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Uganda’s foreign minister sets his sights on UN presidency, announces troops for CAR

media Kutesa with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, 9 April 2014 UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Uganda’s foreign minister Sam Kutesa visited Paris on Friday to drum up support for his bid to become president of the UN General Assembly. During his trip he announced that Uganda will send 400 troops to the Central African Republic. Kutesa spoke to RFI about these issues as well as his country’s new anti-gay laws and Uganda’s presence in South Sudan.

What did you discuss with the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius?

I’m here to consult with different countries, I’ve been endorsed by the African Union to become president of the general assembly. So I have drawn up some priorities and so I discussed these with him. We found that we share a lot in common, some of these priorities I have. Then we discussed bilateral issues between Uganda and France and the cooperation we have as governments but more importantly on trade and investment between our countries. Then we discussed regional issues – Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia and others.

Is France supporting your bid to become president of the UN General Assembly?

That’s what the foreign minister told me. He said he certainly supports me. We look forward to working closely together.

There’s an online petition against you becoming president of the GA citing alleged corruption. Will that stop you?

I’ve heard that, but that’s nothing, I’m not bothered by that because it’s incorrect. It’s a lie so I’m not bothered by that.

What specifically is your agenda for the General Assembly? What’s Africa’s agenda?

Well, it’s both Africa and world agenda. First and foremost we’re going to be looking at the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda and that is going to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which come to an end in 2015. It is important that we all work together as different regions of the world to make an inclusive, but transformative agenda, that is implemented and that is financed. Then we’ll be having the issues of climate change. I know that the mechanism of COP21 (UN Climate Change Conference 2015) here in Paris will be on. But the General Assembly must be behind all this and I think we can, and actually General Secretary Ban ki-Moon has convened a meeting on climate change on 23rd September in New York. We believe that we should have a reformed Security Council at the United Nations to reflect today’s times. This was made 70 years ago almost. Next year it will be 70 years. So we need to reform that. We also want to look at how we deal with conflict resolution and peace building so that we don’t leave that gap when we do these things simultaneously. To make sure that as the conflict ends the peace kicks in and there are dividends for peace. And many other priorities, but I was delighted to see that Minister Fabius - we shared plenty in this area.

Did you discuss sending Ugandan troops to the Central African Republic?

Yes, we talked about that as well. Uganda has been asked to send 400 troops and we have said yes, we are going to send them.

Any other equipment?

Well, we hope that there will be a UN arrangement for equipment, but we’ve been asked for men, for troops.

That will be part of the MISCA (African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic) force?

It will be part of MISCA force or probably an African force re-hatted under MISCA.

Are you concerned that Uganda may be spreading itself too thin? You already have troops in Somalia, South Sudan and the forces going after the Lord’s Resistance Army.

No, we are not spreading ourselves too thin. We have a lot more troops at home. What we don’t have is equipment and money. But that’s also our contribution, you know, every country, every member of the UN has a duty to contribute to peace and security in the world. And that’s what we can contribute, so we are ready to do so.

As a predominantly Christian country, could the presence of Ugandan soldiers exacerbate the sectarian divide in the CAR?

We completely disabuse anybody from sectarian tendencies whether it is ethnic or religious. We think it is a bankrupt ideology and we do not support it. So we cannot, even if we are a Christian, you have no right to kill a Muslim because of his beliefs. If you are a French man, you have no reason to kill me as a Ugandan because I didn’t fill a form to be a Ugandan. So we think that’s an unacceptable ideology.

How are you dealing with the international fallout over Uganda’s implementation of the anti-gay laws? For example the suspension of a $90m deal with the World Bank recently.

I think there’s been a lot of misunderstanding and sometimes the final version of the bill has not been read. I just want to assure everybody that in Uganda we shall not discriminate against someone, anybody whether it in health, whether it is in schools or whether it is in employment. We shall also not engage in any witch-hunt, we shall not allow anybody to take the law in their hands. However, what we shall not accept is promotion and exhibition because we think that is wrong for our young people and it offends our own culture and we believe that it is not necessary. So that is what we are outlawing, but nobody will be discriminated or harassed and we are making regulations to show how this is being implemented to show that there’ll be no discrimination.

Because there are already two men who have appeared before court in the last few days charged with homosexuality.

I believe there were busy in exhibitionism. It is an offence. It has always been an offence since colonial times. But if you come to show, to demonstrate, then I think that’s how they were brought up. Otherwise there is no witch-hunt.

What changed your mind about the anti-gay law because you were previously quoted by a US cable as saying that the bill would die.

Well parliament passed it, you know, you can’t have your cake and eat it. This is a democratic country, a parliament passes it and in fact it is clear that if it was rejected and our constitution says if the president sends it back twice and it is rejected, it becomes law. So it was clear that a showdown was uncalled for because it was going to become law.

On South Sudan, has Uganda got a timeline for its withdrawal of its forces? That’s been a key demand of the rebels.

We will withdraw, but we will not withdraw because it has been a key demand by a rebel group. No, we were invited by a legitimately elected government and that’s okay - international law, African Union charter. But we would withdraw because we think that if there is a force, which was passed by a regional organisation called IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development), it’s a protection force. The moment it is in place and it is deployed for the purpose of enforcing the ceasefire, cessation of hostilities agreement, Uganda is ready to withdraw.

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