Ambassador Kagimu is the icing on the Uhuru cake

Published: 12 Oct 2012
By: Dismas Nkunda

I know I blogged about Uganda’s 50th birthday earlier in the week, but this one has to be told. I have just agonisingly – and sometimes covering my face in shame – finished watching a YouTube clip that has gone viral. It’s about Uganda’s Ambassador Maurice Peter Kagimu Kiwanuka speaking at a symposium of the institute of Cultural Diplomacy. His topic was The role of cultural diplomacy in furthering sustainable development.

I should not have watched it. I had been warned that it was “too graphic” but I wanted to know who represents us Ugandans out there and what the rest of the world thinks about us.

But if what I heard on YouTube is not a birthday present for Uganda’s 50 years of independence, then I don’t know what is. I have never witnessed such bullish, low level intelligence being so ably displayed to the world. You might have thought he was addressing a group of drunkards back in his village with those tales that people who know nothing will savour and swallow without question.

Yet of all people, it was someone with links to the Kiwanukas: Maurice is the son of the Late Benedcito Kiwanuka, the former Prime Minister of Uganda. By association one would have thought he must have picked up some of the wisdom of his late father. Well, clearly he did not.

He was once a member of parliament, but then he was sent to represent Uganda in Geneva as a Permanent Representative to the United Nations and World Trade Organisation and other UN bodies in Geneva. But how I wish he had not opened his mouth. The embarrassment is still killing me!

First, he asks a good question: How much time do I have? He is told, half an hour with questions. And that was when the diplomat in him got lost.

Smiling, he says, “Usually for us in Africa time is not very much an issue, but here it is an issue. I remember one Bishop was telling the priests that the first thing you do, the missionaries when they came you throw away your watches. But now here, time. I will try.”

Oh yes, I agree Ambassador Kiwanuka: in Uganda, time is not an issue and you ably sell that to your audience as a good representative of some banana republic called Uganda with over 30 million people.

As he rumbles on with the audience clearly baffled about what he is saying, he tries to rescue himself, albeit without success. He says, “When you are talking people may get tired but for you, you don’t get tired. Even if they are not enjoying, for you you are enjoying.”

Wow, I yearn! This sounds like a direct transposition of some local vocabulary into the Queens’s language.

At question time the good ambassador is asked why he did not stick to the topic of cultural diplomacy and his answer was a killer: “People are not going to eat human rights.” Hilarious! I thought I was listening to downtown comedians on a big night out, but then I remembered I had to pay attention to my representative in Geneva.

And then he goes on: “When I go to conferences…you know you do not have to think nowadays…people have thought everything for us…you just have to copy and paste…there is nothing new to think you just sit and wait to consume.”  Oh well! I get it!

So, as we have celebrated Uganda’s independence this week, it might help us to reflect why our former colonial masters never take us seriously when such a diplomat is all that we can manufacture some 50 years after Britain gave us self-rule.


(A longer verison of this opinion piece appeared in the Observer on Monday 8th October.

Regions: Great Lakes Region, Uganda
Type: IRRI Blog