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US sanctions sow panic in Museveni/NRM officials

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President Yoweri Museveni.

By Moses Kamya Ssentamu

Despite putting a brave face to the slapping of sanctions by the United States against the former Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura a few weeks ago, indications are that Museveni and his inner circle are in a state of mortal panic. That is after it emerged that more of them are the crosshairs of US sanctions.

The peek into the actual state of affairs emerged last week as one high ranking senior official after another expressed concern about the US action and the seeming lack of leverage by Kampala to counter the move. The Deputy Speaker of Parliament was the first to let the cat out of the bag when in a meeting with an EU official, he carelessly warned that Uganda could also deny western officials visas.

That was however, contradicted later in the week, when NRM spokesperson and head of the Uganda Media Centre Ofwono Opondo told local media that the Museveni system was flying blind in the sanctions crisis because the US was playing its cards so close to the chest Kampala had no idea who next might be the subject of travel sanctions.

Related: The US sanctions Kayihura; it should sanction those “higher up”.

“The problem is they are not telling us who the blacklisted officials are,” the weekly Observer quoted Ofwono as telling it.

Given his positioning in the NRM system and his occasional tendency for deliberate candor, Ofwono can be believed when says that there are serious concerns by Uganda’s leaders about the latest developments. A week earlier, Ofwono had visited with Kale Kayihura at his goat-breeding farm in Kashagama, Lyantonde.

Although the visit did not make immediate sense and led to speculation that Ofwono was an emissary who had been sent to broker a possible rehabilitation for Kayihura, available information now indicates that he had been dispatched to debrief Kayihura about the real extent of his troubles with the US and how that might further impact Museveni’s inner circle.

Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs Henry Okello-Oryem, another loose cannon, validated Opondo’s assertions when he told another Ugandan publication that Uganda was in contact with the US over the Kayihura sanctions, and the visa denials to Ugandan officials, “because we want to understand better.”

The US Treasury Office slapped travel and financial sanctions against Kayihura and his immediate family late August, triggering a crisis that has left many of Museveni’s henchmen shaken. That same month, a bunch of officials from the NRM Secretariat had been denied visas to the US where they were due to attend the Uganda North American Association Convention.

Their counterparts from the opposition sailed through without any trouble.

Barely a fortnight later, Museveni’s right hand man and Permanent Secretary to the Judiciary Pius Bigirimana, who was part of an official delegation to the US that was led by Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, was denied a visa.

Related: Dear Secretary Pompeo, Kayihura violated human rights under Museveni’s direct instructions

It is as though the US is sending clear signals to Museveni, since the violence that followed the 2011 elections, that they won’t quietly look on any more as he perpetrates his human rights violations. Since they (signals) involve people he has been relying upon to execute his illegalities, to further entrench his rule. Now Museveni can see himself as the ultimate target.

Several senior police and military officers that were due to undertake high level command courses in US academies were struck off the roll between 2011 and 2017.

The US cited their involvement in acts of repression for its action.

Related: The maze of crime that Museveni has constructed

An angry Museveni then petulantly proclaimed nobody would dictate where he took his officers for advanced courses, since he had his own Staff and Command College at Kimaka in Jinja!

But as the circle narrows towards him, Museveni is genuinely worried. He and his substantive Foreign Affairs minister and deal-maker Sam Kutesa have not stepped on US soil since 2008 when they were implicated in a bribery scandal in which Kuteesa solicited for US$ 500,000 bribe from a Chinese businessman to get oil concessions.

Despite the diplomatic immunities Museveni or Kutesa are entitled to, Okello Oryem has taken Kutesa’s place during the past two sessions of the United Nations General Assembly, while Ruhakana Rugunda, the Prime Minister stood in for Museveni.

It is a sign that Museveni is not taking any chances, going anywhere near the US!

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