The New US Ambassador to Uganda – Scott H. DeLisi Speaks Out On Corruption, Kony, Gay rights and Tourism In Uganda

Posted April 17, 2013 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Diplomacy ~ 9,153 views


By Ronnie Mayanja — On Thursday April 11th 2013 I had the rare opportunity for a sit-down interview with the new US Ambassador to Uganda, Scott DeLisi, who has now been at his post for the past 7 months. The Q&A centered on the US government’s long relationship with Uganda, Joseph Kony, the Campaign in Somalia, ending corruption and Uganda’s budding tourism potential. Below are some of the talking points and the responses I got from the Ambassador when we sat down at his residence in Kololo.

Q1. — What has been your impression and experience coming to Uganda?

I have been in Uganda 7 plus months now and this has probably been one of my warmest greetings I have received in my 32 years of service. What has been commendable about arriving in Uganda  has been the Ugandan hospitality. The people have been warm and engaging and have also educated me on the diversity of this country. People made this a very easy transition for me. I came from Nepal where I was doing some fascinating work. I also found that Uganda and the US share a robust relationship. This has been a very enjoyable experience discovering what Uganda has to offer.

Q2 — What has been your take on Uganda’s tourism potential during your stay and what can be done to improve on this potential?

You need to sell yourselves much better. There is a tremendous story about Uganda but it has not been told. When you ask people in the North America about Uganda they will tell you about Amin, Joseph Kony, HIV, corruption and anti-homosexuality. All these things have been a narrative of Uganda. Uganda is not doing a great job telling its story. Africans are great storytellers–you need to sell your country and tell your story better. As I have traveled, I have had a great chance to see and experience the Uganda first hand. Indeed its  the pearl of Africa — It is a beautiful country and there is so much to see…It’s lush and green but the infrastructure is not developed well for tourism to flourish and has not been established to cater for this growing sector. Give tourists a reason to stay longer and spend more money.

If you checked out my FB page you will see that I was in Budongo Forest promoting our policy of tourism biodiversity. There is a lot on offer –Budongo Forest, Chimp Tracking, Bird Watching and Mountain Gorillas can all be found in Uganda. More resources need to be devoted to the sector by engaging the locals as well. We are working with the tourism sectors. I believe Uganda has something great to offer. Locals need to have a vested interest in the sector–create employment, move resources. Get tourists to stay three nights as opposed to one night in Murchison. Create opportunities for locals–that is what biodiversity is all about. The locals will do more to conserve wildlife but this calls for government commitment in infrastructure development.We need a stronger focus on promotion. You guys have something special to offer here and we are engaged with the tour operators, government bodies and conservationist organizations on how to promote Uganda’s tourism potential.

Q3 — What has been the progress on the Kony Campaign – $5 million Bounty in your view is this an effective way to end his reign of terror?

First of all, this is regional multinational effort. Let me clarify that I am not in charge of our troops per se. The United States is not pursuing Joseph Kony. We and other regional ambassadors are offering support with the regional forces taking the lead and Uganda is at the forefront. We are involved in a set of policy initiatives to end his reign of terror. The United States is simply empowering regional forces by providing logistics and the technology — We recognize that the type of threat posed by Joseph Kony to the societies and people he has displaced and killed needs to be brought to an end–you cannot develop productive societies with such things happening. We do not define this campaign as solely to capture Kony.That is good but with the incentives created there is an encouragement of defections. If we care about human rights and respect of Individual life we need to put this suffering to an end. We have weakened Kony.

We are committed to assist in this campaign and we are encouraging defections using a variety of ways. We have used helicopters, leaflets, Loud speakers, Radios and many other efforts of reaching out. We have made great strides. Today the LRA is weakened and diminished and are now constantly on the move. The work done by the regional forces, particularly Uganda with the support of the US government, has been effective. We shall continue to support this sustained effort, though things are a little less certain following the coup in Central African Republic. If we want societies to grow we need to be committed to end such conflicts and this is the Obama policy. We have brought some of the LRA fighters to justice but this campaign will be led by Africans and we shall offer support, if we care for the dignity of the human race and the well being of those on this planet, to work towards a solution to end this violence. Can we do better?  Of course  Ofcourse we can.  But we shall continue to pursue this effort led by the AU leadership.

Q4 — What role has the US played in stabilizing Somalia? How in your view would you rate the ongoing efforts to pacify the region?

Let me clarify that I am not the US representative for Somalia. I am not the expert on that. However we share the concerns of the people of this country at two levels. Our desire is to see Somalians create a functional state were people can get productive lives with a system of government that works for Somalis and so far Somalia has made great strides. We support Somalia’s will for self determination and applaud Uganda and the AMISOM forces that have worked tirelessly to stabilized Somalia and defeat the Al Shabab and Al Qaeda terrorists. What the US has done is to support the deployment of AMISOM forces in various ways.

We are providing training to the Ugandan forces that has increasingly put Al Shabab under pressure and allowed Ugandan forces to perform very well. What the US has done is support Somalia and support the deployment of AMISOM forces and this has weakened Al Shabab organisation drastically. We provide training, support and expertise that allows the Ugandan forces and partners to function effectively. The situation is now increasingly more stable. If someone told you that one year letter Somalia would have a later functional government you would have doubted that but today things are different. We applaud the efforts of AMISOM and Uganda forces in helping to pacify Somalia. Soon business will be booming in Mogadishu as a result of this change and improved security.

Q5 — Corruption in Uganda has been endemic and more recently our European Union partners cut aid due to the increased abuse of donor funds. What is your take on Corruption in Uganda?

I think the Government and the people of Uganda have to make a decision that this will not be tolerated. They need to show that corruption will not be tolerated, they need to investigate and prosecute. The government needs to show effort and resolve to end this corruption. Focused leadership and determination. There is no predetermined formula. Corruption is a huge problem. I get frustrated when people think the US is not doing enough. People feel that the USA is not committed to this issue. Our goal is not to punish the people of Uganda. We have measures in place to control and check on this abuse. The European donors cut aid because their aid was being stolen.

The United States does not provide direct aid. European donor funds provided direct budget assistance and this was misused, hence the reason why European donors cut aid. The US policy is to ensure that our aid reaches the intended users. If we cut aid that would have affected the intended recipients. Our aid is over $720 million dollars with over $450 million dedicated to health related programs — this is well over a trillion shillings–and we have put in place mechanisms to curtail this abuse. Our aid reaches the intended recipients. Corruption is pervasive and it’s endemic and it must be ended because it’s a drain on everything we do. It affects the work we do and investment in Uganda. This has frustrated investors as well. I am confident that we are touching people’s lives every day and so cutting aid is not the solution, though this is an issue the government needs to address and combat more effectively.

Q6 —  In your view is it fair to characterize Uganda as an anti-gay nation like has been the case in Western media?

If our position was what you seem to be characterizing then that would be unfair and that is not our position. We are not pressing for same-sex marriage. Some people seem to think that our position is you embrace homosexuality but that is not our position. Our position is that the fundamental basic human rights of every individual must be protected. If we see legislation introduced that seems to take away basic rights afforded to others that is what we are opposed to — we want freedom of others protected just as well as heterosexuals and we shall always speak out if such rights are violated. This is what the United States stands for the principle that all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights.

Lets be honest about this and not have double standards. Our position is clear — the rights and civil liberties of every minority group have to be protected. People approach me daily telling me we have to protect our children and I agree. If a homosexual wishes to have sexual intercourse with a child that is pedophilia and it’s wrong–we do not condone such acts. We do not support pedophiles. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot fail to speak out against other sexual abuses and injustice like rape. There are rapists walking the streets and many other hetero criminal acts done out there that continue to go unpunished.

These fundamental human rights need protecting, which is different from what people may portray as US policy. The issue is that the laws seemed unfair to the minorities. Of course the media has also promoted this. We can not control what the Media chooses to publish about Uganda. However more recently we have held some good conversation about these issues with the Inspector General of Police, and some five leading LGBT activists in Uganda. This has been a great dialogue. We shall continue to advocate for consistency, fairness and protection of fundamental human rights — this is what we as the US stand for.

Q7 — How would you rate President Museveni’s performance and the road map to 2016.

Generally as an ambassador I do not go around critiquing performances of Presidents. I will say I have had opportunities to sit down with the President. I have held fruitful discussions with the President on various subjects. I have great respect for the President as a leader with a wealth of experience in the region and [as one]who has served this country rather well and who also has a vast experience in stabilizing the region. Whether he should stand in 2016 that is not for me to say, that is for the people of Uganda to decide. The United States as part of our engagement is equally committed to social and political liberties that help build democratic societies and the protection of human rights. We are committed to help the growth of democracy in Uganda. Definitely we advocate for a level playing field.

This is a democracy that is essentially 26 years old and that became a multi-party democracy only 16 years ago–it’s a work in progress as our own is. We work constantly to try and engage government organs, with civil society, to promote democracy in Uganda. We are looking at strengthening institutions to make this a democracy. I am less worried about who leads but rather how they lead. Democracy is about the totality of a society. We are committed to help the strengthening of institutions. I am more worried about the environment in which people run for office. There is an ongoing debate in Uganda and the people of Uganda will help make that decision.

Q 8 — Concerns have been raised over time by Ugandans regarding the visa issuance at the US Embassy can you comment on the US visa policy.

We apply the US laws. This has been an issue that keeps coming up in all my previous stations. People want visas to travel to the US. Some have promised to come back and they never come back. There is rampant fraud. Our consular officers only have a limited time to adjudicate cases. Some cases get by and some legitimate ones get denied, we know that happens from time to time. We do not delight in denying visas and we do not have a quota system. True, the system could use some improvements. Some have come with legitimate requests for study visas and when they are asked about their families and they will admit yes they have brothers and sisters who went on student visas and adjusted status–I dont fault them for that. But our consular officers are trained to assess if applicants will be able to return to their native countries after their visit to the US. Our job is to enforce US laws and our consular offices offer this guidance based on the information presented to them within minutes. About the DV lottery, this has been popular. If the program is facing elimination we shall enforce the US law as is our practice but I was not aware of this development.

Q 9– What type of support should we expect from the US embassy regarding upcoming conventions and investments expos in the US?

We are here to create opportunity. Stay engaged with us. Part of the challenge is corruption. Investors will put their money where policy is more favorable. Again I want to attract investors but they will look for the best investment climate. People do not want to pay bribes to start a business. I hear the experience in Rwanda is much quicker and smoother. AGOA is a program that focuses more on export. It’s about providing market for Ugandan products. What will grow the economy is not exports to the US, it’s simply too far. The government has to market itself better to attract investors. There are opportunities within the region. This is an economy with 35 million people and a 17 billion dollar a year economy. There is a lot the government can do to aggressively market Uganda. Ugandans need to do more to embrace all these opportunities to sell their country and the business potential in the region. Uganda needs to implement policies that favor the Diaspora and grow the agricultural sector.

Q 10 — How has the use of social media impacted your work?

Social media has been an effective and a wonderful tool for feedback for us at the embassy. It gives us an opportunity to know what people are thinking. There has been a great response to our embassy FB page that now has over 22,000 likes, which is well over a year old. When I posted a speech from the American Chamber of Commerce [for] that speech online we spent $50. I posted on the impediments of corruption. normally we would would get 50,000 hits–we got 140,000 views and we also got tons of comments. That taught us that of all the issues we have talked about, this particular subject resonates with the people of Uganda. The issue of corruption resonated with a lot of people and this was a good thing in our understanding of Uganda and this has helped us message more effectively. It helps us speak to the values that make America –America.

Q 11 — Advice to the Ugandan Diaspora on how to make a positive contribution back home?

How united are you? — it is important to tap into the expertise and resources of the Diaspora community but it’s not all about remitting funds but we need to [use] funds in ways that can grow the economy. We need to encourage growth and investment. I have worked with the Diaspora communities at the State Department to help develop infrastructural funds. Virtually everything I am working on is something the Diaspora can applaud. How do we take what the diaspora is doing and match it up with what we are doing? Working with the youth now that a large portion of the population of Uganda is under 30 years. How do we focus and improve on the livelihoods of our people? How can we partner to provide the resources and developments to grow the Diaspora?–that is something I need to think about more deeply. I am not a Diaspora expert but we need figure how we can work together more. We need to look at other diaspora models and figure out how to tap into the Uganda Diaspora. We need to encourage the Diaspora to [make] investments that will help drive the economy. But stay in touch with the embassy and together lets explore means ways to develop this further!

Again thank you Ronnie.

To learn more about Ambassador Scott DeLisi visit his Facebook page at and you can also engage the US Mission in Kampala via Facebook

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.



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