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Politics

Uganda reaps the bitter fruits of a scandal-plagued regime

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By John Kakooza

Throughout Museveni’s 33-year misrule of Uganda, a central characteristic of his regime has been the sheer numbers of scandals it has generated.

Museveni is like a scandal factory, a shocked Ugandan commented once.

Yet even by the standards of the regime’s scandals the one of the slave trade of young Ugandans to Arab countries of the Middle East – in which Museveni and his family, by many accounts, are directly involved – is shaping out as the mother of all scandals. Ugandans thought they were totally used to the misdeeds of the man from Rwakitura. They were very mistaken.

When Salim Saleh shocked Uganda in 1998 with his involvement in the purchase of junk helicopters from Ukraine for the Ugandan air force the public was disbelieving. It turned out Saleh had made a commission of US$ 5 million on the rotten deal of buying these choppers (that could easily have killed anyone attempting to fly them).

By that time every Ugandan had long realized that Museveni was corrupt through and through. The junk chopper deal was emphatic confirmation. No one thought Saleh had done it without the permission of his elder brother. The Rwakitura Mafia had struck in broad daylight.

It would strike again, with the corrupt, illegal purchase of shares in Uganda Commercial Bank by a shadowy, Malaysia-based company called Westmont. This firm pulled off the caper in partnership with Greenland Investments, owned by Saleh. It was discovered that Westmont was a mere shell company set up in Malaysia by Saleh’s partners there, with the express purpose of making the raid on UCB.

Again Saleh was the front man for a scandalous deal of which ultimately Museveni was the man in the shadows; the orchestrator pulling the strings out of public view. When they bought UCB, Saleh quickly raided the savings of Ugandans, spiriting away billions in offshore accounts and bankrupting one of the country’s most venerable banking institutions.

In effect, said an analyst, Saleh and his brother the president were no better than highway robbers, with the difference that these ones controlled a state. Ugandans were in for a very bleak time. They realized they were in for a nightmare that would take a very long time to end, if at all.

Museveni has confirmed their fears, very amply. The man has presided over a highly corrupt, incompetent system that will end up bankrupting the country itself, knowledgeable people have concluded. That is, unless Ugandans can muster enough courage to do something to save their country, say the pundits. Museveni and his brother have showed their insatiable, criminal greed and there can be no limit to it, goes the consensus.

There is the well-documented plunder of the DRC’s resources, for which the Democratic Republic of Congo sued Uganda and the International Court of Justice ruled in DRC’s favor. The court then ordered Uganda to pay her neighbor US$ 10 billion. Once again the poor Ugandan taxpayer will have to foot the bill for more egregious crimes through which its president and his thieving brother have banked billions.

There have been the endless land-grabbing scandals. There were the huge scams that characterised the hosting of the Chogm summit in Uganda in 2007 whereby billions of shillings in expenses went unaccounted for. “Museveni is just a scandal machine!” exclaimed Dr. Aggrey Kiyingi a veteran Ugandan politician on one of his Internet forums.

Yet none of the scandals that have come before are close to as shocking as the sale of Ugandan girls and boys into slavery in Arab countries. It is a scandal whereby all the companies selling these young Ugandans are directly owned by the Museveni family – this time not only Saleh, but even Museveni’s wife and children are involved. And others are owned by powerful members of Museveni’s (adopted) Bahima ethnic group, in government and in the security forces.

Ugandans had become used to everything, including the fact their president is a serial womanizer; an incorrigible skirt-chaser that has made very many questionable decisions by appointing so many ladies to high positions just because he has slept with them.

“Of course appointing women on merit is no problem at all – they are equal citizens and no one should be questioning a lady’s appointment,” said a Kampala analyst, continuing, “but when an important hire is made purely because she has been in Museveni’s bed, then the country is in trouble!”

It means there has been no objective assessment whatsoever of such a woman’s professional abilities – other than satisfying Museveni!, says the analyst. “As such her competence is seriously suspect, yet she won’t be subject to disciplinary and other measures should she display incompetence or abuse of office.”

The analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity added, “Now think of this scenario as applied to all the women the man has appointed in his 33 years of power, terrible! How much has the country lost just through the ineptitude of such hires – from ministerial cabinet posts, to high-ranking females in security positions and the like; truly Uganda is cooked!”

The slave scandal is looking to surpass all those others, however. Yesterday 6 July, Mukono Municipality MP Betty Bakireke Nambooze wrote on her Facebook page: “The Air Dubai plane that touched down at Entebbe Airport yesterday evening brought into Uganda more misery than the anticipated happiness. Dozens of girls who were trafficked to the Arab world as slaves were being returned to meet their relatives after a protracted struggle, which we started about two weeks ago.

“Parents wept on seeing their girls as some had to be wheeled off the plane in wheelchairs. The girls have broken limbs, bruised faces, scars…they are so skinny and sick. Yet these are the lucky ones as some of their colleagues are dead or can’t be traced.”

Reports have said that firms directly affiliated to Salim Saleh, such as the shadowy Normandy Company located on Bukoto Street, are foremost in the export of desperate young Ugandans into slave labor. They lure them through advertisements in state media, such as the government owned New Vision newspaper, Bukedde TV and others that they will take them to “juicy jobs in the Middle East” and that all one needs to do is apply, fill a form answering basic questions, and wait for selection.

In this way the Museveni family is directly profiting from the high unemployment that is a result of Museveni years of misrule, say yet other commentators.

Once the young men and women have boarded a plane, Saleh collects a commission of about a thousand dollars per head, said a person knowledgeable about these deals. Once Saleh and his nieces (Museveni’s daughters who are shareholders in Normandy) have pocketed their dollars, they care less what happens to the sons and daughters of poor Ugandans that they have sold.

Likewise the big Bahima officers that are in on the racket, such as Commissioner of Police Henry Tukahirwa and his wife Ruth Karungi, owners of the Ntinda-based Marphie International Company. According to MP Nambooze, the high-ranking policeman and his wife were very angry that they had brought back the girls, some of whom could scarcely walk.

“This is where the impunity of Museveni’s tribesmen has reached!” remarked Bedmot Abednego Williams, a commenter on Nambooze’s Facebook post. “This is impunity which is backed by the state – filthy idiots who think that the 27 guns made them gods!”

Museveni’s scandals could well bury the country if people do not galvanize themselves to finally stand up, in masses, many members of the Ugandan intelligentsia agree.

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