Among Sanctions: Ugandan Parliament Faces Global Isolation

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The recent sanctions imposed by the USA on several high-ranking Ugandan officials, including Speaker of Parliament Anita Among, have placed Uganda’s Parliament on the brink of global isolation.

The sanctions, prompted by allegations of corruption and gross human rights violations, underscore the international community’s firm stance against such abuses.

Among the sanctioned officials are former Minister of Karamoja Affairs Mary Goretti Kitutu, former Minister of State for Karamoja Affairs Agnes Nandutu, and Minister of State for Finance Amos Lugolobi.

They are accused of misusing public resources and diverting materials intended for Uganda’s most vulnerable communities. Additionally, Peter Elwelu, former Deputy Chief of Defence of the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), faces sanctions for his involvement in severe human rights abuses, including commanding forces in extrajudicial killings.

The sanctions highlight how these officials allegedly abused their positions for personal gain at the expense of the Ugandan people. Additionally, Peter Elwelu, the former deputy chief of defence of the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), was sanctioned for his involvement in severe human rights abuses.

Specifically, Elwelu is accused of commanding UPDF forces that carried out extrajudicial killings, a serious violation of human rights. These actions by the USA government underscore a commitment to addressing and penalizing corruption and human rights abuses globally.

Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the USA State Department, explained the sanctions’ implications, stating that the designated Ugandan officials are generally ineligible for entry into the USA.

“The Department is also taking steps to impose visa restrictions on multiple other Ugandan officials for undermining the democratic process and repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations in Uganda. These individuals are responsible for, or complicit in, the repression of Ugandan members of political opposition groups, civil society organizers, and vulnerable communities in Uganda,” Miller said.

Miller emphasized the broader impact of such corruption: “Impunity allows corrupt officials to stay in power, slows the pace of development, facilitates crime, and causes an unequal distribution of resources, which can affect underrepresented and underserved populations disproportionately.”

Additionally, the USA Department of State designated the spouses of some of these officials, including Among’s spouse, Moses Magogo Hassim; Kitutu’s spouse, Michael George Kitutu; and Lugolobi’s spouse, Evelyne Nakimera, rendering them also ineligible for entry into the United States.

These USA sanctions come approximately a month after the UK imposed similar designations on Nandutu and Kitutu, highlighting a growing international stance against corruption and human rights abuses in Uganda.

International/Commonwealth meetings

As sanctions take effect, the speaker of parliament, who also serves as the chairperson of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), is expected to miss the 67th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC) scheduled to take place in Sydney, Australia, from November 3 to 8.

This anticipated absence is due to the close relationship between the UK and Australia, which likely extends the reach of the sanctions. The conference will include a meeting of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP), the 67th CPA General Assembly, and sessions of the CPA Executive Committee, among other events.

Earlier this year, the speaker missed Commonwealth Day, an annual celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations, which took place on March 11, 2024, in the UK. This day is observed by people across the Commonwealth, spanning Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Americas, the Pacific and Europe.

In January, the Commonwealth of Nations hosted the 27th Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth (CSPOC).

This meeting was attended by thirty-three speakers and presiding officers from more than twenty-five Commonwealth parliaments. The speaker’s expected absence from the upcoming CPC underscores the broader implications of the sanctions on Uganda’s international engagements and parliamentary diplomacy.

Implications of sanctions on parliament

Interviewed for this story, Godber Tumushabe, a lawyer and policy analyst, highlighted the severe implications of the sanctions imposed on Speaker Anita Among and other officials.

“The sanctions limit what they can do,” Tumushabe noted. “For Among, it is even worse because this is an entire institution of government. It is unreasonable to have the overall head of parliament restricted in terms of travel and financial transactions.”
Tumushabe further criticized Among’s refusal to step aside despite the allegations against her. “It is very disadvantageous for the country. I still don’t understand why someone like Among, with all the allegations against her, doesn’t dare to step aside and let the institution of parliament operate normally. She probably looks at herself more than the country she serves.”

He added, “The speaker can delegate someone to represent her, but parliament and the country are going to lose out because we are not going to fully participate in any form of partnership that requires speaker-level engagement.”
George Musisi, a lawyer and human rights activist, echoed these sentiments, stressing the impact on parliament’s image.

“Being blacklisted affects the image of the institution of parliament and, therefore, the house cannot further any discussions in the fight against corruption in international forums,” Musisi said, adding, “The sanctions will limit the financial transactions of the speaker since America and the UK control most of the financial transaction platforms like MasterCard, Swift, and others. The only way to have her freed is for the ministry of Foreign Affairs to engage these nations.” Musisi concluded, “Parliament is not losing much but its image. It is bad enough to hear that the head of the institution is sanctioned because of corruption.”

Peter Walubiri, senior counsel and political analyst, emphasized the moral and operational challenges.

“The speaker should enjoy high moral ground to be able to preside over the institution of parliament. If there is a cloud over the speaker’s head, it lowers not only her esteem but also the house she presides over.”

He pointed out the logistical difficulties, saying, “It also may cause difficulties where the speaker has to discharge business of the parliament in terms of attending meetings outside the country, and the speaker cannot attend because of travel restrictions. It clearly makes it difficult for her to carry out some of her duties, including representing the parliament of Uganda in some international forums.”

Walubiri also raised concerns about the broader credibility of parliament. “A legally and politically disabled speaker raises doubts about the credibility of parliament. You should be trying your best to lead your institution. But if your leader is limping and parliament cannot do anything to get a straight leader, it may cast doubt on the entire institution. So, it casts a bad light on parliament in the community of nations.”

Ugandans face the wrath of sanctions

Uganda has seen several of its high-profile officials face international sanctions due to allegations of corruption and human rights abuses. The repercussions have significant implications for both the individuals involved and the country’s reputation on the global stage.

In 2018, former Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa, who served as president of the UN General Assembly from 2014 to 2015, was accused of receiving a $500,000 bribe from Chinese national Patrick Ho of the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC). This bribe was allegedly in exchange for obtaining “business advantages” for the Chinese energy company.

In 2019, former inspector general of police (IGP) General Kale Kayihura and his immediate family members were sanctioned for corruption, human rights abuses, and bribery. The USA Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) accused Kayihura of leading a police force involved in serious human rights abuses against Ugandan citizens and for his role in corruption.

Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, stated, “We are targeting Uganda’s former police inspector general Kale Kayihura for using corruption and bribery to strengthen his political position, as units under his command committed serious human rights abuses.”

In December 2021, Major General Abel Kandiho, the former head of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), was sanctioned by the USA Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). These sanctions were part of a broader action targeting high-profile Iranian and Syrian officials for serious human rights abuses and repressive acts targeting innocent civilians, political opponents, and peaceful protesters.
These sanctions highlight a pattern of punitive measures against Ugandan officials accused of corruption and human rights violations. The international community’s actions signal a strong stance against such abuses, aiming to hold individuals accountable and promote justice and transparency.

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