By Alex Muhumuza
The Museveni government is in international news once again for grand corruption – this time with the focus squarely on the country’s refugee program.
Germany has now joined the United Kingdom and Japan in suspending refugee funding to Uganda, according to various news reports. The Ugandan refugee program – which the regime has also weaponized as a source of recruits for groups trying to destabilize Rwanda – can no longer get millions of dollars in funding.
“This is money they have been embezzling as if they are accountable to no one, but all of a sudden accountability is demanded,” commented a Ugandan official that preferred to talk off the record.
Commenting on an aspect of the widespread embezzlement, veteran Ugandan journalist Charles Onyango Obbo wrote in a tweet, “It emerged last year that refugee numbers in Uganda had been deliberately inflated by over 300,000 by colluding aid agencies and Office of the Prime Minister officials who also stole aid resources meant for refugees.”
Inflating refugee numbers is just a tip of the iceberg of the corruption that has been uncovered. According to observers the acts of embezzlement in the handling of refugee affairs reveal that while Ugandan officials – such as Hilary Onek, Minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees – have proudly been touting the country as “the most generous, most welcoming” one for refugees, in fact this is another mega scam!
“It is just another of the many scams that have characterized Museveni’s 33 years in power.”
Last year in November a UN investigation of the Ugandan refugee program found “misconduct and corruption that cost millions of dollars.” A report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) showed inflated bills, fraud and none-compliance with rules, among other malfeasance that caused losses for the UN refugee agency.
In stating the reasons Germany has decided to withhold its funding, the European country’s ambassador in Kampala, Albrecht Conze, said they were disturbed that the Ugandan Government has not reacted to the corruption scandal ever since it was unearthed, with Uganda claiming it is “still carrying out investigations.”
“What we are particularly disturbed by is that those who seem to be at the center of this machination have not faced justice,” said the German ambassador, as quoted in The Observer newspaper of Kampala. “German has voiced concern ever since the scandal was discovered, and I have now joined my British and Japanese colleagues in making a strong point,” continued the ambassador.
Many, however, are convinced that corruption in Uganda is irreversible – in any government office – and that even more donor countries will cut off funding. “If the president can take a bribe as petty as US$ 500,000 from some random Chinese business fixer, what makes anyone think a good amount of the embezzled refugee money hasn’t ended in Museveni’s pocket?” a Kampala writer asked.
“Any donors that expect accountability will be disappointed because the corruption is sanctioned right from the top.”
The OIOS’s audit covered UNHCR’s (the UN agency for refugees) operations in Uganda for fifteen months, from July 2016 to November 2018. The audit showed excessive fuel use by UNHCR vehicles assigned to officials from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), which manages refugees and provides contract services to UNHCR.
The audit said OPM paid US$ 283,000 in allowances annually to dozens of its staff but “was unable to provide to OIOS documentation to substantiate that these civil servants were working on UNHCR projects.” The report was just getting started. It continued with how Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister devised a scam to overbill UNHCR by US$ 7.7 million for water supposedly consumed by refugees – of which about 300,000 were “ghost refugees.”
“Some procurements were done without competitive bidding while others carried insufficient documentation, exposing UNHCR to losses through inflated prices and other losses,” the report revealed. The audit also revealed that while Uganda had been claiming it hosted 1.4 million refugees, the true number was 1.1 million.
Reading through the audit, a Rwandan analyst exclaimed, “no wonder Uganda has refused to implement the Cessation Clause concerning Rwandans. The refugee situation is too juicy for Museveni’s regime to allow even a single one go back home!”
When a cessation clause comes into effect, it means the nationals of a certain country no longer have reason to fear going back to their country of origin, and therefore cannot be refugees anywhere any longer. The clause for Rwandan refugees was signed on 30 June 2013.
It meant every Rwandan could go back home as the reasons that caused them to become refugees had long ended and the country was completely safe for all her nationals, with everyone expecting to enjoy equal protection before the law.
However, Kampala, instead of implementing the Cessation Clause and assist in repatriating Rwandans, began dilly-dallying. They began inventing fictions such as claims that “Rwanda was kidnapping refugees”, and using that to justify none-repatriation. In a shocking display of the symbiotic corruption between Uganda government officials and some officials of UNHCR, they did the opposite of repatriation.
Earlier this year, billboards – with the UNHCR logo – began appearing at different Uganda-Rwanda border posts. The billboards were announcing in three languages, Kinyarwanda, English and French that “anyone that wanted to become a refugee needed only to cross over, and they would be registered”.
The record shows that as much as the Museveni government has been using refugees as a cash cow, Rwandan refugees in particular have been exploited for another nefarious purpose. From the time Museveni began his alliance with Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC, plotting to bring armed conflict back Rwanda, they have been recruiting from camps with sizable Rwandan populations.
This became very public in December 2017 when Ugandan border police intercepted 46 young Rwandans that were travelling on forged Ugandan papers. They first claimed they were going to a bible fellowship in Burundi but upon closer questioning they confessed they were recruits of RNC going to training camps in eastern DRC. It was discovered that Ugandan military intelligence, CMI together with RNC agents had recruited them from refugee camps in western Uganda.
If governments like Germany, UK and Japan can withhold refugee funds because of embezzlement, maybe they can also sanction Uganda because of facilitating a terrorist group bent on causing insecurity in a neighboring country, one analyst commented.