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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

No respite for the besieged Ugandan Speaker Anita Among

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The United States on Thursday issued sanctions against five Uganda public officials, among them Speaker of Parliament Anita Among and former Deputy Chief of Defence Forces in a crackdown on corruption and human rights violation.

This comes just a month after the United Kingdom announced similar sanctions against the leader of the National Assembly and two ex-ministers.

The US State Department, said in a statement dated May 30, 2024, Ms Among was placed under sanctions due to her involvement in significant corruption tied to her leadership of Uganda’s parliament.

The Speaker is also battling sanctions announced by the United Kingdom at the end of April for corruption, which has led to the freezing of her property and financial holdings in the UK, the statement said.

The UK sanctions have triggered investigations, with multiple state agencies and officials, including President Yoweri Museveni taking Ms Among to task to give details of the mentioned property and financial assets in the UK and if she declared them as required under the Leadership Code Act.

The US also announced sanctions against former Minister of Karamoja Affairs Mary Goretti Kitutu and her deputy Agnes Nandutu, as well as Minister of State for Finance Amos Lugolobi, over their alleged involvement in significant corruption, misuse of public resources and diverting materials meant for Uganda’s needy communities.

“All four officials abused their public positions for their benefit at the expense of Ugandans,” said the statement issued by Matthew Miller, Department of State Spokesperson.

But breaking ranks with the UK, Washington aimed at the military, President Museveni’s most trusted state institution, by designating Lt-Gen Peter Elwelu, who, until two months ago, was the Deputy Chief of Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF). Sanctions against him are pegged on gross violations of human rights.

“Specifically, Peter Elwelu was involved, while commanding UPDF forces, in extrajudicial killings that members of the UPDF committed.

As a result of these actions, the designated Ugandan officials are generally ineligible for entry into the United States,” the statement said.

In 2016, while he was Commander of UPDF’s Second Division, Elwelu led the attack on the palace of the Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere, resulting in a massacre that left a chilling air all over the area’s main town Kasese, with over 100 people killed, among them children and more than 180 others arrested and detained.

Despite wide condemnation of the raid on the palace by politicians, religious leaders, and local and international human rights groups, Elwelu, then a Brigadier-General, was not held accountable for the massacre but instead was promoted and appointed Chief of Land Forces.

Currently, Elwelu is also a Member of Parliament, representing the army in the National Assembly.

According to the US statement, the sanctions are made under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2024 (Div. F, P.L. 118-47).

Washington also places under sanctions Ms Among’s spouse Moses Hashim Magogo; Kitutu’s spouse, Michael George Kitutu; and Lugolobi’s wife, Evelyne Nakimera, who will be ineligible for entry into the United States.

These additional steps to impose visa restrictions on multiple other Ugandan individuals are being taken under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Department of State said it is also taking steps to impose visa restrictions on multiple other Ugandan officials for undermining the democratic process and repressing members of marginalised or vulnerable populations in Uganda.

“These individuals are responsible for, or complicit in, the repression of Ugandan members of political opposition groups, civil society organisers, and vulnerable communities in Uganda,” the statement said.

Ms Among has repeatedly denied the corruption allegations, saying they are a smokescreen by the West, and the reason she has been targeted and placed under sanctions is due to her role in presiding over Uganda’s controversial anti-homosexuality Act, which prescribes a death sentence for aggravated homosexuality.

Human rights and gay activists have attacked the Uganda government for enacting one of the world’s harshest laws against same-sex relations, as an obstacle to marginalised groups, especially sexual minorities, to live freely and also access critical services, including healthcare.

But opposition political leaders have also accused the government and security agencies of violating their supporters’ rights, including holding them incommunicado, placing them under detention without trial for several years, while others have been forced to flee the country.

National Unity Platform supporters were kidnapped and detained in 2019 for supporting President Yoweri Museveni’s main challenger Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu alias Bobi Wine in the 2021 presidential election.

The US said it stands with Ugandans advocating democratic principles, a government that delivers for all its citizens, and accountability for actions committed by those who abuse their position through corruption and gross violations of human rights.

“Impunity allows corrupt officials to stay in power, slows the pace of development, facilitates crime, and causes unequal distribution of resources, which can affect underrepresented and underserved populations disproportionally,” the State Department said.

“Today’s actions reaffirm the US commitment to support transparency in Uganda’s democratic processes, counter corruption globally, and address the broader culture of impunity that prevents all Ugandans from enjoying their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Analysts say that in placing Elwelu under sanctions, the US is yet again sending the Uganda government a message to rein in on its high-ranking military officers who are involved in gross violation of human rights and extrajudicial killings.

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