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EU Diplomats Should Respect Etiquettes

By Ofwono Opondo

June, 9, 15                                             
Some diplomats from former colonial powers, Britain, Belgium, France, and Denmark accredited to Uganda have often found it difficult appreciating that Uganda, and indeed Africa is no longer their backyard dominions to kick around on matters of politics and culture. Their economies hitherto built on grand pillage too are also narrowing.
The colonial masters, controlled everything including the thinking processes of their subjects, and couldn’t be contradicted, be they British as in Kenya, Belgians in Congo, Portuguese in Mozambique, Dutch in South Africa, French in Algeria, or Danes in Greenland where they took away children for social experimentation. It is the reason they taught Africans to believe that their cultures and names were inferior and must be abandoned.
Europeans went through circles of their own booty tribal wars and politics of savagery, which included two World Wars and genocide, and so it is important they leave Africans to sort out their affairs. They should accord Africans the mutual respect we give them, after all Ugandans don’t criticize them for promoting homosexuality as a lifestyle and a human right in their own countries.
It is this colonial hangover, and failure to realize that the world order has tremendously changed that prompts diplomats like Ambassador Kristian Schmudt to flout the established and known diplomatic norms even where channels exist to address their concerns with host governments in Africa. We wouldn’t advise Schmudt to trade the trails of his predecessor Roberto Ridolfi who had to cut short his stay. Some European diplomats still think that African leaders are less intelligent than them and therefore must submit to all their whims, which must be resisted especially when done with crude arrogance.
Schmudt as Head of Delegation of the European Union was this week quoted in the media lambasting the Uganda government, and indeed Ugandans on what electoral reforms he wants implemented prior to the forthcoming 2016 general elections. Schmudt even had the audacity to pass judgment that if his desired reforms are not undertaken, then the elections will not be credible. If this had been done by an African diplomat in their countries it would attract the harshest rebuke and expulsion. It would appear that this latest lecture on democracy and electoral reforms is a disguised blackmail and an excuse because they know that their local proxies cannot win a straight contest even after they pumped in lots of money in the political project. These lectures are designed to prepare international public opinion to accept that Uganda’s electoral process was, after all, fraught with gross unfairness.
Yet for nearly eighty years when Belgium where Ambassador Schmudt comes from ruled Rwanda, Burundi and Congo it held no elections there, in fact Congo was a personal estate of King Leopold.
To Schmudt’s understanding, the views of Ugandans are only reflected in what his proxies in the opposition and civil society groups espouse and demand, and not in what the popularly and democratically elected institutions of government like the executive and parliament do. Otherwise, he would be able to appreciate that the Constitutional amendment Bill presented by government to parliament is before the appropriate organ and those interested should go and persuade MPs rather than trying arm-twist the executive.
Currently US President Barack Obama is moving towards normalizing relations with Cuba and Iran, but his Republican adversaries are vigorously opposing him including threats to reverse some of his Executive Orders when they come to power. They are also disagreeing on domestic policies like the Obamacare and immigration, which is the real essence of democratic and organised party politics.
Equally, in Europe there are disagreements on a wide range of issues including the perceived unfairness of some of the institutions like EU Human Rights Court and Trade Commission, but we haven’t heard African ambassadors giving lectures on how Europeans must adjust their systems. David Cameron is calling a referendum for possible UK pullout because he thinks Brussels is bossy. Do Europeans really think that Africans don’t have some sensible minds to advance our cause!
The Uganda government welcomes constructive criticisms and advise on many issues from partners especially foreign diplomats accredited here if given with mutual respect to our sovereignty and through the established channels. And if indeed Uganda’s Judicial Service Commission which is appointed by the president with the approval of parliament in the same way as the Electoral Commission is independent, then there is no credible reason to fault the later.
Our Europeans friends need to look back the centuries they have travelled to build their democracy like Britain where tyrannical King John was on June, 15, 1215 taken to the edge of the River Thames and forced to renounce most of his imperial powers and signing the Magna Carta to recognize civil and personal liberties, and that the King would no longer above the law.
In both the US and Britain elections were never organised by independent commissions until about ten years ago. In Britain election management was under the Home Affairs ministry, and up to now it is the sitting Prime Minister who decides the date for a general election, which is usually at their party’s convenience, and Returning Officers are still appointed and paid by local authorities.