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Uganda to Charge US Ambassador over Criticisms to the Government

Tensions between Uganda and the United States were yesterday set to escalate, after it emerged that Kampala was to summon Ambassador Deborah Malac to explain her recent criticism of President Museveni’s government.

Deborah Malac, the US Ambassador to Uganda, during the presidential elections which she said was full of malpractices.

Since the widely-criticized February 18 elections, the United States has led international criticism of Museveni’s democratic and human rights record.

Malac and the US representative to the UN, Ms Samantha Power, have been most vocal, variously accusing Museveni of infringing on human rights and being a risk to Uganda’s future.

US representative to the UN, Ms Samantha Power, has in recent days accused the Ugandan government for violating rights of Ugandan including opposition supporters.

During a routine interview with The Observer on Monday, the deputy director of the Uganda Media Centre, Col Shaban Bantariza, hinted that there would be a basis for summoning Ms Malac over her remarks. Probed further last evening, Col Bantariza excused himself to “consult”, before calling back to explain Kampala’s displeasure.

“Yes, the intention [to summon Malac] is there and the process is underway,” Bantariza said by telephone. “It should have been today [Tuesday] but I think it will now be in the next few days.”

Bantariza said government was displeased with both Malac’s “misconceived” views and her methods of work. He said that as a diplomat, Malac should have used diplomatic channels to express her “grievances” against the Uganda government, instead of using conferences to attack the government directly.

DIPLOMATIC ROW.

Ambassador Malac is known as a straight-talking diplomat. During the recent women’s conference in Kampala, she was quoted as having said: “The social media shutdown, the detention of opposition figures, harassment of media [during and after elections] all of these things combined with poor organisation of the election have weakened Uganda’s democracy and tarnished Uganda’s image as a strong democracy in a turbulent region.”

The statement and the broader speech mirrored the hardening rhetoric against President Museveni from the United States. Key American newspapers have also attacked Museveni as a mockery of democracy.

In response, the Kampala government has taken the battle to the donors, with various spokespersons writing hard-hitting newspaper opinions. Museveni crowned it last Saturday, saying that donors should not lecture him about how to run Uganda.

Speaking at the NRM victory party at Kololo ceremonial grounds, Museveni said he would not take orders from foreigners on matters Ugandan. To drive his point home, Museveni said foreigners earlier backed such bad leaders as the 1970s dictator Idi Amin.

Museveni strongly attacked the foreigners that they should focus on their countries and leave the issues of Uganda for Ugandans.

Officials at the American embassy were not immediately available for a comment by press time. But with Bantariza confirming that no official communication had gone out, it was unlikely that the embassy would answer our questions.

FDC WARNS.

But America’s stance reflects the view of many Western and independent local observers about the recent elections described by former FDC presidential candidate Kizza Besigye as the most fraudulent in Uganda’s history.

Indeed, while it has annoyed the government, America’s position has been welcomed by the local political opposition, which insists Mr Museveni stole the election, despite failing to prove it in the Supreme Court.

On Monday, FDC spokesman Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda challenged Museveni to address the problems in Uganda instead of attacking donors who point them out. At a press conference in Kampala, Ssemujju said donors only spoke about the situation in Uganda because the country has failed to manage its domestic affairs.

“You don’t criticize people who solve problems you create in your country,” Ssemujju said. “Most of our internal problems do not end here; they go up to these donors since there are many Ugandans living in these countries.”

However, Ssemujju fears that if Museveni continues his ‘war’ with donors, the country risks losing development aid, something that would hurt ordinary Ugandans. He claimed that Museveni was angry because he expected the donors to reward him for keeping troops in Somalia and South Sudan by ignoring problems in Uganda.

“Mr Museveni is taking Uganda where Mugabe has taken Zimbabwe. He is isolating Uganda from the international community; he can be isolated but [let him] not isolate our country as well. We call upon him to control his remarks.”

Responding to Ssemujju later on Monday, Bantariza retorted: “If our ambassador in Washington made such remarks, he would be summoned to explain.”

On the risk of donors cutting aid because of the public diplomatic row, Bantariza suggested there was not much American aid for Uganda to fret over.

“Which aid are we getting from America? You talk of military aid; US trained only 100 Ugandan soldiers, can 100 soldiers fight a war?” Bantariza said. “They have even failed to find Kony in Central African Republic yet without US help, we managed to send Kony out of Uganda.”

By Robert Muriisa.

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