By Kyetume Kasanga
There were varied reactions among sections of the Ugandan public when it was announced that Israel Premier Benjamin Netanyahu would visit Uganda on Monday, July 4 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Israel raid on Entebbe airport that saw Isareli hostages rescued under “Operation Thunderbolt”.
Nelson Kakete, on his Facebook wall, wrote: “What a privilege to host the leader of the blessed nation!” Ivan Rusende felt sorry for p
eople on Entebbe Road because he thought it would be closed for exclusive use by the visiting Premier and other Heads of State and Government who would attend the planned regional terrorism summit until they returned home. David Twesigye complained that Kampala would be paralysed for security reasons but wondered why we were having many foreign guests.
International trips made by Heads of State and Government are part and parcel of a country’s diplomacy and international relations. They often build partnerships that enable states to solve challenges – political, economic or otherwise. Those who are schooled in such matters believe that these aspects are essential to the upkeep of international affairs and they have existed since the beginning of the human race. That is why US President Barrack Obama visited 35 countries during his first term in office and as of May 2016, he had visited 19 more countries during his second term. Our own President Yoweri Museveni has made uncountable foreign trips as part of this national programme. He even took a surprise trip to Somalia on November 29, 2010, making him the first head of state to visit the devastated country in almost 20 years.
Apart from attracting international attention, such visits morale-boost the public, prevent conflict and violence, and fortify relations between nations. They are most importantly used to complete a specific agenda. Without diplomacy and international relations, much of the world’s affairs would be relics, international organizations would be nonexistent, and probably the world would be at a constant state of war. Besides, there are direct impacts on the economy or foreign policies which would not be achievable without the visiting leaders’ physical presence.
The importance of personal relationships and face-to-face communication between visiting leaders and their host should not be underestimated. The leaders often have one-on-one talks, even away from their respective staffs. The talks allow them to say what is really on their mind. Their ideas and thinking can change as a result of these talks. Visiting foreign leaders often bring gifts/donations and trade delegations, which may or may not have come without their personal visit. Usually such visits do not only involve top rank meetings, negotiations, strengthening alliances or opening a new page of mutual relationships and signing official documents or memoranda, but also boost trade and business partnerships. Potential socio-economic benefits in national interest here include free trade, cheaper tourism visa programmes and mutually beneficial immigration policies, among others.
It is important to note that Uganda plays a critical role in Africa, and we are recognized for our good work in conflict resolution processes. We have been acknowledged internationally as an anchor state given our geo-political position, strategic importance for trade and investment, and for purposes of deepening regional integration and security, continental development and world outlook. Our work in Somalia, Central African Republic, Liberia, Burundi, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and earlier in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Burma (now Myanmar), Turkey and others during the World Wars, even hosting South African Nelson Mandela’s ANC fighters in Central Uganda, speaks for itself.
It is for these reasons that Uganda is one of the 120 countries that United States of America’s 19 presidents have visited since 1901. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton individually visited Uganda on March 23-25, 1998 and July 11, 2003, respectively. All our neighbour presidents have visited us several times, with the attendant benefits. Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit should be viewed in this light. Hopefully, this answers David Twesigye who wonders why we are having many guests of late, and we must ensure their utmost security.
The world over, security has become more complex with the evolution of conventional and non-conventional weapons and technology. In meeting new challenges, security services continue to provide progressive training, devise and implement sound security plans and measures, acquire equipment and systems to ensure the safety of individuals, sites and events. Whenever there are visiting Heads of State and Government, it is necessary to provide appropriate security according to the levels of threat, including closing off some roads or diverting traffic. Even in the US, commuters are advised to plan for major traffic delays whenever a Head of State or Government is visiting. It cannot be an exception in Uganda.
We, therefore, should all appreciate Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit because it is a stamp of approval for Uganda’s global standing and will benefit the country in one way or another. For instance, he has already pledged to fund the construction of a trauma centre at Mulago National Referral Hospital, and this is just the beginning!
The writer is a Principal Information Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister