President Yoweri Museveni claims Europe and the United States are sponsoring his archrival, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, to ignite an uprising that could prematurely end his four-decade rule over Uganda.
Security Minister, Gen Elly Tumwiine and Tamale Mirundi, former presidential press secretary and Mr Museveni apologist, have both specifically branded Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine a CIA agent that is being funded to cause instability in Uganda.
Security is turning around information in its possession to establish whether Bobi Wine crossed paths with Darrell M. Blocker, a veteran of the CIA’s clandestine service, who is being considered for the role of director of the Central Intelligence Agency by President-elect Joe Biden.
Blocker served in 10 foreign countries: Italy, Morocco, Nigeria, Okinawa, South Korea, Niger, Senegal, Uganda, Pakistan and Switzerland.
In Uganda, Blocker posed as a poor gospel singer begging for support. He owned a music band, the Kampala Jazz All-Stars that worked as his cover. He also featured so much in Kamwokya—Bobi Wine’s Ghetto base and home to hist political party offices—where he participated in activities of women groups. Apparently, no one knew he worked for CIA while in Kampala.
It is therefore likely that Bobi Wine knowingly or unknowingly met Blocker, and this has sent shivers in Mr Museveni’s spine.
As a result Museveni has started purging Western interests. He has frozen bank accounts of non- governmental organizations linked to the West.
Through the Electoral Commission, he has politely frustrated the European Union (EU)’s efforts to observe the 2021 presidential polls.
And of late his security forces have harassed foreign press covering election campaigns that have so far resulted into mass killings of civilians for supporting the 38-year old, Bobi Wine who joined politics only two years ago.
Recently three foreign journalists working with Canadian-based media organization, CBC News, were deported back home. CBC News videographer Jean-François Bisson, correspondent Margaret Evans and producer Lily Martin were sent packing from Uganda. Even local journalists doing work for foreign media have not been spared the harassment. But Museveni’s government is convinced that those journalists are all helping Bobi Wine to ignite an uprising.
“Those who observed well noticed that Bobi Wine is mostly surrounded by foreign media agents working alongside or commanding local media personnel. We have long suspected a foreign hand meddling in local politics through the new age movement of celebrities. Do those foreign agents posing as scribes possess requisite paperwork to work in Uganda or they are riding on the deception of their hosts that they are in charge of Uganda and that the President Museveni government cannot touch them?” argues Faruk Kirunda, Presidential Assistant in Charge of Media Management.
Mr Museveni also declined to receive covid 19 financial relief from the US meant for hundreds of thousands of Uganda believing that it was a sweetener by the Americans to expose Museveni as helpless. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through the GiveDirectly NGO had offered $9.9 million as cash transfers to support Ugandans who lost their livelihoods as a result of COVID-19 and necessary public health restrictions. This was part of the U.S. Mission in Uganda’s overall commitment of $35 million to Uganda’s COVID response effort.
The cash transfer program, which started in August, targeted 120,000 people in six districts, with each getting about $27 per month for three months. By September, over 47,000 Ugandans were enrolled. However, National Bureau for NGOs, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs suspended the program raising concerns over the sources of the $10 million in funding and that it could lead to laziness among recipients.
So far, in retaliation, unreliable sources indicate that a number of Mr Museveni’s officials have or are about to be sanctioned. The International Criminal Court has also admitted a petition filed against Mr Museveni for crimes against humanity. The petition was filed by Dr Kizza Besigye, who has contested against Museveni four times-since 2001. In the past, the ICC has declined a number of petitions against Museveni.
Another petition is being crafted by the National Unity Platform of Bobi Wine against Mr Museveni for ordering the killing of close to 60 Ugandans in the last month’s riots that were sparked off by the violent arrest of Bobi Wine.
Both the Europeans and Americans have warned Mr Museveni to make sure that he organizes transparent free and fair elections and to stop harassing his opponents.
It is also likely that the West could retaliate further by cutting financial assistance to Uganda, which is already economically depressed.
However, more interesting is that Museveni’s role in the global war against terrorism by the United States has diminished and makes him more vulnerable and less irrelevant to the American foreign policy especially after President Donald Trump ordering the withdrawal of nearly all US troops from Somalia by 15 January.
The US has about 700 troops in Somalia helping local forces battle al-Shabab and Islamic State militants. Mr Museveni was the first leader to sanction troop deployment to Somalia under AMISOM in March 2007. Uganda has over 6,000 troops serving under the AMISOM in Somalia. Under a transition plan agreed in 2017, AMISOM is required to conduct gradual handover to Somali security forces.
But Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Somalia and eventually reduce American assistance for the AMISOM is not by accident. It should be noted that recently, Sudan, formerly a safe haven for terrorist has made peace with Israel, a condition set by the U.S. government to remove Sudan from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
In addition, the Horn of Africa appears to be gearing towards a new order set off by a global competition of strategic interest by great powers in Africa. Competition is precipitated by a struggle for influence in the region by the US and China.
There is also a realignment taking place by European and Middle Eastern powers who have strategic economic, political and military interests in the region.
Since the end of the Cold War, and particularly the rise of terrorism since 9/11, the ‘War on Terror’ has driven US alliances, including those in the Horn of Africa. But at present, the US is forging alliances with Middle Eastern players and African nations to support its antagonistic competition with China and Russia.
“China is asserting itself on the continent economically, militarily and politically. We must remain a positive alternative and make clear that engaging with the United States will mean greater prosperity and security for Africa,” said Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, in his testimony to Congressional Committee US administration’s Africa policy last year.
In this political game Mr Museveni has chosen to embrace and bond with the Chinese at the expense of the West’s efforts to regain the African market.
The friction between Mr Museveni and the West has culminated into suspension of the presidential debate because funds for the organizing the event were part of the moneys for civil society that were frozen. Uganda’s inter-religious council called off the eagerly awaited presidential candidates’ debate that was due on December 3, 2020 in preparation for the January 2021 polls.
Museveni’s open war with the whites started around 2017, when security personnel raided the offices of at least two pro-democracy NGOs including South Africa-based Action Aid, confiscating computers and other equipment, in a move critics said was likely connected to the charities’ opposition to legislation aimed at allowing Museveni to extend his rule.
In august 2019, a letter circulating on social media showed the head of the Financial Intelligence Authority, a government agency that tracks and combats money laundering, writing to a commercial bank requesting financial records of 13 pro-democracy NGOs including FHRI.
The same year all Non-governmental organizations in Uganda were told to submit financial information including budgets and donor lists to the authorities. In essence, they were being asked to re-apply.
Steven Okello, executive director of the state-run National Bureau for NGOs, told the media that government was undertaking a “verification and validation” exercise for all non-profits operating in the country and that this included filing of financial records. This, however, was a ploy by government muzzle criticism.
Fast forward, in November this year Mr Simon Osborn, the country director of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a United States-based organization that promotes democracy across the world was picked up from his apartment in Nakasero in Kampala, detained briefly and later bundled onto a plane back to his home country. Mr Osborn had worked in Uganda for seven years as NDI is aligned to the US Democratic Party.
The EU Head of Delegation to Uganda, Mr Attilio Pacifici, said that Mr Osborn had been working for the EU by the time of his arrest and deportation.
“In August, Mr Osborn was engaged by the EU Delegation through a short-term technical assistance consultancy contract with the objective of advising on projects aimed at strengthening Uganda’s electoral process,” Mr Pacifici said in a statement.
Museveni’s government did not offere any explanation for Mr Osborn’s deportation.
A Kenyan national, Mr Isaack Othieno, who had taken over as the acting Head of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), a US-based NGO that engages in advancement of democracy, had also been deported under unexplained circumstances.
Mr Othieno was reportedly picked up from Sheraton Kampala Hotel where he had been staying temporarily, bundled onto a police vehicle and driven to Busia border with Kenya.
Foreign heads of NGOs that were out of the country were blocked from returning. They are Mr Marco Deswart, Ms Roseline Idele and Ms Lara Petrivevic. Mr Marco Deswart, who heads election programmes at the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), was reportedly barred from returning to Uganda in July.
Mr Deswart was reportedly informed of his fate through the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Uganda considered him a persona non-grata.
Ms Roseline Idele, who is the acting Country Director of NDI in Uganda, had reportedly been at the front of supporting programmes to strengthen democratic institutions.
In September, MsIdele is said to have travelled to Nairobi where she had, until her temporary appointment, worked as a senior programme manager in the NDI Kenya office. Government barred her from returning in October.
Ms Lara Petrivevic, the Director of the International Republican Institute (IRI), an American non-profit organization aligned to the Republican Party, reportedly left Uganda for Wales to give birth, but was later informed that she was not welcome to return. The IRI works for advancement of freedoms and democracy worldwide.
A local NGO, the National Election Watch – Uganda (NEW-U), a coalition of more than 60 organizations, including among others, the Uganda Women Network, Centre for Constitutional Governance and Women’s Democracy Network, which was launched in September, after observing the NRM primaries, was also declared an illegal entity.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs recently announced that it had established that NEW-U is neither registered with the NGO bureau nor incorporated with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB).
According to local media government’s decision to deport or block the return of the aforementioned officials and frustrate NGOs was based on the belief that they had been providing support to presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine.
Immediately after the pro-Bobi Wine riots, Mr Museveni, said that those who participated in the riots that broke out in Kampala and other towns were agents of foreign interests.
Security Minister Gen Elly Tumwine claims that government has evidence to the effect that foreign elements are finding protests and other activities aimed at destabilizing Uganda.
Gen Tumwine has said that the state was aware of selfish politicians working to turn Uganda into a nation akin to post-Muammar Gadaffi Libya.
“We have evidence that most of these people are agents of foreign forces who want to destabilize African counties for their own interests,” Minister Tumwine said on November 20, two days after the deadly riots.
Government spokesman, Ofwono Opondo also admits that internal politics have been infiltrated by foreign interests. “Our politics is infiltrated by foreign interests. Money is being channeled to people, groups and civil society organizations through money laundering to opposition. We have information through the Financial Intelligence Authority,” Opondo said during a popular political talk-show called the Frontline on NBS television.
However, Bobi Wine has refuted claims that he is funded by foreigners, saying that his funders are the people of Uganda.
While addressing his supporters that gathered in Butiti Sub-county, Kyenjojo district on Monday, the NUP presidential hopeful urged the supporters to continue funding his campaigns because they are all he has.“We thank you so much you who give us money because we don’t have money. (President) Museveni is saying that the people who fund us are whites, but this campaign is for Ugandans and this money that you give us is what we use to fuel our cars,” Kyagulanyi said.
Genesis of accusations
It is Bobi Wine’s closeness to his Canadian lawyer, Robert Amsterdam that first raised eyebrows amongst Ugandans. Amsterdam is alleged to have in the past colluded with Western governments to collapse dictatorships in the world.
Amsterdam has been the face of Kyagulanyi’s international campaign against Museveni. At the press conference, the two addressed journalists from BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera among other foreign media.
Amsterdam whose law firm, Amsterdam & Partners LLP, has offices in Washington and London said that he would hold meetings with members of the U.S. Congress, and officials in the U.S. Department of State and table evidence of the alleged brutality and human rights violations perpetrated by the Ugandan government. Amsterdam was clearly pitching to the international audience about his client’s tormentors.
At international press conferences organized by Amsterdam statements by Bobi Wine came off as a stunt of someone who is being used as a front by Western powers aiming to cause regime change in Uganda.
Amsterdam provides strategic counsel to corporations and individuals in “politically challenging and crisis-prone environments.” Some of his other clients include Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian political prisoner and Thaksin Shinawatra, a former Prime Minister of Thailand among others across the world.
Another white being accused by Mr Museveni’s government of interfering with local politics is Joe Trippi, a school choice advocate, and longtime Democratic political strategist who began his career working on Ted Kennedy’s 1980 presidential campaign tells Reason.tv that a strong run by a libertarian-leaning presidential candidate is inevitable.
China in the mix
Unfortunately for Americans and the Europeans, the fight between Museveni and Bobi Wine has attracted China into the conflict.
Last year a group of Huawei technicians used spyware to help local surveillance officers crack the encrypted WhatsApp communications of Bobi Wine.
Huawei Technologies Co., a Chinese firm and the world’s largest telecommunications company, dominates African markets, where it has sold security tools that governments use for digital surveillance and censorship.
A Wall Street Journal investigation indicates that employees embedded with cybersecurity forces in Uganda and Zambia intercepted encrypted communications and used cell data to track opponents.
Huawei has supplied a new $126 million CCTV system to Uganda, which has been hailed by police as a project that will slash violent crime.
But opposition leaders have claimed police may use the cameras, which have facial recognition technology, to target demonstrators in violent clampdowns as an election approaches in 2021.
The US government has restricted trade with Huawei, accusing it of espionage and stealing intellectual property. It is also trying to persuade US allies to keep Huawei out of 5G telecommunications infrastructure, arguing the company could spy on customers.
President Museveni has of late turned to the Chinese for friendship after realizing that Beijing did not tag democratic connotations as conditions for financial assistance.
This friendship has since blossomed and Mr Museveni is seen as a darling of the Chinese in Africa.
To honour this friendship, in 2019 China hosted President Museveni at the birthplace of its founding father, Chairman Mao Zedong, in Shaoshan village, Hunan Province. President Museveni is among the few African leaders who have been hosted at the historic place. Mr Museveni has described the Chinese as genuine friends, and thanked them for supporting Africa’s development.
Uganda’s President Museveni’s four-day working visit to China was exceptionally different. On the invitation of his counterpart Xi Jinping, President Museveni visited China from the June 24 to 28 and besides the bilateral meetings he held with President Xi, he addressed the coordinator’s meeting on the implementation of the follow-up actions of the Forum on Africa and China cooperation summit (FOCAC) in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China.Secondly, Museveni was honored when he officially opened the first “ever” China-Africa Economic Trade Expo held in Changsha, Hunan province of China. The expo is a platform for Africa to introduce its products to the Chinese market and vice-versa.
Here he addressed exhibitors, investors and over 1,500 foreign guests at the expo with a message which clearly expressed the importance Africa attaches to China. Mao led a revolution that ushered in a new China and was instrumental in helping Africans fight colonialism. China making Museveni pay respect to his birthplace was a sign of honor towards him, Uganda and Africa.
China is Uganda’s second-largest trade partner with volumes above $850m in 2017, according to Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) figures. There are about 200 Chinese firms in Uganda dealing in such fields as construction, communication, hospitality and trade.
In recent years, the Chinese government has funded large infrastructure projects (roads, power stations and factories)
China also supports infrastructure within Uganda through loans. Uganda currently has $1.6 billion in loans to China. These loans largely finance major infrastructure projects. These loans typically pay for Chinese contracting work on these mega-projects. The letter noted the requirement to deposit money as collateral in escrow accounts in China, as well as the alleged failure of Chinese-run projects to hire Ugandans and use locally sourced materials such as cement.
However, Uganda’s national debt stood at over $10 billion in 2018, nearly a third of it owed to China, according to official figures. The loans are usually approved with little opposition as the ruling National Resistance Movement political party enjoys an overwhelming majority in Parliament.
It is feared that Ugandans are going to find themselves entangled in Chinese debt. “Our leaders, who are very naive, think that China is just giving us money without strings attached,” says Dickens Kamugisha, a lawyer who runs the local think tank Africa Institute for Energy Governance.
Uganda is heading toward a debt crisis. According to a senior official at the Bank of Uganda, unless the country is able to sustain a growth rate of at least 7 percent—which economic projections show Uganda will not do—the country will default on its payments.
As is the case for many African countries, China is Uganda’s largest creditor, making up 39 percent of total debt this past fiscal year. If Uganda defaults, it is unclear how China will react. Will China flex its muscles and negotiate for the rights to Uganda’s sovereign assets like it did in Sri Lanka, or ease the debt pressure, by restructuring Uganda’s loans over a longer time period as it did in Ethiopia?
Uganda’s auditor-general has warned that conditions placed on major loans were a threat to Uganda’s sovereign assets.
The Chinese debt burden has already caused uproar in other African countries. Anger in Zambia peaked last year with street protests and an online campaign to “say no to China.” A Chinese-backed fish meal plant in Gambia drew protests this year over alleged pollution and overfishing.
Generally speaking, foreign governments and international financial institutions are hesitant to make loans to Uganda. They remain skeptical that Uganda will be able to honor them—except, apparently, China. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recently admitted that China is the only partner that would agree to lend Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya $3.5 billion to construct a series of railways and roads. In addition, China is financing a $4 billion oil pipeline, currently under construction, that will connect the western region of Uganda to the port in Tanga, Tanzania—giving the landlocked country access to the Indian Ocean. Many of China’s loans to Sub-Saharan Africa can be seen in the context of China’s belt and road initiative.
But what remains uncertain is whether the British, Americans and other Europeans will continue to tolerate Museveni’s ungratefulness after they let him rule the Pearl of Africa for three decades and a half without any major confrontation.
The conflict between the West and China over global markets and resources threatens to explode into warfare. Battle lines have been drawn. So to use Bobi Wine to get rid of Museveni is an understatement
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