September 21, 2023

Uganda’s new ambassador Robie Kakonge fled homeland for the United States as a child

Ms Robie Kakonge, Uganda’s ambassador designate to Washington. PHOTO | COURTESY
Ms Robie Kakonge, Uganda’s ambassador designate to Washington

Robie Kakonge was appointed as Uganda’s Ambassador to the United States in December of 2021. She will replace Ambassador Mull Katende, who has held the position since 2017.

However, Kakonge’s relationship with the United States spans decades. As a child in 1977, she and her mother fled Uganda for the United States.

When Robie Kakonge first left Uganda for the United States, her home country was engulfed in violence and grotesque human rights abuses. She was one of countless civilians fearful of former Ugandan President and brutal dictator Idi Amin as human rights violations were rampant under the iron fist of his repressive regime.

When Robie Kakonge fled Uganda in the 1970s, the relationship between the United States and Uganda was at an all time low. Repeated systematic human rights abuses under Idi Amin’s dictatorial rule pushed relations between the two countries to heightened tensions.

Between 1973 and 1979, the United States closed its embassy in Kampala and had withdrawn its diplomatic personnel in the midst of security issues and repeated threats. In the years since Amin’s overthrow and decades into Yoweri Museveni’s Presidency, relations between Uganda and the United States have improved to the point of cordiality.

However, human rights concerns still place a significant strain on the relationship between the two countries. While the world looks much different today than it did when Robie Kakonge first left Uganda for the United States, the two nations once again find themselves at a critical and tense point in their relationship.

This time, Robie Kakonge will be her home country’s top diplomatic representative in Washington D.C.

Human rights continue to be a serious concern for the United States as it maintains a relationship with Uganda. While President Yoweri Museveni has at times been critical of the United States’ leadership role in Africa, the U.S. has expressed concern over numerous practices in Uganda including the brutality of its security forces and a failure to embrace democratic principles.

As someone who has been seriously impacted by insecurity and widespread human rights abuses, Kakonge comes from a unique background and a potentially valuable perspective. As Uganda’s Ambassador to the United States, she has the opportunity to make an impact ensuring that her home country does not further regress and slip back into the practices that once forced her to flee.

In 2021, Yoweri Musevini began his sixth term as President of Uganda following an

election that was marred by violence and criticized by many as undemocratic. The United States has raised concerns over the brutal crackdown by Ugandan security forces leading up to the election that resulted in the deaths of many opposition protestors.

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