The MTN saga further exposes the rot in Museveni’s economic bubble

By Moses Ssejjoba

Everyone smelled a rat when President Museveni was seen in Davos in January this year for the first time, for the World Economic Forum.

To start with, there was nothing unusual for a Head of State to be seen in Davos, the place where the who is who in the world of global business converge every year. The only problem is that this is not a place that Museveni, as we know him for the past 33 years of his dictatorship, has warmed up to, unlike other progressive leaders.

Prospective Foreign Direct Investments are negotiated here, but only for those leaders with a vision, and this is reflected in the tete-a-tetes that occur in this place between Presidents and chief executives of global conglomerates.

As for our own, it was a different issue altogether as we soon came to establish. The only meeting we saw was of him with chief executives of MTN Group, which has already been here 20 years now. Everyone wondered why Museveni had gone all the way to Davos to meet a company that was already established here.

To make matters worse, no sooner had he come back than his militia-like security apparatus deported the senior management of MTN Uganda to their different countries, on apparent charges of colluding with “a neighboring country” to sabotage Uganda’s security.

It was on Museveni’s orders.

For what we have come to know of the overused phrase, the “neighbouring country” is always meant to refer to Rwanda. Consequently, CEO Wim Vanhelleputte, then chief marketing officer, Olivier Prentout, general manager for Sales and Distribution, Annie Tabura, and mobile money general manager Elsa Muzzolini were deported.

No due process was followed in any of the deportations.

But before this, the same security whose atrocities have since been equated to those of the Nazi-era Gestapo in Germany, had raided different installations of MTN Uganda, including their data center located in Mutundwe. Nothing came of it and the regime was panicking.

Now, after months of backroom negotiations, the issue of MTN Uganda is back in the limelight, only now with more light on what has been happening.

The issue has never been the Telco or its senior management colluding with any foreign country “to destabilize” Uganda, which always sounded fictitious from the very beginning.

The cat was out of the bag this week, as reported in local media, such as the Independent. In a recent meeting with MTN Group executives, held this time at State House Entebbe, Museveni swallowed his pride and said he “had been misled” on the deportations!

So, it was never about security in the first place, as had been obvious right from the start. Museveni and his gang, it has emerged, had been doing all this to force the hand of MTN Uganda, whose license was up for renewal, to pay an exorbitant fee for an operating license renewal!

Whereas the competing telco Airtel Uganda is operating at a license procured at 100,000 US dollars, Museveni has all along been forcing MTN to cough up a staggering 120 million dollars.

MTN stuck to their guns and endured all sorts of intimidation by the regime, including but not limited to denting their brand with the preposterous charges of espionage among its top executives.

Now the regime is so cornered and desperate Museveni has even apologised to the MTN Group executives, saying he “acted on wrong information” to order for the deportations.

But why the desperation?, one may ask. The regime, which has eaten up our economy to the core, seems to not only have counted its eggs, but also eaten the chicks before the eggs hatched!

In the desperate attempt to revive Uganda Airlines – which was eaten up by the same Museveni junta in the first place – the regime placed its bet on the exorbitant fee to renew the MTN license. A few weeks ago, the State Minister for Planning David Bahati told the reluctant MPs to release funds to pay for the two miniature Bombardier jets – the only “fleet” for the airline – that the money would be recouped from the MTN license fee.

This is how deep our economy has sunk under Museveni.

He is not only taking bribes from prospective investors – as it was established recently in the case involving a Chinese national in a New York – but also holding at ransom even the few we have in his desperate attempt to cling to power.

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