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Ugandan opposition figure Bobi Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, speaks at a press conference in Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 22, 2021. Photo AP


KAMPALA, UGANDA - The U.S. is imposing visa restrictions on some Ugandan government officials for what it calls the undermining of the democratic process during recent elections.

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.

The secretary announced visa restrictions on people the U.S. believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process, including during the January 14 election and the campaign period that preceded it.

President Yoweri Museveni won a sixth consecutive term in office, defeating several challengers, including the opposition lawmaker known as Bobi Wine, who disputed the election result and alleged election irregularities.

Harassment, arrests

In his statement, Blinken cited cases of opposition candidates being routinely harassed, arrested and held illegally without charge. He also refers to  Ugandan security forces being responsible for the deaths and injuries of dozens of innocent bystanders and opposition supporters, along with violence against journalists.

The top U.S. diplomat noted those actions represented a continued downward trajectory for the country’s democracy and respect for human rights as recognized and protected by Uganda’s constitution.

Government spokesman Opondo challenged the U.S. action, saying the U.S. 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.”

Opposition applauds

The National Unity Platform (NUP) party, whose members say they have been victims of human rights violations, welcomed the U.S. action.

NUP spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi said that the party had identified 700 people it considered to be political prisoners in Uganda who were missing, and that it would keep demanding their release.

“We are happy that the international community is beginning to hold Uganda accountable, so that leaders get to know that there are ramifications for violations of human rights," he said. "And once, you know, they escalate, then maybe the repercussions get to escalate as well. So, it’s a very welcome development to us.”

Ssemujju Nganda, a member of the Forum for Democratic Change party and opposition parliament chief whip, is among the lawmakers demanding government accountability. He said that while the U.S. action was welcome, it was symbolic in nature and would be effective only if it moved to the next stage.

“I don’t want to invite sanctions, but I think if there’s a record of violations, the Americans need to do something more tangible than just the symbolism of announcing travel restrictions to people who may not even want to travel to America in the next five, 10 years," he said. "So they need to do something that they have done to countries that are not following international norms of human rights and democracy.”

Blinken warned that the U.S. could weigh additional action against individuals complicit in undermining democracy and human rights in Uganda, as well as their immediate family members. - Halima Athumani, Voice of America

Check-in desks at Heathrow airport Terminal 5 in west London on September 9, 2019. Photo AFP


Technical teams formed by Kenya and the United Kingdom are expected to start talks on Friday to establish a bilateral protocol to be used in governing travel during this pandemic season.

The teams were formed after the first meeting of a joint emergency taskforce of both countries, on Thursday, and their recommendations will be used to guide how the two countries manage passenger travel to control spread of Covid-19.

These specialised committees could determine when a mutual travel ban imposed between the two countries will be lifted.

On Thursday, officials from both sides, forming the Joint Emergency Response Committee on Covid-19, met virtually and agreed to delegate the specific tasks to the committees.

The Emergency Committee was created by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Foreign Affairs Raychelle Omamo and UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab “to explore ways to resolve ongoing travel restrictions between the two countries.”

The Kenyan team on Thursday also included Health Principal Secretary (PS) Susan Mochache, Transport PS Solomon Kitungu and Trade Secretary Linyuru Bruno.

Co-Chaired by Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau, and Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office Africa Director Irfan Siddiq, the Emergency Response Committee meeting resolved to have specialised teams to look into gaps and “report back in a few days.”

There were no timelines or deadlines given to the teams.

The teams have representatives from the scientific community and other related experts on health and travel.

Sources told The EastAfrican that the experts will be given sufficient time to ensure all critical issues of testing and validity of results and vaccination certificates are addressed.

The UK had on April 2 announced restrictions on passengers travelling from Kenya to the UK, citing increasing cases of the South African variant of Covid-19. Kenya reacted promptly and banned passenger flights from the UK, and accused London of discrimination.

Sources said the earliest passenger flights can resume will be in May, but no definite date was given.

“We are not working with guns on our heads. The technical teams will have sufficient time to address the issues of concerns,” a diplomat told The EastAfrican on Thursday.

Cargo transportation, which had been exempted in the ban, was also temporarily disrupted as both sides discuss what will constitute valid documentation. As it is, crew must bear a valid negative test, taken not more than 96 hours before arrival. Nairobi had added a new demand that crew bear vaccination certificates.

Both countries are running vaccinations, but pilots have not received certificates. In the UK, only pilots who fit in a certain age category or in special groups identified based on health have been vaccinated.

The two countries were yet to decide whether a vaccination card issued in the UK would be a valid certificate in Kenya. Nairobi has not started giving vaccination certificates.

London argued that Kenya’s Covid-19 certifications for travellers have been faulty, with nearly 30 per cent of weekly 550 arrivals testing positive a day after arriving. Most of them had the South African variant of Covid-19, the UK said.

The UK has proposed that Kenya introduce rapid testing at airports to weed out fake or invalid travel certificates. That may take at least a month to implement. Travellers will be required to pay $25 at the airport for a spot test.

The suspension of UK-Kenya flights is likely to hurt the entire eastern African region.

Kenya was the last connecting hub in the region to be put on the UK’s Red List, a group of 39 countries where travel is either banned or restricted to control the spread of Covid-19.

In the region, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Ethiopia had already been placed on the Red List. And Africa’s main connecting transport hubs Johannesburg, Nairobi, Addis Ababa as well as Dubai and Doha in the Middle East are now all blocked by the UK. - Aggrey Mutambo, The EastAfrican


A GROUP of Rwandan refugees living in Zimbabwe are refusing to be repatriated, five years after losing their refugee status.

Some 140 people, who are living in the Tongogara Refugee Camp in eastern Zimbabwe, had their refugee status revoked in 2013 by the United Nations after assurances given by the Rwandan government that their safety back home was guaranteed.

However, the group protested the UN decision and their stay was extended by two years to 2015. Now the host country is insisting that it is time for them to return home.

"The position of the government has not changed," Tongogara camp administrator Johanne Mhlanga said. "They are expected to return home in line with refugee laws."

The refugees however say they prefer to be permanently resettled in Zimbabwe.

"No one here wants to return home," Rwandan community leader at the Tongogara Refugee Camp Philip Sindayigaya told a local publication. "We want to stay in Zimbabwe because what we ran away from is still there.

"We have been appealing for Zimbabwean citizenship. We have noted that other nationals have benefited or been resettled, and we want similar treatment."

In 2017, then Tongogara Refugee Camp administrator Meshack Zengeya said failure to repatriate the refugees or give them citizenship after the cessation of their status could create problems for Zimbabwe.

"I am certain that the security ministries will have a problem with these people when they disappear into the community," Mr Zengeya said. "So it is an issue in which the Rwandan community are requesting for local integration."

Rwanda has been relatively stable for some time, but some Hutu refugees prefer to be settled in third countries. - Bulawayo24

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