By Mary Mugisha
The deportations of three MTN Uganda senior expatriates have rapidly become an international scandal for the country. The hidden reasons behind the arrests and deportations almost two weeks ago of three MTN expatriate staffers are coming to light every passing day, and causing serious embarrassment in “high circles”.
Even international investors are asking themselves: if this is how the Uganda government can treat the country’s top taxpayer, deporting its employees on unproven allegations, who is safe? According to political observers, this saga is threatening to fully expose the kind of greed to be found in “high places”.
Even State House’s senior spin masters, like Presidential Adviser Moses Byaruhanga cannot explain away the fishy claims that the MTN executives were “involved in espionage”.
Speaking on Capital FM’s influential talk show, “Capital Gang”, one of the panelists Robert Kirunda, a bright lawyer challenged the government, “if it suspected the officials of espionage it should have tried them here! Why didn’t it? By the time you deport someone you do have enough evidence, right?”
Byaruhanga was flummoxed and seemed not to know what to say, instead resorting to repeating the by now discredited police claims that the deported individuals were “involved in acts that undermine national security”. The senior presidential adviser failed to answer the simple question that the lawyer seated next to him was asking. If indeed they had information to back their accusations, why not try the suspects?
This case gets smellier the more it is closely examined. Two of the MTN executives were deported merely hours after their arrest. So why the hurry, especially when it is serious matters of national security?
Another influential panelist on the talk show, MP Semujju Ibrahim Nganda commented on the continuing unfair deportations of nationals of a neighboring country. It is obvious that Kampala, going by all the evidence, has been waging a propaganda war against that neighbor. Observers have long seen this as the regime’s attempts to deflect attention away from many of its failures.
“The government has really failed to be open about the deportations,” commented the outspoken Member of Parliament.
But Moses Byaruhanga could not say anything beyond his mantra that the deported people “are involved in issues that undermine national security”, forgetting that his government tried no one, and convicted no one of the alleged espionage activities.
Pinpointing how false the government’s accusations against the deported MTN staffers looked, Kirunda remarked: “To me if the issue really is one of undermining national security – leaving alone the fact we aren’t so sure since there has been no open trial – should MTN’s license even be renewed?
“Now they are demanding 100 million dollars, now 58 million…but if you then renew their license what guarantee do you have that you will not have the same problems?”
The lawyer’s insight here was that the telco is a victim of arm-twisting tactics by some top, greedy people using the state security apparatus – Police, CMI, ISO – to harass and disorganize the company. Probably until it pays up the enormous sums demanded, then its troubles will end!
Another one of the panelists, a lady called Nancy, took the opportunity following Kirunda’s observation to point out that in the 33 years of the NRM, you can’t point at any really wealthy Ugandan and say: “This person got legitimately rich! No, almost all the really wealthy people have had dealings with the government!”
The implication here is that there is a lot of wealth that has been gotten through all sorts of crooked, corrupt ways. The main ways have been “cutting deals with NRM bigwigs”, or “going through top regime leaders”.
Such dealings, one can be certain, are behind the current woes of MTN, with some “Rwakitura-connected” individuals forcefully shoving their fingers into “the MTN pie”. So what do they do? They use CMI, ISO and Uganda Police to do their dirty work, while concocting charges of “espionage” against innocent expatriates.
The Capital FM show left Byaruhanga, and by extension his bosses, exposed and caught up in yet another huge lie, so much so that Nancy at one point was heard remarking: “Things can only get better in Uganda with another administration!”