KAMPALA. A Ugandan diplomat has “accidentally” shared a confidential government brief about South Sudan with the UN Security Council, triggering a diplomatic incident and embarrassment.
In Kampala, Foreign Affairs ministry officials in an attempt to mute the backlash held an emergency meeting with and apologised to US Ambassador Deborah Malac whose country sponsored the August 12, 2016 UN resolution on Africa’s newest nation.
Our investigations show that in the tense run up to the vote on the resolution, Kampala on August 10 prepared a two-page document to provide talking points to guide its diplomats in presenting the country’s position to the world body.
Instead, Uganda’s New York Mission Chargé d’affaires Kintu Nyago, who was the acting Head of Mission, forwarded the document with its sensitive and polarising content unedited to the UN Security Council President Ramlan Bin Ibrahim. He urged Mr Ibrahim on the eve of the crucial vote to circulate the diplomatic cable to all the 15 UN Security Council members.
The document, among other things, opposed the US-mooted arms embargo on South Sudan and a phrase in the draft resolution authorising the proposed Regional Protection Force and the UNMISS, the UN Mission in the country, to use “all means necessary” in execution of their mandates.
“The resolution should not be a pretext to undermine the sovereignty of South Sudan…it authorises UNMISS and the Regional Protection Force to ‘use all necessary means’ which is a code for the use of force,” reads the diplomatic dossier that Ambassador Arthur Kafeero prepared on behalf of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary James Mugume.
It adds: “Resolution 1973 (2011) on Libya had this phrase (all necessary means) and it is a vivid reminder of the consequences. [The draft resolution] recognises that unrestricted access is essential for the Regional Protection Force to carry out its tasks as determined by the SRSG (Special Representative of the UN Secretary General). We must avoid a situation where an SRSG has such unwieldy powers in a sovereign state. The sovereignty of South Sudan should be protected.”
Uganda opposed the violent removal of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. And President Museveni, as a member of the then ad-hoc African Union High-Level Panel, led an unsuccessful diplomatic charm offensive across the continent to thwart the France and United Kingdom-led military intervention in Libya.
Five years after Gadaffi’s ouster and eventual killing, President Museveni tied the country’s descend into anarchy on the West’s “arrogance” in ignoring African leaders’ counsel for “African solutions to African problems”.
Sources familiar with the current behind-the-scenes negotiations on South Sudan say the US, whose President Obama said it led from the rear on Libya, consulted Uganda out of courtesy as a key regional security ally and frontline neighbour to Africa’s youngest but restive country.
The August 10 dossier that Mr Nyago, a former deputy principal private secretary to the President who was named an ambassador in 2012, circulated however threatened to derail the good bilateral relations.
The envoy was unavailable over two days when we tried to reach him by telephone.
In Kampala, PS Mugume said he had apologised and been sanctioned over the unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information.
“The officer (Nyago) has been cautioned and all Heads of Missions briefed to distinguish between internal briefing documents and what they can share,” he said.
The diplomatic incident brings to the fore the debate about the hazards of staffing Uganda’s Foreign Service with political appointees, majority of whom are election losers.
This newspaper in an article following the 2012 reshuffle of the ambassadors established that only eight out of 34 Heads of Missions at the time were career diplomats.
The result has been tension and ugly power fights between career diplomats and politicians parachuted and installed as their supervisors, declining quality of representation of Uganda in foreign capitals and, as it happened at the UN on August 11, avoidable diplomatic gaffes.
On Friday, Ambassador Mugume said the Chargé d’affaires was “understandably overwhelmed and doesn’t know” classification and handling of different diplomatic correspondences as the substantive Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Richard Nduhura, was on leave.
Uganda has since reached out to parties that received the dossier to explain that it was “circulated in error”, although the points in the document “were genuine concerns.”
The meeting with US Ambassador Malac in Kampala, according to Mugume, was held because “we didn’t want them to misunderstand that we were against the IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) summit resolution”.
Mr Chris Brown, the spokesman for the US embassy in Kampala, said they do not comment on “diplomatic discussions”.
IGAD Plus leaders in a July 16 summit attended by, among others, President Museveni, agreed on the deployment of a Regional Protection Force in South Sudan and extension of the tenure of UNMISS and expansion of its mandate.
Uganda’s position as elucidated in the new document appeared to contrast its July commitment, which some in UN circles interpreted as a lack of unified support within eastern Africa for the proposed South Sudan solution.
That notwithstanding, the UN Security Council passed the US-sponsored resolution by 11:4 vote; slapping a one-year arms embargo, an authorisation for UNMISS to use “all means necessary” in execution of its mandate, a call for unrestrained access to UN personnel and demand for South Sudan’s government to comply with the resolution unconditionally.
The provisions of the resolutions, as passed, was a diplomatic kick in the teeth of Uganda whose troops, the UPDF, fought alongside the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army or SPLA against Khartoum forces, leading first to the 2005 peace deal and, in 2011, a referendum and independence. The latest bout of violence in Juba has pushed some 52, 000 South Sudanese as refugees in Uganda, according to an August 2, 2016 UN refugee agency update, underlining Uganda’s legitimate interest in the evolving situation in the country.
President Museveni on Friday, August 19, tweeted that he had met with South Sudanese security officials led by SPLA Chief of General Staff, Gen Paul Malong, but details of their conversation were not immediately available.