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‘Some more reliable than others’: Image management, donor perceptions and the Global War on Terror in East African diplomacy*

  • Jonathan Fisher (a1)


This article explores the role of perceptions in donor-African relations and the extent to which donor ‘images’ of African governments can be managed by these same governments to their advantage. The article focuses on donor views of ‘reliability’ in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and compares differing international perceptions of Kenya and Uganda through this lens. Arguing that donors have an exaggerated sense of Ugandan ‘compliance’ or reliability and Kenyan unreliability in fighting terrorism, it explains this by examining the two governments’ international ‘image management’ strategies, or lack thereof. The analysis contends that Uganda's success at promoting itself as a major donor ally in the GWOT, compared with Kenya's general reluctance to do the same, has played a significant role in building and bolstering these differing donor perceptions. This, the article suggests, raises important questions about the nature of African agency in the international system.


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Earlier versions of this article were presented in 2011 at the 4th European Conference on African Studies, Uppsala and in 2012 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC. I wish to thank the organisers of and participants in these events together with Professor David Anderson and Dr David Throup for their helpful and insightful feedback. Research for this article has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (Award numbers PTA-031-2007-ES/F024509/1 and PTA-026-27-2861). I am also grateful to the University of Birmingham and to the University of Oxford for contributing to fieldwork costs.



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The identities of the following are disguised to maintain the confidentiality of subjects:

Former Ugandan Cabinet minister, served at various levels including at Cabinet rank 2004–2005, Kampala, 12.2.2010.

Former UK official, involved in UK–Africa diplomacy during the early 2000s, London, 14.3.2012.

Former White House official, served in George W. Bush White House during the 2000s, Washington DC, 19.11.2009 and 11.5.2012.

Western diplomat, senior official based in Kampala in the later 2000s, Kampala, 17.2.2010.

US official, involved in Africa policy-making in Obama administration, Washington DC, 10.5.2012.

Former senior US official 1, involved in US Africa policy-making throughout George W Bush administration, Washington DC, 8.5.2012.

Former senior US official 2, involved in US–Kenyan relations during the 2000s, Washington DC, 8.5.2012.

Senior US official, involved in Africa policy-making in George W Bush and Obama administrations, Washington DC, 9.5.2012.

DFID official, senior civil servant serving in DFID during the 2000s, London, 30.3.2009.

Former US diplomat, former US diplomat serving in Uganda in the 2000s, by telephone, 12.11.2009.

Former Western official, diplomat (nationality not disclosed) serving in Uganda in the 2000s, location not disclosed, by telephone, 17.11.2009.

FCO official, civil servant working in the FCO in the later 2000s, London, 19.3.2009.

Former senior US official 3, involved in US Africa policy-making during the early 2000s, Washington DC, 10.11.2009.

Former senior FCO official 1, high-level official involved in UK–Africa policy-making during the 2000s, London, 14.10.2009.

Former senior FCO official 2, senior civil servant in the FCO during the 2000s, London, 5.5.2009.

Former FCO official, involved in UK–Africa diplomacy during the early 2000s, London, 20.7.2009.

Former senior US official 4, high-level official involved in UK–Africa policy in the 1990s, Washington DC, 11.11.2009.

Ronald Atkinson, Associate Professor, University of South Carolina and northern Uganda/LRA expert, Kampala, 11.2.2010.

Sir Edward Clay, UK High Commissioner to Kenya (2001–2005) and Uganda (1993–1997), London, 14.3.2012.

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‘Some more reliable than others’: Image management, donor perceptions and the Global War on Terror in East African diplomacy*

  • Jonathan Fisher (a1)


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