Sycophancy discouraged me from joining NRM – Birigwa (Daily Monitor (Uganda))

How did you connect business, politics and diplomacy?
The kind of diplomacy practiced today is very different from the diplomacy that was practiced 50 years ago.

Today, diplomacy is more concerned with commerce. A diplomat should be more versatile, be able to engage politically and economically in their posts.

As an ambassador, when you are out there you not only engage your host government in politics, but you also look for investors, convince them that your home country is the best choice available compared to others.

There are other diplomats convincing the same investors. As a diplomat, you need to be a good sales person and a good communicator to sale your country.

When I became an ambassador after the politics of Kampala mayorship, my emphasis was economics. But while in Ethiopia, it was more of politics. We were very much concerned about Somalia warlords. President Museveni sent me to talk to them [warlords].

When I went to Japan, I was responsible for other countries like South Korea, Brunei and Philippines. While in Japan I was chosen by other African diplomats to become the chair for the process known as the Tokyo International Conference on African Development.

During this time, we were able to raise the funding from a merger $5 billion (Shs17.5 trillion) to $32 billion (Shs112 trillion) by the time I left.
While there, I earned Uganda more than $1 billion (Shs3.5 trillion). It was during my time that negotiation for the new bridge that is being built was done and I continued to do programmes that had been initially started by my predecessor.

I managed to do a lot of things while in Japan for the seven years I was there. One thing I regret not having seen take off was the one village, one product project, where one village would concentrate on growing one product. I had wanted to introduce that here, but it was not possible during my tenure.

What is your take on allegations that your diplomatic appointment was a compensation for having lost the mayoral race?
It was [former vice president] Prof Gilbert Bukenya who talked to me first about considering something else other than running for the second time.

He is the one who approached and suggested to me the option of going to meet the President about the post of being an ambassador.

I’m thankful for having been chosen, but at the same time I had the merit because I was professionally qualified to be a diplomat.
You cannot stop people from thinking what they think and when I look back to what I managed to achieve in the 12 years I was an ambassador, I’m proud of having done what I have done.

You said you did not belong to NRM, but as an ambassador, weren’t you advancing NRM policies?
When you go out there, the credentials you present to your host nation refer to you as the ambassador of Uganda, not the ambassador of the government of Uganda.

The policies of the day are the ones you advance, for instance, as an ambassador you cannot go there and say you want to be given money to train police on how to beat up people. You go there to look for what you can for the country.
What I was looking for there was not advancing the government policy, but assistance and support.

You recently declared your loyalty to FDC. Does that mean you initially belonged to NRM?
I have never allied myself to any political party.

To be a member of any organisation, you subscribe to it you are written in their books and given a card of that organisation. It’s the first time that I have decided to align myself with a political party.

What I’m looking for is to see the progression of my country I want to see that rather than going back to the bush as people may think, I would like to see a clear transition.

Otherwise, if you look at what has happened to our country in the past 30 years, there are very many people who are capable of doing the good things that have been done, or even better.
We are thankful, yes, but it does not mean it’s only one person who can perform better. To me as a person who lived in exile, that hurts me, we know what war is like and we don’t want to go back to that situation.

Why FDC when you have worked with the NRM before?
I know NRM and its players very well, but I was very disappointed when I saw how the sycophancy of some of the members of NRM ring-fenced Museveni, and for me I was like all these people who have been around should have been given a chance.

These people saying Museveni is the only person, to me is childish. This is what I call diaper mentality.

How can a party that has been around for many years, and it claims to have been founded on the principles of transparency and equality, come in and say other people cannot do this it’s only one person?

And then, in the process beat up the people who are trying to make a stand against this. Have we really learnt anything from the past history of this country? So to me, I can’t understand what went wrong with Museveni to allow people do this, it should have been him to first say I cannot accept this to happen.

Going back to FDC, I followed FDC because I have very close friends within the party. A lot of them had asked me years ago when the party was being formed to join.

During the time I was serving as an ambassador, I could not be partisan or be involved in any party.

After the service, I decided to join this party because it’s the party that can take this country forward, the dedication it has towards not being selfish, I said I want to be part of you.

That’s why I went through the due process, starting from the village up to the national delegates’ conference and here I am as the national chairperson of the party.

As FDC national chairperson, what do have to do to see that FDC gets into power?
First and foremost, the party’s current leadership has done a very commendable job as far as setting up the grassroots structure is concerned.
This I saw with my eyes because I went through it to become the national chairman.

It’s only in FDC that any person can come from anywhere and become the party’s chairman. Just imagine if I had entered the NRM, I would have been told there is a queue.

So there is democracy in FDC, everybody is free to say what they want and remain members of the party. There are people who own NRM and there are people who are supposed to be just members.
In FDC, nobody owns the party, so ideas can flow that are fundamental in driving this country forward.

As the national chairperson, do you nurse ideas of one day being the party’s flag bearer?
I’m not so young and there are those vying for the position right now. I also happen to be a member of The Democratic Alliance where I happen to be chairman of the finance and fundraising committee.

Right now my goal is to see that whoever goes through as our alliance flag bearer wins.
As for the future, God willing I will be part of the future and if the opportunity does arise and the conditions are right and also I feel like I have the time to contribute towards pushing our country forward, I will definitely stand.

What are the chances that the alliance will succeed?
The leaders of the different political parties have all agreed on the protocol governing the alliance, which is a positive sign according to me. This means that many of the issues that would have hindered the group moving forward have already been taken care of.

The signatories adhere to the articles of the protocol in its entirety.

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