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Uganda amongst highest risk states for kidnap and crime, US government

Rwanda categorized “Level 1” – amongst the safest places to be – by the State Department.

By Jackson Mutabazi

Kimberley Sue Endecott, an American tourist and her guide Jean Paul Mirenge were recently kidnapped in Uganda.

The US State Department has introduced a new risk indicator in its travel advisory for those American citizens wishing to travel abroad.

This is the “K indicator” that, according to the State Department’s website, lets US travelers know which countries they will be at risk of being kidnapped, or taken hostage if they travel to them.

Uganda occupies a prime space as one of the most risky countries to go to. It is amongst the most dangerous, crime and kidnapping hotspots of the world. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/international-travel-news/k-indicator.html

“The (State) Department issues travel advisories for every country around the world, offering standardized levels of advice based on established risk indicators such as crime, terrorism, civil unrest and other potential risks,” says the website.

It has designated Uganda amongst the countries it is least advisable for American citizens to travel to.

On the other hand, Uganda’s neighbor Rwanda is one of the safest countries to travel to for US citizens, going by the US government’s own website. It is categorized a “Level 1” with the remark “exercise normal precautions”.

Rwanda got this rating two months ago, on 19 February, this year.

Rwanda is in the same categorization as Australia (Level 1, “exercise normal precaution”), Hong Kong, Japan, Botswana, Namibia, France, Germany and other nations with the lowest crime or insecurity rates in the world.

Uganda for its part is amongst the countries with unenviable, worldwide reputations as places where governments have completely failed to guarantee law and order.

Crime, and criminal activities that have been going on for decades, such as extra-legal assassinations – most notably the dozen or so assassinations of Muslim clerics, and other prominent personalities – have underscored what a dangerous place Uganda is.

Kidnappings for ransom have become more pronounced in the past couple of years, and now have become the order of the day, analysts say. On April 2, US tourist Kimberly Endicott was kidnapped in Uganda with her guide and driver Jean Paul Mirenge. That happened as they drove through Queen Elizabeth National Park. News reports said the kidnappers, using their victims’ phones, demanded a ransom of up to US$ 500,000 to have them released.

US President Donald Trump issued a stern warning to Uganda on Twitter to find the kidnappers, and the American citizen.

The panicked Ugandan government paid the ransom, “more to stay in the good books of the US than anything else,” said a source that requested anonymity. However, observers say, the kidnapping of Endicott and her release when ransom was paid has “sharply driven up the risks of going to Uganda for any foreign tourist.

“Uganda’s enterprising criminals will now be actively looking for more victims to kidnap. It is now a lucrative business and no tourist will be safe any longer!” added another analyst. Kidnapping for ransom has been rampant in Uganda for the past few years.

But, “the abduction of Endicott could only make news because she is a foreigner and an American,” said Allan Tacca, a prominent columnist of The Daily Monitor.

A CNN International news report last year on 6 June ran the following headline on its website: “Uganda activists dump coffins outside parliament to protest murders”. The protesters were enraged by a spate of kidnappings and murders of women that the state had done nothing at all to solve, or to stop.

CNN reported that more than 20 women had been abducted for ransom in recent months and people were saying, “enough”!

Others suspected some in Uganda’s security agencies themselves could be “amongst of those that were committing the crimes”.

Norman Tumuhimbise of the youth activist group, The Alternative, told CNN: “they (Police) have failed to investigate kidnap cases despite access to intelligence reports that could nail the criminals.”

Kidnappings in Uganda haven’t abetted even a little, so much so that the country has earned itself the US State Department’s “K” designation. One only travels to such a country at their very own risk.

But Uganda being what it is, “Command1post – one of the websites run by Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence – has chosen this moment to smear Rwanda with an article alleging that Canada, and Germany are asking their citizens to leave Rwanda immediately. This is a claim it does not back with a single link to any source.

“Canada and Germany are the latest countries to advise their citizens against travelling to Rwanda and telling those inside to leave the country,” claims Command1post. But a visit to the Canadian government website, or the Germany one their travel advisory sections say no such thing.

In fact, the Canadian government only advises its citizens in Rwanda to “exercise a high degree of caution” because of “danger in neighboring states”. To read between the lines is to know that the dangerous neighboring state is none other than Uganda.

“Wonders never cease!” exclaimed a foreign citizen that has been living in Kigali for the past five years, but who also visits Uganda a few times. “How can a Ugandan website dare claim Rwanda is unsafe? Surely the world has gone mad!

“Uganda is where violent robberies occur daily, not Rwanda. Uganda is where kidnappings happen in the region! It is where assassinations happen all the time, but Commandpost dares say anything about Rwanda, what a laugh!” concluded the gentleman.

For some years, Uganda under Museveni has been earning itself the designation of a failed state, with levels of corruption not seen even during the poor rule of Obote and Amin.

None other than Lee Kuan Yew, the revered former leader of Singapore, could comment, in 1988: “When I meet the leader from Uganda (Museveni), I know that I am meeting somebody whose world has collapsed, and may not be put together again, for another hundred years!”

In Uganda even the state’s intelligence services act like criminal enterprises.

Hundreds of news reports have detailed how CMI, ISO and other Ugandan security agencies have abducted, and illegally incarcerated hundreds of Rwandan civilians in Uganda, or those travelling there.

Rarely do Museveni’s security agencies conduct arrests through means like issuing warrants, or reading anyone charges against them. Those abducted are held incommunicado. They are not taken to court. Diplomatic efforts by the Rwandan High Commission in Uganda to gain access to its citizens have borne no fruit.

“Uganda just acts like a rogue state!” said Roger Donne Kayibanda, a victim of abduction by CMI that was lucky to be released alive.

The harassment and relentless mistreatment of Rwandans led to the government issuing its own travel advisory. Kigali strongly advised its nationals against crossing to Uganda, for their own safety.

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