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Politics

If Museveni sanctioned the drug theft story, why are witnesses disappearing?

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By Moses Ssejjoba

In February this year, police arrested a group of journalists on an investigative story.

The subject, as Ugandans would eventually learn, was a well-coordinated racket of government officials and middlemen selling drugs on the black market that are meant for poor Ugandans and refugees. The drugs in question, mainly antimalarials and others for chronic diseases like diabetes, are provided by donors and supposed to be given to their beneficiaries free of charge.

The result of this lucrative racket (for those involved) has been senseless deaths, as the drugs are sent to the black market and sold at highly inflated prices. We did not get to realise the magnitude of this fraud, however, until the investigative story aired on both Uganda’s NBSTv and BBC a few days ago.

Before we get into the substance of the story, let us bring to our readers’ attention the evil that this government has brought to Uganda. First, when the journalists were arrested the only charge police could come up with was that the story they were investigating would cast the country in a bad light.

Police then went ahead and seized the drugs, which the reporters had bought – on camera – through these merchants of death, as part of their investigation. They actually arrested the wife of NBS journalist Solomon Sserwanja, the lead reporter on the investigation, who had escaped their dragnet, and said they were holding her hostage to compel her husband to give himself up.

Faced with an international uproar the arrest attracted, police eventually released them. Shamelessly, government mouthpiece Ofwono Opondo would go on television to lie to Ugandans that President Museveni had actually sanctioned the investigation!

When he story, which runs close to an hour, eventually came out its revelations were, to say the least, extremely harrowing. It unearthed a highly organised cartel of thieves that steal vital medicines from poor Ugandans.

The investigation, aptly broadcast under the title, “Stealing from the sick”, establishes that life-sustaining drugs are stolen from government hospitals across the country and sold on the black market. The courageous reporters crisscrossed the country tracing how the theft is coordinated up to the highest government echelons.

Reporters recorded as venal government officials and their middlemen confidently assured them there would be no consequences because “very important people were in on the deal”. In one of the discussions with a middleman, he actually tells the reporters – who were posing as businessmen – that police would not dare arrest them even if they found them with the illicit consignment.

This gets us to the crux of our article. When the reporters were arrested in February, they were pretty much done with their investigation. But, as their professional ethics dictate, they had to go back to these people, to identify themselves as journalists, then ask them why they steal from the sick.

When the journalists got back – specifically to northern Uganda where medicines meant for refugees were being stolen – most of their witnesses had disappeared, and accounts from relatives were unanimous; they had been picked up by security and had simply been disappeared. The last of them was a Kampala-based pharmacist who this weekend was found dead in mysterious circumstances in a Jinja hotel.

A simple logical question would then be: If State House had sanctioned the investigation – weird as it would seem – why,then, are the people who could help in getting to the bottom of this story disappearing?

An equally critical question, how much is the army involved?

The investigation traced the nerve-centre of the racket to the Bombo headquarters of the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF).

As usual, given all the elements, one may be sure the long arm of President Museveni is somewhere in this racket.