Election Special

The candidate and the diplomat: Aggrey Awori and Thelma Traub Awori
Fay Photo

Back in Cambridge last June for their thirty-fifth reunion, Aggrey Awori '65 and Thelma (Traub) Awori '65 spoke to a rapt audience of classmates in the Science Center. He is currently a member of parliament in Uganda and a candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for early 2001. She recently finished a two-year term as Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. They began by thanking friends who had made calls on their behalf to embassies or diplomats over the years. "Your classmate could be languishing in jail, could be nearly killed," said Thelma Awori, "so it matters to have an ambassador asking the new military dictator, 'What about so-and-so? My government wants to know what is happening to this person.' Please keep that up!"

Both Aworis know a great deal about being on what he calls "the wrong side of the table" in Ugandan politics. They have had to flee their country twice, and he has been a political detainee three times. In 1971 Aggrey Awori was the first person arrested by Idi Amin, in a near-fatal confrontation at government broadcasting headquarters in Kampala. The coup leader and his soldiers arrived to announce their takeover of the government on radio and television, but Awori--then director-general of broadcasting--had already shut down the station. When he suggested, with mock helpfulness, that Amin could make a tape for airing at some later time, the response was a long spell in a detention center. (Between detentions and house arrests Awori has served as a presidential adviser, minister plenipotentiary to the United States, and Ugandan ambassador to Belgium, the Netherlands, and the European Commission. He spent six of the Amin years as a lecturer in political journalism at Nairobi University, Kenya.)

In her remarks to classmates Thelma Awori drew on her many years of service at the United Nations, stressing an international perspective. She described with feeling the frustrations that arise when African governments must cut back on basic community services in health and education to pay off their international debts, and when the unwieldy bureaucracy of assistance gets in the way of solving the very problems it wants to address. "I have seen international aid used and abused, by both the humble and the mighty," she commented. As a result she has come to believe in focusing on issues of international cooperation in which all parties have a common interest. Describing with verve a new mushroom-growing project funded by the UN Development Program, she pointed out that the participating nations--China, Colombia, and several African countries--acquired a new commodity for both home consumption and trade in a market that now amounts to nine billion dollars a year. She noted, "I think international cooperation is about expressing your global citizenship."

Aggrey Awori then spoke as a Ugandan citizen active in national politics and presented his vision for the county's future. He is determined to take his reform agenda to the people this winter as vigorously as the current laws that limit political campaigning allow. While stressing the urgency of social problems like poverty and AIDS in Uganda, he also noted that constitutional reforms are essential. At the head of his list are the need to create conditions of land ownership and inheritance that favor widows and children rather than clans, the need to create a multi-party political system, and the need to remove the military from politics. Finally, he called for an end to abuses of human rights by political leaders, observing that "too often in Uganda governments gave us law and order with one hand, while with the other they took away our rights, causing a serious deficit in democracy."

Since political parties are illegal under the "national movement" or "no-party democracy" of President Museveni, Aggrey Awori's candidacy is likely to expose him to more risk down the road. However, he shows as little inclination as formerly to back down. "I thank Harvard," he observed drily, "for whetting my appetite for competition."

~Deborah Schneider



Alumni and alumnae interested in learning more about Aggrey Awori's campaign for president of Uganda may contact J. Archer O'Reilly '65 at (617) 738-9640 (phone/fax) or [email protected], or the Awori campaign at [email protected].

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