KAMPALA — Tempers flared at State House on Monday as President Mueveni grilled Foreign Affairs Ministers Sam Kutesa and his deputy Okello Oryem over US visa travel sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter.
The President who chaired Monday cabinet reportedly accused the duo of responding to foreign policy matters based on personal opinions which have no government backing, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential information.
President Museveni was agitated by the sanctions recently imposed to his top security chiefs—with close sources indicating that the Visa ban by Washington also targets Judiciary and Electoral Commission leaderships for allegedly helping the 76 year old to secure a win over his opponents in the dark.
The US statement, however, did not specify who was affected by the visa restrictions.
For example, President Museveni slammed the duo over failure to mend a diplomatic feud between Uganda, Washington and the entire west, according to the people.
“The president thinks the foreign affairs Ministry is not doing enough to convince diplomats on Ugandan affairs. Their failure to convince EU members and UN security council left the president furious,” the people added.
Sources familiar with the matter said the US will redirect funds for certain programmes involving the Ugandan Police Force, National Public Health Institute and Ministry of Health, and has cancelled plans to conduct a US military-sponsored aviation exercise in Kampala.
They added that President Museveni is also aware that Washington is already weighing additional actions against individuals complicit in undermining democracy and human rights in Uganda, as well as their immediate family members.
Washington is also cutting funds to a number of programmes it is running with the Ugandan authorities, and cancelling a military exercise.
The developments are said to have angered the President who shifted the blame to his foreign affairs ministers.
A row between Uganda and the West has been simmering for the past few years but seems to have escalated when Kyadondo East Member of Parliament announced his bid to challenge President Museveni on the country’s top job—with Washington accusing Kampala of deploying state resources to violently frustrate unarmed supporters of the youthful singer-cum politician.
Museveni, who has historically clamped down on anyone who poses a real threat to his power is accused of unleashing his security forces on Bobi Wine and his supporters before, during and after the January poll.
The run-up to the election was marked by violence and crackdown by security forces on opposition rallies.
In November, over 60 people were killed as security forces tried to quell riots that erupted in several cities after Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was detained for alleged violation of anti-coronavirus measures. He was arrested multiple times during campaigning.
But the 76-year-old Museveni dismissed allegations of vote-rigging, calling the election “the most cheating-free” since the country gained independence from Britain in 1962.
Following Museveni’s re-election, the US had warned it would consider “targeted actions” against all members responsible for election irregularities and abuses against opposition candidates and members of the public.
Uganda government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said Saturday that the U.S. had yet to formally inform Uganda of the visa restrictions, but in a statement Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said actions by the Ugandan government during the January presidential election showed a lack of respect for human rights.
He challenged the U.S. action, saying Washington did not have credible evidence against government officials. He described the U.S. accusation as generalized, collective guilt and collective punishment.
“Surprisingly, they don’t disclose,” he said. “If they were honest, they should disclose specifically the names, the incidences and the nature of offenses of these officials so that Ugandans know them. Secondly, so that the government of Uganda takes investigations and appropriate action if these officers indeed were the ones responsible”.
Under Museveni, Uganda’s relationship with the US has been built on military cooperation, including in Somalia, where Ugandan troops, trained and equipped by the US, are the core of the peacekeeping mission that is battling the armed group, al-Shabab.
The US gives about $1bn per year in security and development assistance to Uganda.