After the United States' threats of sanctions against Ugandan government officials became reality last week, Kampala remains defiant, accusing Washington of failure to adhere to the time-honoured and non-negotiable principles of fairness, mutual respect, non-interference and sovereignty.
On Friday, April 16, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced fresh visa restrictions on yet-to-be-named State officials believed to have undermined the democratic process in Uganda, particularly during campaigns ahead of the January 14 general elections.
The basis of the visa bans, which target top security officers, government officials and politicians, is a report titled ‘2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Uganda’, released March 30 2021 by the US State Department.
In response, the government on April 18 said it was “concerned about the contents of the report because they are all derived from misinformation, falsehoods and an inadequate understanding of the political reality on the ground in Uganda.”
Kampala said in a 17-point rebuttal, that it always welcomes engagement with the United States and other partners on any matter, provided there is adherence to the principles of fairness, mutual respect, non-interference and sovereignty, in which Uganda’s views, are sacrosanct.
The response to Mr Blinken’s sanctions carries a similar tone as one President Yoweri Museveni and Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa used in February this year when the two met envoys of the European Union in Uganda led by their head of the delegation, Ambassador Attilio Pacifici.
The heated meeting at State House Entebbe had been triggered by the EU Parliament’s resolution calling for sanctions against Uganda over electoral theft, violence, killings and kidnappings.
“By involving yourselves in matters that you don’t understand, even if you do understand, you should not get involved because this kind of misconduct can lead to many serious consequences and suffering of the people like it happened in some African countries,” Mr Museveni said.
Mr Kutesa weighed in, telling the envoys that the fundamental point about relations between Uganda and EU is that: “We are partners, equals, and none of us should act as if you are superior to the other.”
Human rights abuse
The US report accuses the Ugandan government of gross violation of human rights, as opposition candidates were routinely harassed, arrested, and held illegally without charge, while Ugandan security forces were responsible for the deaths and injuries of dozens of innocent bystanders and opposition supporters.
At least 54 people were shot dead by security forces during protests that erupted in Kampala and other major towns when leading opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine was arrested on November 18, 2020.
The report also mentions violence against journalists, which occurred before, during, and after the elections.
But Kampala counters the US accusations in its 17-page response and justifies the arrest of opposition politicians, saying they were held for breaching Covid-19 protocols while campaigning.
Uganda also makes a veiled admission that more than 1,000 supporters of opposition parties who were arrested or abducted during the campaigns and after the elections and are held in ungazetted detention centres, and reported as “missing persons”, are being been held to stop their push for “Plan B” to remove the government.
“From the beginning of the campaigns, Hon Robert Kyagulanyi and Mr Partrick Oboi Amuriat promised a ‘Plan B’, which according to them, was (and remains) a plan to commit violent acts, organise an insurrection, and ‘make Uganda ungovernable’”.
On ill-treatment of non-governmental organisations, Uganda trashes the US report that the requirement for local authorisation of NGOs proved difficult for many to execute and threatened their compliance with the law, as unfounded and another falsehood.
Uganda says all NGOs registered in Uganda are expected to comply with the law, align their activities in support of the priorities of the government, whose financing should be transparent.
The government states that the Financial Intelligence Authority, which detects and deters money laundering, received credible information that the Uganda National NGO Forum and the Uganda Women’s Network on December 9, 2020 were involved in certain unlawful activities.
Other key issues that Kampala responds to include the right to freedom of expression, the conduct of arrests by security forces, allegations against State institutions, trafficking in persons, allegations of case backlog and late delivery of justice and allegations of intimidation and harassment of LGBTI.
However, given the size and significance of aid that Uganda receives from the US, Kampala appears to drop a hardline stance, saying it “values the partnership it has with the United States in many areas and is committed to the continued strengthening of that partnership in all the areas, including in the area of human rights.”
The US gives Uganda about $1 billion every year, mostly to fund health programmes. The two countries have also enjoyed close military ties with the Pentagon providing materiel and training to the Ugandan army, which in turn deploys troops to peacekeeping missions, including in Somalia, supported by the United States.