By Monitor Reporter
Ugandan diplomats are working round-the-clock to assess the damage from an exchange on Friday between the country’s envoy to Washington, D.C., Ambassador Sebujja Mull Katende and one of US President Donald Trump’s key advisers.
Mr Jared Kushner, who is President Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser, met African diplomats at the State Department in the US capital to brief them on a new Israel-Palestinian peace plan, which has sparked widespread controversy.
Sources at the briefing told this newspaper that as Mr Kushner spoke, ambassador Katende interjected to correct what he considered a wrong impression.
“Katende stood up and told Jared, ‘I want to correct you…Africans aren’t terrorists, terrorism is not an African-grown problem,” said a source at the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Mr Kushner then shot back: “I get it, it’s easier to go with the flow and not pick a fight. But that’s not the message we’re getting from you. The message we are getting is that you don’t care about our efforts. That’s your right of course. But then don’t be surprised if we react very negatively to your condoning of negative behaviour.” He added: “The Palestinians do what they always do. They go crazy, scream, burn down their own businesses.”
Then turning to look at ambassador Katende, Mr Trump’s adviser continued: “They get people like some of you to say foolish things. Choosing the Palestinians over America is not a smart bet.”
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Mr Kushner, a 39-year-old businessman with no diplomatic experience before his appointment, is married to Mr Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and widely regarded as one of the American President’s right-hand-men.
Ambassador Katende is one of Uganda’s longest-serving career diplomats. His move to Washington in September 2017 was the culmination of a four-decade career that has seen him represent the country in Sudan, Ethiopia and at the African Union in Addis Ababa, among others.
He appears to have caught the attention of the Trump inner circle on Friday, with Mr Kushner appearing to single him out for criticism.
“This is the second time you’ve taken something I said and spurn it in a cynical way,” Mr Kushner said. “Does anyone else see it? What country do you represent?
After Ambassador Katende responded, Mr Kushner added: “I don’t know if it’s my not expressing things well enough or your not wanting to hear what I say. But it seems you are the only one having a problem.”
The exchange between the Ugandan diplomat and Trump’s adviser comes at an important time in relations between the two countries.
Last week, President Museveni hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sudan’s leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Entebbe as the two countries attempt to mend fences.
Senior government officials in Kampala say that apart from cementing relations with Israel and Sudan, the meeting was part of President Museveni’s effort to project himself as a regional power broker to Western powers, particularly the United States.
“There are concerns about the human rights situation in Uganda and American diplomats, especially from [the State Department] have openly spoken about the need for a transition in Uganda,” a senior official, speaking anonymously in order to speak freely, told Daily Monitor.
“Being able to bring Bibi [Netanyahu] and al-Burhan into one room is a message to the Americans, that I am still the man to move the chess pieces.”
Human rights activists and political lobbyists close to singer-turned-politician MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, have been lobbying the US government to end its long-standing support to the Museveni government.
Last week’s clash came a day after Uganda voted against America’s plans on where to set up the headquarters of the African Centres for Disease Control (CDC).
China has offered $80 million to build the headquarters in Ethiopia but America is opposed to this and wants it to be built in Morocco, instead.
The Financial Times last week quoted American diplomats accusing China of wanting to spy on the centres and steal genomic data from Africans, claims Chinese officials promptly denied.
Source Daily Monitor.