have solid rock diplomatic relations with the government of Ghana and its rubbish for anybody to say they can make that mistake calling Besigye as the alternative president of Uganda. Our diplomatic relationship is deeply entrenched than what a lot of people think,” Oryem said.
He dismissed Besigye as “a show off and political comedian” who “is always exaggerating his closeness to the UK Prime Minister, the American President and other leaders but I can assure you I’m more recognized than the man who claims to be the legitimate president of Uganda.”
Oryem, who sounded doubtful Besigye could at all be invited for the ceremony, challenged Kaija and other FDC officials to produce an invitation showing Besigye was officially invited to represent Uganda at Nana’s inauguration ceremony.
Ex-Regional Cooperation Minister Asuman Kiyingi, another very insightful figure on diplomatic matters given his stint in government, agreed with Oryem.
Kiyingi referred to a number of scenarios including the possibility of Besigye being availed an invitation by one of the people on the organizing committee.
“It’s like somebody getting an invitation to the VIP section at Kololo when Mzee is being inaugurated and that person goes to his village bragging to everybody how he was personally invited by the President,” said Kiyingi adding he was uncomfortable discussing the matter without first seeing Besigye’s invitation card.
“We might be discussing speculation. First of all I would like to see his invitation otherwise we might be here disparaging whoever invited him when in actual sense there is no such invitation.”
Kiyingi also agreed with Oryem that the relationship between Uganda and Ghana “is so solid there is no way our Ghananian brothers can do such a provocative thing [inviting Besigye as the people’s legitimate president].”
Kiyingi said even if the incoming president Nana were to have issues with Museveni and favors Besigye, “Ghanaians are far much more sophisticated in these things they would do their thing in a more sophisticated way.” Kiyingi said:
“They are the first African country to get independence and many countries in the AU look up to them for standards-setting and inspiration. They simply can’t make that mistake because their relations with us are very excellent.” Open-minded as usual, Kiyingi admitted there is a possibility Besigye could have been invited in his capacity as Nana’s boss in DUA and not because he is Museveni’s opponent.
“He could have been invited because of his DUA engagements and certainly not because he is President Museveni’s opponent.
The Ghana I know knows better than doing something like that. Those guys are way too smart.” An FDC official who didn’t want to be named fearing reprisals from colleagues claimed the invitation was indicative African governments were beginning to recognize “Dr. Besigye’s recently launched People’s Government Network [PGN] and this is just the first in a series of invitations and recognitions expected in the coming months.”
The official claimed the PGN had already established contact with the Botswana government which the FDC boss claimed has never recognized Museveni’s February 2016 reelection “just like many ECOWAS member countries.” The FDC man further claimed majority of the African countries that actively resisted Specioza Kazibwe’s AU candidature July last year were potential allies for Besigye’s PGN. Asuman Kiyingi out rightly dismissed this as too outrageous to be true.
“Let nobody confuse our people. Governments deal with governments and States deal with States. This is why Besigye will soon find himself in the cold if he has the mistaken belief that Nana will work with him at the expense of the Uganda government the way they have related when he is in opposition.
I think he will have to find allies with the new Ghananian opposition groups and not with Nana’s party anymore because once in government they [NPP leaders] will find themselves faced with totally different challenges obliging them to relate with fellow governments and not parties in opposition.
I hope Besigye won’t call it betrayal,” Kiyingi said. To make his point that the Ghana-Uganda relations are very excellent, Oryem said “we even sent a congratulatory message recognizing President-Elect Nana” but declined to answer whether his boss President Museveni had been invited or why in case he hadn’t been invited.
He claimed existence of a fraternal relationship according to which all sitting AU presidents would automatically be invited to a colleague’s inauguration ceremony. Both Kiyingi and Oryem rejected reports that Besigye’s invitation represents readiness by new breed of leaders in ECOWAS countries, who unanimously preach term limits, to isolate long serving African leaders.
Asked the same question, Mwenda simply said: “I don’t know.” Another source, a senior government official often involved in organizing President Museveni’s inauguration ceremonies at Kololo, explained how leaders come to be invited to such ceremonies.
“You will have an organizing committee in place. They do their work ensuring all presidents in the regional bloc [e.g. ECOWAS] are invited.
Then they will sit with the president whose inauguration they are organizing and ask him for people he specifically wants invited from beyond the [ECOWAS] bloc. Its then that the President will say add my friend so and so of country X.
The organizers may give him a limited number and it’s possible that is how President- Elect Nana came to invite Besigye,” the official explained.
“It’s a personal function and the President-Elect is at liberty to choose who to invite; who he wants and doesn’t want at his function.”
Asked what options Museveni would have getting back at Ghana in case Besigye, speaking as DUA boss, uses the ceremony to make a speech critical of the Uganda government, a senior diplomatic source working with foreign affairs Ministry said:
“You send in a protest note through diplomatic channels. The wording of the note would depend on whether this state has been in a habit of such provocations or not.
The last time we sent such a note was to the US after their police shot dead a Ugandan man during a demonstration.
If it’s not happening for the first time it will have words like ‘we shall retaliate if this happens again.’ That will show the protesting country is very displeased.
That is what we issued to the government of DRC after our soldiers were repeatedly killed on L. Albert.” This same official said if Besigye was indeed invited in his capacity as Museveni’s opponent, the President’s other option would be to ignore and thereby indicate to Ghana that their provocation meant nothing to him.
“It will really all depend on what he [Besigye] says at that ceremony in case he is given chance to address the world during the inauguration ceremony. We could still ignore even if he speaks provided he doesn’t appear excessively and directly attack Uganda because here is another government with a right to fight back,” the official concluded.
THE OTHER VIEW
However, another Foreign Affairs Ministry official said it’s possible the new Ghananian government can decide to offend Uganda government to serve their DUA ideological convictions.
The official also disagreed with Kiyingi and Oryem and argued there isn’t much diplomatically binding the two countries.
“There isn’t much beyond sharing the history of being Commonwealth members, AU and UN members. The level of diplomatic engagement is too low which is why we don’t have an Embassy in Accra and they also don’t have in Kampala.
They simply have a diplomatic consulate and we use our Mission in Nigeria to cover Ghana and other ECOWAS countries.
That shows the negligible diplomatic importance the two countries attach to each other,” said the official who didn’t want to be named for lack of authority to speak to the press.
Tom Buruku, a businessman who until a few years ago was a member of Eng Badru Kiggundu EC, has always been the pioneer Ghana Consul in Uganda.
“That consulate status simply means there isn’t much political interaction of any diplomatic significance between the two countries. It simply means they are distant friends and it’s a friendship they can do without,” explained the Ministry official.
Honorary consul is appointed to represent the mild business/economic interest the sending country might have in the host country.
Such diplomats are members of the diplomatic corp. but don’t enjoy full diplomatic immunity and previledges like their counterparts who are designated as Ambassadors or heads of mission.
This is how it works: What happens is the person happens to have a lot of trade connections with a certain country but his mother country (Uganda in Buruku’s case) has no Embassy in its capital for that country.
That person then prompts the two countries to accredit him as a honorary consul so that a quarsi-diplomatic relationship is created enabling him to smoothen his business activities between the two countries.
This is why a consul in most cases has to be a wealthy person with financial means. He will meet all the costs necessary to run the consulate without seeking reimbursement from the country he represents.
This is the reason the Honorary consul is always a national of the very country where he represents his assigning state.
Examples in Uganda include late James Mulwana who became Consul for Thailand to engender his business activities.
Even when he died the Thai government liaised with Uganda government to have his family nominate his daughter Barbra Mulwana to replace him.
Other wealthy Ugandans enjoying consul status and represent other countries in their own country include Gordon Wavamunno, Patrick Bitature and Bonny Katatumba among others.
Countries can always upgrade from consulate to fully fledged Mission or Embassy once their priorities and interest in that host country change.
This is what happened for Uganda’s diplomatic representation in Malaysia that was upgraded from Consulate to Mission.
More Ugandans were travelling to and living in Kuala Lumpur as students, holiday makers/tourists and for business.
This necessitated more diplomatic interactions between governments in the two countries hence the opening of the Mission in 2014.
The honorary counsel will attend most meetings or social events to which members of diplomatic corp. are invited including media and diplomatic briefings but won’t have the same car number plate for instance.
He can never participate in diplomatic negotiations of political significance because he has powers to represent the sending country on a very limited range of issues.
The fact that both Ghana and Uganda have over the years (since 1960s) been reluctant to upgrade their representations to Mission or Embassy status is indicative of the extent to which there is so little for them to regularly interact about.
And even when he represents Ghana in Uganda, Tom Buruku remains a low profile member of the Diplomatic corp. all of which shows how negligible diplomatic interactions between the two countries have been for decades.
Ghana is a small component of Uganda’s foreign policy and vice versa; no wonder beyond AU-related engagements there isn’t much diplomatic interaction between them. Kaija says this provides the new Ghananian government with leverage to closely work with Besigye without diplomatically losing much in case the Kampala regime was to retaliate.
However, both Kiyingi and Oryem disagree with Kaija’s view insisting there is a lot the two countries can diplomatically lose in case the Besigye visit sparked a diplomatic spat between Kampala and Accra.