Archive for September, 2010

President Yoweri Museveni has signed into law the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill, 2010, giving powers to security officials to listen into private communication if they have sufficient reason to suspect the communication is in aid of criminal activity. (The Monitor Newspaper.)

This is something that has been brewing for years  and was passed by parliament last year and now has been signed into law, a few days after the Al Shabab bombings. And my fears have been growing steadily. Its an open secret that the government has been tapping phones, illegally, for years. Everyone has learnt to watch what they say on the phone and others keep multiple phone lines hoping it will provide privacy.

The only saving grace was that they could not use the evidence gathered this way in a court of law.

 Telecom companies are obliged to give government security agencies cooperation to place their (agencies’) tapping gadgets on their network equipment with the aim of enabling the security men access private conversations or exchanges.
But according to the law, only a High Court judge can grant permission to a state security operative to tap into a person’s communication. The Act provides for the establishing of a monitoring centre manned, operated and controlled by designated technical experts appointed by the Security minister.(The Monitor Newspaper)

Now initially in the draft law all that was required was that the minister of security, or the inspector general of police, or the head of the prisons service, or either of the heads of the external/ internal security intelligence services, or the army commander could order for your phone to be tapped.

Clearly this was scaled back to require judicial consent for such an act. However, with constant tapping taking place and the wanton disregard for the laws of the land, can we honestly believe the officers mentioned above or their juniors will not take liberties with the civil liberties of the man on the street, or even more likely, those of people considered ‘enemies of the movement system.’ And with the business world tied into an incestuous relationship with the political and security apparatus it is foreseable that commercial communications could be intercepted and abused.

Having multiple sim cards is pointless as everyone is required to register their phone lines. Thus the only way to really have a really private conversation is to do it the old fashioned way, at the pub huddled over a bottle of beer. So there is some benefit to all this, we just might regain the social contact we have lost due to the advent of the mobile phone.

But then again, there is an ominous erosion of civil freedoms in Uganda, it is slow, but very steady. Currently in kampala one needs clearance from the Inspector General of Police, no less, in order for more than 5 people to meet in one place. He insisted that all one needs is clearance to meet, not permission. Splitting hairs? I agree, but the implimentation with be interesting to observe and politics will intrude………elections are round the corner. After all who really can keep track of all the Kwanjulas, night prayers, funeral vigils, birthday parties etc in kampala….it is impossible!!!

With the Public Order Management Bill also on its way to Parliament, will Ugandans finally be denied the right to meet, talk in privacy, protest in public or speak on a radio talk show.

 There is a Bill Of Rights in our 1995 Constitution, does it mean anything to our members of parliament. I am not holding my breath, they would sell their mothers for a kilo of maize meal.


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A Kampala market

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Its been a worrisome week indeed with the spectre of military might always hanging above our heads.

 The story is of a woman who shot her soldier husband because he threw out of the house for being HIV positive and he is negative. The discordancy is bad enough, the murder is worse, but the shocker is that she, a civilian, was tried before a military court martial, based in a small upcountry town.

 Now in Uganda if you use military weapons to commit a crime, in this case an AK-47, then you can be tried in a military court. The initial target of this legal state was armed thugs who were running amok in the early part of this decade.This woman was married to a soldier, used a military owned weapon on an army base, to kill a soldier…her husband.

 With the highly militarised state that Uganda has become, it was not unexpected that the influence of the military would be extended into the realms of civilian justice. Does it make it right? I say no.

 I can only imagine what the burden of proof required to convict is and what is the quality of both the judicial bench and the military advocates/ prosecutors. If the standard of general functions of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces is anything to go by then God help you if you get caught in this steel web.

 The civilian courts are not perfect, but they do have safe guards: capital crimes are restricted to the high courts, there is open access for the public and the media, the cases are not concluded in mater of days and executions do not follow swiftly afterwards.

 I am sure the court martials do offer safeguards, on paper, but do they do so in practice. And isn’t it plain wrong to try a civilian in a military court, under military rules regardless of the crime committed. It is an instrument open to abuse and can be resorted to by those in power who may want to achieve a certain judicial verdict (just ask kizza Besigye). And now president Museveni wants the court martials to cover corrupt officials too, ‘regular courts waste alot of time seeking evidence.’ True, but isnt it true that the police arrest you first and the do a shoddy job investigating the crime?

 The woman in question has been sentenced to death, extenuating circumstances not withstanding. Some gender activists have raised the alarm about the judicial process in question and have, for their trouble, been branded as sympathisers of a murderer.

 My question is whether this state of affairs, civilians tried in military courts, can be challenged in the constitutional court?

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The junction of kampala and Entebbe Roads- 1963

Amber Court (Uganda Electricity Board HQ) to the left and the building that currently houses the Tropical Africa Bank (formerly Libyan Arab Bank) straight ahead. It does look amazingly quiet, granted that it was a public holiday, the first anniversary of indepence.

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Hassan basajjabalaba

In 2004 a young Turk of a trader called Hassan Basajjabala woke the country to the reality of politics and commerce being an unholy, perhaps an unhealthy, alliance. Especially in a pseudo democracy like Uganda.

He had already caused waves as the ‘kikubo’ trader who had conquered the hides and skins trade with huge successes exporting to Europe and the Middle East. Nobody really knew who he was and that only enamoured his reputation. After all we all love an underdog who takes on the well established ‘Big’ boys.

Then came 2004and the mercurial entrepreneur ran into a bad patch and his business took a big hit, big enough to threaten him with bankruptcy. In stepped his excellency the president, Museveni, who then directed the bank of Uganda (the counttry’s central bank) to loan basajjabalaba $11 million . The fact that giving loans is not within the central bank’s mandate seemed to have escaped the head of state.

Under pressure the Bank of Uganda got the Uganda Development bank to loan him the money, while holding valuable land titles as security. Or so they thought, because last year it emerged that basajjabala had reported the same land titles lost and had the Registrar of Titles issue him replacements. He promptly resold the properties and to date has not made any payments on the original loan.

What amazes me is that the man has been caught red handed committing fraud, he has never made payments on his loan and has ignored court orders to do so. And yet under ‘normal circumstances he would be in a jail cell cooling his heels, while his property is seized and sold to placate his creditors.

But is basajjabala really a ‘normal’ man? He owns a private university (Kampala International University) that received millions of dollars in a grant from the government, not withstanding the fact that public institutions are crying out for funding.

He was embroiled with Chief khadi Mubajje in a plot to defraud the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council of property. The fury that unleashed from the muslim community was a hurdle he caould not overcome and the chief Khadi lost his position as well.

Basajjabalaba then got himself allocated the iconic Nakasero market, right in downtown kampala. The incensed market traders were having none of it and rioted. They rightly argued that the city council should have offered the management contract to them first. Last week it emerged that the government has been quietly paying him off for loss of ‘income’ or something like that……….it hilarious if not downright shocking.

Now for those not in the know, Basajjabalaba is also head of the ‘Entrepreneurs league’ of the ruling national Resistance Movement. I guess some ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ are in order, particularly from people in Kenya who have seen such a level of lawless impunity in the recent past.

Well things hit a new low at the recently concluded NRM primary elections, last week, for party officials and candidates in the forthcoming general election. He was re-elected the head of the league and promptly stood up and dished out wads of cash to the dele-gates in the meeting hall. Coupled with all the stories of voter intimidation and bribery the NRM’s conduct of its own private elections leaves Ugandans in wonder as to what will happen when this lot actually comes face to face with the political opposition during the general elections.

For now the police have called Mr. Basajjabalaba to record a statement about accusations of voter bribery during the primaries. But as is the custom the police were still waiting to receive him at the central police station and chances are he will never bother to turn up.

I cannot but wonder if this man actually owns his money and all those businesses or is he fronting for some one big, I mean really really big. It would make sense that that is actually what he is doing, how else does he get away with everything short of murder. And why does the president step in everytime to save his businesses from bankruptcy, unless of course…………

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We all remember this guy, Michael Ezra something. He burst onto the world scene with his bid for Leeds FC a few years ago. The bid failed, but a new celebrity was born. And to keep up with his new found fame Ezra dished out cash left right and centre to deserving causes and then some. His particular favourite was cash strapped sports organisations and teams.

Well over the years the rumours have gathered steam: Ezra is actually broke. My take is that he never had any money in the first place, but then again what do I know. Finally over the last few weeks his creditors have come to the fore The national Bank of Commerce, various businessmen and a good doctor too, all gave this fellow amounts well over the $500,000 mark for various ventures and have all come up short.

The tale gets messy with a chain of bounced cheques ( a criminal offence in uganda) that includes the taxman! The Uganda Revenue Authority audited Michael Ezra Mulyoowa and determined he owed them over half a million dollars, he agreed to pay and gave them a lousy cheque. Now there are certain rules you dont break and screwing the taxman is definitely one of them. They are baying for his blood, but as in the perculiar Ugandan fashion he has not been arrested, nor has his property been seized…..I wonder why?

Well as his mogul image took a beating in public Ezra called a press conference where he assured the press he was very much solvent and stacked $ 3 million in crisp notes on a table to prove it. The press was startled and impressed. but I am not.

Which hard working and honest man runs about with that kind of money in cash. No genuine businessman needs to prove to the public he still has it with such a stunt. It simply tells your creditors that your fair game for them. As for the taxman…………need i say more. Well apparently he has a travvel ban on his head, why they dont just arrest the fraud is anyone’s guess. But then again: whose money is he cleaning?

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