US imposes entry ban on Uganda Speaker, army chief, ministers

The United States on Thursday sanctioned five Uganda public officials, including the country’s Speaker of Parliament and the immediate former Deputy Chief of Defence Forces, a move that piles more pressure on Kampala to act on the integrity and human rights record of its officers.

The entry ban comes just a month after the United Kingdom also 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, that Speaker Anita 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 UK at the end of April for corruption, which has led to the freezing of her property assets and financial holdings in London, the statement said. 

The UK sanctions have triggered investigations, with multiple state agencies and officials, including President Yoweri Museveni tasking the Speaker to explain her alleged property and financial assets in the UK and if Ms Among declared these as required under the Leadership Code Act.

Read: Uganda urges UK to stop meddling in local affairs after sanctions

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Sanctioned ministers

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 involvement in significant corruption related to conduct that misused public resources and diverted materials from Uganda’s neediest communities.  

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

Read: UK sanctions 3 Uganda officials over iron sheets theft

Rwenzururu massacre

But in breaking ranks with the UK, Washington aimed at the military, President Museveni’s most trusted state institution, by sanctioning Lt-Gen Peter Elwelu, who until two months ago was the deputy CDF of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF).

He is sanctioned for his involvement in 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 reads.

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, including children and more than 180 others arrested and detained.

Read: Ugandan town comes to terms with massacre

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 killings, but instead, he was promoted and appointed Chief of Land Forces.

Currently, Elwelu is a Member of Parliament, representing the army in the national assembly.

Spouses banned

According to the 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). 

As such, the US also places under sanctions Ms Among’s and Goretti’s husbands Moses Hashim Magogo and Michael George Kitutu, respectively, and Lugolobi’s wife, Evelyne Nakimera, who will not be allowed entry into the US.

Minister

Uganda Speaker Anita Among, Mary Goretti Kitutu and Agnes Nandutu. File | NMG

The visa restrictions on multiple other Ugandan individuals are being taken under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act under the policy that Secretary of State Antony Blinken expanded in December 2003.

The Department of State cited 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 reads.

Anti-gay laws

Speaker of Parliament Among has repeatedly said that the corruption is 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.

Read: US revokes visas after Museveni assents anti-gay Bill

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.

Among these are National Unity Platform (NUP) supporters who were kidnapped and detained in 2019 for supporting President Museveni’s main challenger, pop artist turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine, in the 2021 presidential election.

Given this, the United States said it stands with Ugandans advocating for 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 human rights violations. 

“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 reign in on its high-ranking military officers who are involved in gross violation of human rights and extrajudicial killings.

 In December 2021, the US imposed financial sanctions on the then Chief of Military Intelligence Maj Gen Abel Kandiho, over alleged human rights violations, while two years earlier, ex-police chief Gen Kale Kayihura was sanctioned by the Department of Treasury for gross human rights violations, corruption and bribery.

Source:  The East African

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