United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has put the Ugandan government on notice of possible sanctions as the country prepares for general elections in January 2021.
“The United States is a longstanding partner of Uganda,” said Pompeo in a Tweet yesterday (Thursday).
“We expect our partners to live up to their obligations to hold free and fair elections,” he added.
“We are paying close attention to the actions of individuals who seek to impede the ongoing democratic process.”
His statement came days after Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called on the Trump Administration to take “immediate action” to “address a worsening human rights situation” in Uganda prior to general elections next month.
Engel, a powerful democrat, who was defeated in recently concluded elections by unlikely challenger, Jamaal Bowman, listed alleged human rights violations by Ugandan government under President Museveni.
He said earlier this year, MP Francis Zaake was brutalized for distributing supplies to needy citizens during the coronavirus lockdown, while just last month, at least 45 people were killed by Ugandan security forces following protests in Kampala.
“These violent incidents reflect a highly disturbing trajectory for the country, thus ensuring that the environment for general elections in January 2021 has been fundamentally tilted in favor of an incumbent who has been in power since 1986,” said Engel.
“Therefore, I request that the Treasury Department and the State Department utilize the authority of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (Global Magnitsky Act) to designate individuals who may be responsible for violence in Uganda in recent years, such as Lt. Gen. Peter Elwelu, Commander of Land Forces; Maj. Gen. James Birungi, Commander of the Special Forces Command; Maj. Gen. Don William Nabasa, former Commander of the Special Forces Command; Maj. Gen. Abel Kandiho, Chief of Military Intelligence; Maj. Gen. Steven Sabiiti Muzeyi, Deputy Inspector of General of Police; Frank Mwesigwa, Commissioner of Police; and Col. Chris Serunjogi Ddamulira, Director of Crime Intelligence.”
Human rights activists in Uganda say the push for sanctions is likely to bear fruit as there are precedents of Ugandan officials being designated for sanctions by Washington.
Ugandan judges Moses Mukiibi and Wilson Musalu Musene, Ugandan lawyer Dorah Mirembe and Mirembe’s husband, Patrick Ecobu, were recently sanctioned by U.S. for participating in a scheme whereby young children were removed from Ugandan families under promises for “special education” programs and study in the United States, and were subsequently offered to U.S. families for adoption.
Kale Kayihura, the former Inspector General of the Uganda Police Force also was sanctioned for alleged “involvement in gross violations of human rights.”
However, diplomatic officials say the letter by Engel to Pompeo to slap sanctions on serving UPDF Generals and senior police officials will meet stiff resistance from the Ugandan government which has for long supported America’s strategic interests in the region.
“We must ensure that the Government’s side of the story is heard by certain members of the committee,” said a high ranking diplomat in United States.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Okello Oryem, said Engel’s letter underscores President Museveni’s concerns about foreign agents’ plans to remove him from power.
“This is exactly what president Museveni has been saying. There are Ugandans who are trying to use their foreign backers to attain political power, having realized that they will not do that through elections,” Oryem was quoted as telling the media in Kampala yesterday.
“They have lobbied through their friends and that is exactly why the US congress foreign affairs commitee has written that letter. Those Ugandans should know we are a sovereign state and the only way to political power will be through the vote,” he added.
“We will respond to those baseless claims once we receive the official communication but we know Ugandans will not allow such people to achieve their objectives.”
Sources said Senator Engel has never forgiven Uganda for pushing the anti-homosexuality legislation.
“For him, it is personal. He has had beef with GoU since the Gay Bill,” said a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Republicans generally have no time for emotions. It is interests only. What these guys are trying to do is to take advantage of a time when Pompeo is busy to get the request to slide in and maybe get acted upon in the confusion of the transition.”
Lawyer Charles Kambanda told ChimpReports that the US President alone does Diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. and is at liberty to do diplomacy through negotiations (soft diplomacy) or sanctions and war, directly or proxy (hard diplomacy).
“However, in my considered view, it’s unlikely that the US President would consider sanctions targeting Uganda,” said Kambanda.
“Uganda is among the top 10 receipients of US Military Cooperation (money) in Africa. It means that Uganda is a powerhouse for the US government’s Balance Of Power (BOP) system in the region,” he observed.
“The region is highly militarized. The US appears to count a lot on Museveni as the “master” of the region. We are probably aware that the US counts a lot on Museveni to resolve the crisis in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, DRC, Burundi and possibly Rwanda. There is no doubt that Museveni is in control down there. Given this clear US BOP system policy in the region, it’s unlikely that a US President would opt for Sanctions against Museveni’s government,”’ said Kambanda who lives in North America.
Asked about the tone of Pompeo’s Tweet, a retired foreign service official told this website that the Secretary of State had to be seen taking action.
“It is carefully crafted and sticking to ‘individuals’ rather than addressing the entire establishment,”’ said the retired official.
Strategic security interests
The United States has been working closely with President Museveni in the war on terror especially in countering Sudan’s Omar Al Bashir and also fighting Al Shabaab in Somalia and rebel leader, Joseph Kony in Central Africa.
Recently, Museveni secretly worked with Pompeo and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to revive relations between Jerusalem and Khartoum.
This led to the meeting between Netanyahu and the head of Sudan’s ruling body, the Sovereign Council, Gen Fattah al-Burhan, at State House Entebbe.
The outgoing Trump administration quickly claimed credit for restoring ties between the two sworn enemies (Sudan and Israel).
This was also seen as genuine foreign policy success for Trump as he faced headwinds in the recently concluded election.
Museveni was credited for helping Israel, a key U.S. ally, achieve a victory after decades-long effort to secure diplomatic recognition from Arab governments.
The development also cemented Museveni’s position as the West’s major ally in the Great Lakes region.
Notably, Uganda continues to deploy troops to stabilize Somalia where U.S. is withdrawing its own forces.
Major U.S. installations in Somalia are protected by UPDF.
American troops also conduct joint operations with UPDF in the war on terror in the region.
Experts says it’s the need to preserve its strategic interests in the region that U.S. may not subject senior Ugandan security officials to sanctions.
Earlier this week, Western diplomats asked Museveni to intervene in the South Sudan political crisis.
The United State Special Envoy, Stuart Symington IV was quoted as commending President Museveni and the government for the efforts and role played to secure South Sudan.
“Thank you for sparing time to talk about South Sudan your neighbor. We have seen and appreciate the work Uganda and the neighbors are going in South Sudan,” said Symington IV.
He warned about the insecurity that may arise out of failure by the warring parties in South Sudan not put the signed agreement in force. He asked Museveni to encourage them to do so and move forward.
“We are going to see them together (Dr. Riek Marcher and President Salvar Kiir) for the first time this week. We shall be lobbying them about the issue of governors and the contested state,” said Amb. Syminton.
Lawyer Kambanda says Museveni is associated with stability in Uganda.
“No U.S. policy maker would consider incapacitating Museveni, thereby creating another messy country in an already messy region,” said Kambanda.
Magnitsky Act sanctions target individuals. Historically, the US Government does not target strong government officials or military officers of an ally country; doing so would be incapacitating the ally (Uganda).
What the U.S. often does is to hit such individuals with Magnitsky sanctions after they have fallen out with the government,” he added.
The Magnitsky sanctions require all property and interests in property of the designated individuals, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by them, individually, or with other blocked persons, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons, are blocked.
The regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons.
The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods or services from any such person.