Deported MTN staffer’s shocking ordeal at the hands of lawless CMI agents
By Rutore Samugabo
Annie Tabura – one of the senior staff with MTN Uganda that were controversially arrested and deported from Uganda at the beginning of last week – has categorically called allegations that she was spying for Rwanda “rubbish”!
Describing her ordeal at the hands of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) in an interview that lasted more than two hours, Annie Tabura says that when she got back to Rwanda and read “the rubbish that they had written”, she wants to make some things clear. “It is MTN that sent me to Uganda, not the government of Rwanda!’ she said.
“MTN is a multinational that rotates its employees any way it sees fit,” says Annie who was General Manager, Sales and Distribution at MTN Uganda. She remarks that the company rotates all its employees, even Ugandans!, just like any other multinationals in its employ to where their skills may be best deployed.
Also, she added, “I and Olivier Prentout (a Frenchman) were in the commercial department. We were involved in sales figures, growth of the customer base and so on, so we get nowhere near systems.
“It is therefore just false to say that we “were listening to conversations! Where would we even get the time?”
Annie – who throughout the interview cut the figure of a traumatized person, sometimes breaking into tears, but managing to compose herself – disclosed that throughout all the time from when they arrested her at her workplace, up to when they took her to the cells, and from there to the airport, the CMI men never told her a single reason why she was under arrest.
It reached a point when she began badgering them, asking them what she had done to deserve the treatment they were meting out on her, but “they told me nothing at all!”
A nasty surprise at Entebbe
The story of Annie’s tribulations in her last hours in Kampala reads like a script for a bad Nollywood film.
To listen to her tell it is to feel pity for Uganda, given the picture that emerges of how the country’s “security operatives” work. The whole saga paints a clear picture of country being run in lawless ways – with security organs such as CMI and others still addicted to the same methods as those of Idi Amin’s State Research Bureau or Obote’s National Security Agency (NASA).
For Tabura and Prentout, their particular ordeal began when they arrived at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on a flight from Rwanda where they had been attending a company conference for a few days. That was on Saturday 19 this month.
Tabura says when she presented her passport to an immigration official at one of the counters, he examined the document, asking her “how long are you going to stay in Uganda?” She replied, “I am a resident.”
Annie says the next thing the man said was that there was something he was not seeing clearly. “But you can check in my passport; I have a valid work permit,” Annie told him. So he kept examining her passport, “then he finally wrote ‘resident’”.
“The guy was talking to me; saying things like ‘are you a good neighbor or a bad neighbor!’” Tabura says. That in hindsight should have started the alarm bells ringing in her mind.
By then she was getting concerned because Prentout “was spending too much time in one place, in front of the same counter and he had not moved an inch since presenting his passport.
So Annie walked over to him and asked, “what’s wrong; why are you taking so long?”
Tabura says her colleague kept insisting, “everything will be OK Annie, we have done nothing wrong!” But OP – as his colleagues call him by the initials of his names at MTN Uganda – was puzzled too. Even the official supposed to be processing his passport had stepped from his counter.
Finally Prentout insisted Annie go, “since each of us have drivers. I will join you later.” Annie agreed but she became more concerned when upon leaving she noticed someone had moved Olivier from the original counter and now he was standing in a more secluded place, in front of what looked to be some small offices.
Annie joined her driver but on her way, a few minutes from the airport, when she called his phone it was off. It was all strange and a bit alarming, but Annie still could not bring herself to believe anything could be wrong. Perhaps the battery of her colleague’s phone was down.
It in fact happened that Prentout’s driver became really concerned after waiting so long, yet his boss was not coming out. So he went in and inquired, “only to be informed that Olivier had been arrested!” (They would keep Prentout in the airport, until Monday night, when they boarded him on a KLM flight back to his country).
Annie’s nightmare grows
Tabura was in for another shock soon. That is when she got a call from her home – Speke Apartments in the Kololo suburb of the Ugandan capital – by management informing her that the police wanted to talk to her. “It was the deputy commander of some police station that I did not catch very well, looking for me,” Annie narrates.
It was afternoon and she was at the home of a friend, so she told management to tell the police she wasn’t around.
“They hung up, but a few seconds later called again, saying, ‘he is here; he wants to talk to you.’” She says she told the man she was not around, and asked if they could talk on the phone, but he refused.
“I then realized things were serious; they had taken my colleague and now they were coming for me! What was this about!”? Tabura asked herself.
She decided to call her CEO and said, “You are the CEO of this organization, so you must be knowing what is going on! They arrested Olivier and now they are coming for me!”
The CEO replied, “Annie, I wish I knew, but I have no clue!” When she got back to her apartment, where she lives with her children, in the evening, the police had left. But in the morning as she was taking the kids to school she says she saw two police cars parked in the compound, full of police people, “as if they are going for a war!”
“I thought, oh my goodness; these guys are coming for me! I don’t want them to arrest me in front of the kids!” To Annie’s amazement however, the cops rushed out of their cars and straight passed her to another car. It was apparent they did not even know the person they were supposed to arrest!
Annie drove away, relieved that at least they wouldn’t take her in front of her children. Yet her relief did not last long.
The police were already at MTN head offices looking for her. She had gone for a meeting at another of the company’s offices, MTN BAT. But she soon reasoned, “I cannot hide forever; let me face these people and ask what they want from me!”
So she called her CEO and told him she was coming. “He said OK, but wait a little bit as we make sure our company lawyers are here so that we talk to the Police in their presence.”
However when she arrived at her place of work, she saw that it was surrounded by the police. They had come in two cars; a police car and a civilian vehicle. When she got out of hers in the basement parking, about 10 police, some in uniform, some in civilian attire came running towards her.
“Are you Madam Annie?” one asked. He appeared to be the leader of the group. She said yes.
“You are under arrest!” he barked.
All right, Annie said, “where is the arrest warrant?”
They did not produce a warrant, Tabura says. He only said, “Just follow us.”
The man wasn’t in uniform. Also, it was the same person that had talked to her on the phone telling her he was deputy commander of a police station that she has forgotten which.
The police vehicle was a pickup, and the civilian one was a van with tinted windows. Tabura says they bundled her with three of the security operatives – two men and one woman – in the back seat of the van. They were carrying her off with no kind of procedure at all.
She says it was highly uncomfortable in the back seat with the three police.
Her misery however was compounded when one of the men told her to bend forward and put her head between her legs. “Already it was badly crowded and I didn’t know how I could do what they were ordering.
“But the guy said, ‘Madam, this is not a joke – you have to do it!”
“I do not know how I did it, but I managed though it was torture!”
She said the commander told her they were going to Jinja, so Annie thought they were taking her to prison in Jinja. Fortunately for her, she had taken the precaution of apprising the Rwandan High Commission in Kampala of her situation, and she had instructed her CEO to call the embassy in case something like this happened.
It came to her as a great relief when, about five minutes into their journey, the commander “got a call from someone, which seemed to confuse him.” All the time Annie was in her highly uncomfortable position but she could hear some of the talk in the car.
She guessed the MTN people must have informed the High Commission of what had happened and they in turn must have called Ugandan authorities. “Right about then the commander told the driver to change direction.” But from then, the guy kept getting phone calls, and telling the driver to stop, upon which he would get out to talk, Annie narrates. Then they would change direction. At some point Annie thought the pain of her uncomfortable position would kill her.
She begged that they allow her to sit upright, no matter how briefly. “OK you can but no more than one second!” one of the men said as he shoved his gun in her side.
After driving around for a period of time some of the men began saying they were hungry. So the driver stopped at a shop. They bought something to eat in the shop, and came out. They also came out with two handkerchiefs, which they knotted together and blindfolded Annie.
“Then they also put handcuffs on me; it was as if they were just remembering!” says the lady who at that point in her tale is struggling with tears.
The vehicle drove off again
CMI jail cells
“When we next stopped and they removed the blindfold, I lost hope! We were in a place of overgrown grass and derelict vehicles that looked like they had not moved for years. I thought they had brought me there to kill me!” By then they had long taken her two phones away from her, she says.
This was the Kireka Police Station for CMI!, they told her shortly. Uganda Military intelligence controlled this place. Next they began to record the items she had on her, in a book. “The guy who was writing down my stuff on a desk, when I saw his badge, it said: “State House.” What have I done, Annie asked herself fearfully.
Next they ordered her to remove her shoes, which she did, and they also told her to remove her belt. “Only then did I learn that they were going to put me in a jail cell!” Tabura shivers.
Two men led her to her cell, which she describes as small and very smelly. There was a small mattress on the floor in the corner with a dirty bedcover, and some stinking toilets. After a few minutes she realized there were people in an adjacent cell.
They were speaking in Kinyarwanda. “Real Kinyarwanda and I thought, oh my God, what will happen to them!”
One of them tried to speak to her, and offered her some bottled water but she declined.
Annie’s story of those Banyarwanda who happened to be locked up in a CMI jail tallies with the fact of the many abducted, and “disappeared” Banyarwanda whom they arrest with no warrant and hold incommunicado.
To Annie’s relief, after some hours in the cell, the men that had locked her up came back and told her, “We are taking you home!”
They gave her back some of her stuff (they still had her phones and bank credit cards) and drove with her to the airport. “I once again asked them: what have I done that you have treated me like this and disregarded my human rights? What are you charging me with?”
She says that the men, and woman told her nothing. The woman told her she was “only on duty”.
At the airport, the Rwandair flight they had booked her on was a few minutes from takeoff. The CMI fellows completed the deportation procedures, handed her back her phones and credit cards, and gave her passport to Rwandair officials. Annie boarded, still wondering at what she had done that her life be so disrupted.
It was the following day, on Tuesday that Uganda Police (same as CMI in this case) issued the press release that has become infamous by now.
The statement, signed by Uganda Police Spokeswoman Polly Namaye said: “Security agencies in collaboration with immigration officers “had been investigating the two foreigners ‘over their engagement in acts which compromise national security’.
“We strongly believe that the deportation of the two foreigners who were using their employment as tools to achieve their ill motives has enabled us to disrupt their intended plans of compromising national security.”
These statements came under immediate public scrutiny because “they just did not sound right”. Doubt was raised by the fact Prentout and Tabura had been detained only a brief period and deported, with no trial. How was that possible for people accused of such grave offences?
Annie Tabura is adamant these are total fabrications, reiterating her innocence.
The publics, of both Uganda and Rwanda, are only now learning more about the “money struggles” between the Kampala administration and MTN. The multinational’s license expired September last year, and they’ve been renewing for thirty days, or sixty days since then. The first time, the government told them they had to pay US$ 100 million, which they reduced to 58 million, with condition they invest a further US$ 200 million. Talks are still ongoing.
“What has happened to MTN whose officials have been arrested or deported – including the Company’s general manager, Mobile Money, Elsa Muzzolini in addition to Annie and Olivier – is a game of extortion by a regime inner clique. This clique wants a much bigger cut!” said an analyst anonymously. “The message to MTN is, pay up and your troubles will end!”
Another observer added: “in the case of Madam Annie, the regime saw an additional opportunity in its continuous campaigns to harass Rwandans, while tarnishing Rwanda with false claims that Kigali is causing insecurity in Uganda.
“That is what falsely arresting Tabura (in particular) was about; it is the endless efforts at mudslinging Rwanda,” concluded the analyst.