Museveni pardons those he wrongs

A view of the proposed Gatuna One-Stop Border Post between Rwanda and Uganda. / Emmanuel Kwizera

With the ever escalating tensions between Uganda and Rwanda, it is difficult to predict when and how the conflict will cease.

However, if the way individuals are handled suggested how states deal with one another, then it would be easy to predict how the conflict between the two states might end.

This can be concluded from Museveni’s recent decision to “pardon” Mr Wim Vanhellenputte, the MTN Uganda Chief Executive Officer, previously deported to his country, Belgium, this February, without any form of due process whatsoever.

Along with Olivier Printout, Elsa Mussolini, and Annie Tabura, the four MTN senior officials – chief marketing officer, Mobile Money manager, and general manager for sales, respectively – they were bundled up in January and February for deportation on allegations of “breaching national security” and “spying for Rwanda.”

At the time of deportation, Gen Don Nabasa, head of the Special Forces Command (SFC) claimed that these officials were being used by “external forces” in a plan to topple President Museveni, according to a story in The East African weekly paper.

They were bundled out of Entebbe airport like chicken thieves, with no chance to defend themselves or being accorded a semblance of due process, with officials suggesting that the rush to remove them from the country without having to charge them in court was due to the seriousness of the allegations and the urgency of removing such clear national security risks.

VIP status reinstated

In a sudden complete reversal, the former CEO has been reinstated and accorded the consideration that he apparently now deserves, an obvious mea culpa.

Daily Monitor revealed part of the letter, dated 29 May 2019, the Minister of Internal Affairs wrote to the Director of Immigration relaying instructions from President Museveni, stamped “to have the CEO cleared through Entebbe VIP lounge.”

The clearance of the official’s return is deemed “Very Urgent” because, it is now claimed, everything had been a mistake, a small mix-up. The spying case is withdrawn.

But the damage has already been done, not only to these MTN executives, but to a neighbouring country.

“It is not known what impact the withdrawal of the spying allegations against Mr Vanhellenputte will have on the spat between Rwanda and Uganda, which led to a mini trade war,” the Monitor writes, as if to ask how Museveni’s admission to a mistake that fuelled a “spat” with another country can be corrected beyond MTN’s interest.

“The development raises questions on President Museveni’s options for his security chiefs whose briefs led to the deportations.”

On the one hand Museveni concedes, “I am the one who ordered for the deportation of MTN CEO but I was misled.”

On the other, he assigns fault to the lies of his security advisors, “The surprise return of Mr Vanhellenputte is likely to put security chiefs on the spot, after separate investigations exonerated him,” according to the Daily Monitor.

Museveni purportedly discovered these lies from “parallel investigations into the spying allegations,” which allegedly prompted him to concede "that he had been misled on the issue.”

Paradoxically, while Museveni concedes to making misguided decisions, he is the one “pardoning” those whom he admits to having wronged! 

In March, President Museveni wrote a letter to his Rwandan counterpart. In that letter he conceded that despite the arrests of Rwandans in his country, “I get a lot of stories; but I will never raise them unless I have confirmed them,” Museveni wrote giving reasons why he has yet to confront President Kagame on the allegations that Rwandan spies are operating in his country, unlike the latter who has provided proof of Rwanda's accusations against Uganda.

Abuse of due process

The conclusions to draw are twofold; For victims of his security forces' excesses, due process is only possible for those with direct access to Museveni, and even then only after the fact.

In this case, it apparently took a trip to Davos at the end of January to force “parallel investigations” and another to South Africa this May for Museveni to “assure” MTN Global senior executives there of Mr Vanhellenputte’s innocence, “conceding that he had been misled on the issue” regarding his spying for Rwanda.

But how many have the privilege of access to persuade him to institute such a review in order for victims of miscarriage of due process to benefit from his power to order for such a review?

Moreover, if Museveni had to fly to Davos and South Africa for the MTN Uganda to be able to benefit from his power of ordering for such a review, how are those for whom he need not fly around, expected to benefit from this sort of tailored due process; how are they to benefit from his bespoke “pardons”?

And, how are those who don’t enjoy such privileged access to Museveni supposed to be shielded from torture in jail cells across the country?

The fate of the vast majority of victims is left in the hands of the same security forces that Museveni admits are corrupt because of the constant lies they allegedly feed him.

Like Mr Vanhellentputtte, the vast majority are innocent victims. Unlike him, their only crime is that they don’t enjoy the kind of status that can grant them the executive review and post-facto due process that comes from their employers' access to President Museveni.

If for the rest their due process is determined by the same security officials whom he accuses of being fond of lying to him, then what justice are they expected to receive from them? In other words, what credibility can be attached to any process in which they are involved?

What is also obvious is that Museveni enjoys and encourages the very lies he is being fed, which is proof that the “mistakes” he makes are not because he is being lied to.

On the contrary, he sees benefit in them: If the security officials are lying to him, what stops him from replacing them? The unavoidable conclusion is that the benefits he sees in such lies far outweigh their costs.

The MTN saga provides a clue to this. If the source of the intelligence that Museveni relied upon to deport MTN officials, as he now admits to have done, did not come from different sources and that after a review he discovered it to be faulty, then how does he pick and choose whom to “pardon?”

It seems obvious that the aim was always to target some people, and that others who are now benefiting from his “pardon” were mere collateral.

MTN officials seem to think so, too. Charles Mbire, the MTN Uganda Board Chair, had this to say regarding Museveni’s pardon:

“We are thankful for President Museveni’s personal efforts to get to the bottom of these obviously unfounded and outrageous allegations. You can never hide two things on earth – the sun and the truth, they finally come out,” he told the press.

Which leads us to the second conclusion drawn from the saga. In addition to providing Museveni with proof of his wrongdoing, his expectation is that those who seek to restore good relations with him must also ask for his “pardon.”

For Museveni, the sun and the truth are not enough. Those he wrongs are expected to humble themselves and sue for his magnanimous forgiveness, if they wish to be restored into his gracious consideration.

Unfortunately for Museveni, sovereign states aren't individuals that can humbly beg for the aggressor's pardon. Rwanda isn't MTN.