Is Uganda’s foreign policy being prioritized at the expense of domestic policy?


In one of his political essays, a gentleman whose name seemed to have been forgotten, to be exact, Emmanuel Kant argued, ‘what we really need is freedom in the most innocuous form of all’. The right balance in our policies.

He went on to lament. I quote from Kant, ‘but I hear from all sides, the cry don’t argue, the officer says don’t argue get on the parade, the tax official says, don’t argue pay and the clergy says don’t argue believe’.

All this means denial of freedom on all matters. Kant is surely right in seeing the far reaching importance of the freedom to disagree on public policy matters.

This includes disagreement on Uganda government’s foreign policy and its performance in the last 30 years. We should be critical of self-serving biases that are obtuse, to use a mathematical analogy.

We even have a greater reason to be particularly worried when critically important issues of the state policies are held by demagogues to justify staggering performance by skeptics of impartial reasoning.

While reasoned disagreement can generate a good social contract, policies and therefore a good society, we have to understand its importance in enabling electorates to assess the steady progress foreign policy discourse and make their elective choices aptly.

Are electorates persuaded by tripartite slogans; equal opportunities for all and a Uganda that works for all versus steady progress?

As Raul put it, ‘for a political conviction to be objective, it has to demonstrate that the reason specified is reasonable and mutually recognizable and sufficient to convince all reasonable persons that it is in fact reasonable’.

In a situation where happiness is an occasional episode in a drama of pain, denizens will agree with me that reasoning with oneself and reasoning with others are the two basic tools our politicians have to put our perceptions right and appropriately adjusted in assessing government foreign and domestic policies and make informed choices.

This assertion resonates with Adam Smith who observed over 250 years ago, I quote from Smith, ‘in order to obtain satisfaction of being an object of admiration by others, we must become impartial spectators of our own characters and conduct’.

Why are the authorities limiting contact hours for presidential candidates with their constituencies at night? Let’s hope this directive applies to all candidates.

Our government officials must endeavor to view their conduct with the eyes of other people or as other people are likely to view their actions.

Since, ‘politics is so the matter of living with and working each other’, as Aristotle noted a long time ago. I return to Uganda’s foreign policy and politics that couldn’t have been what it is without government’s cooperation with international community.

The current government’s stride in foreign policy is a recent development. Between the 1986 end of the bush war and the 2006 end of LRA war in the North, Uganda made substantial foreign policy progress under Museveni.

At the same time, it made gains in the major areas of security crucial for sustaining regional integration and economic expansion that has seen the East African Community region record significant infrastructure deals, such as, the East African Standard Gauge Railway and others.

The World Bank found some improvements in measures of voice and accountability; political stability and absence of violence; government effectiveness; regulatory quality and rule of law.

The country is also playing a key player in the war against terrorism, pacification of Somalia, war against ADF, LRA in Central Africa Republic, mediation process in Burundi and the political process in South Sudan.

Whether, the attainment of these results is 100% effort of Uganda government or an indirect result of the West’ diversion of responsibility is a question that demands further interrogation.

For some, the government’s foreign policy has been prioritized at the expense of domestic policy. As a consequence the defense and military budgets have been hiked against social service sector budgets.

For others, is the government in position to demonstrate the cost benefit analysis and defend its foreign policy aptly with statistics and show how the figures have translated into realization outcomes in lives of the youth and the losers and the unemployed?

Important as it was noted by David Hume, the Scottish Economist, that ‘there was a time, we did not know about the lives of others. But ever since we knew about them, neither can we ever draw the boundaries between us and them ever wider’.

I would argue that foreign policy is not the sum total of Uganda government’s policy arrangement and denizens lives.

As the presidential candidates’ debate on foreign policy, denizens must consider interrogating their policy options.

And avoid being duped by demagogues who may consider attributing 100% success in foreign policy to the government without recognizing the role of the West in financing nearly 100% of cost of Uganda’s involvement in the war against terrorism.

Anyhow, electorates have a choice to make a reasoned disagreement and vote an alternative governance arrangement that will create an apt balance between domestic policy and foreign policy

For to be free is not merely to cast off our chains, but to live in a way that respects and improves our freedom and the freedom of future generations

Walter Ochanda, the author is an international development specialist

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