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Faith Nyasuguta

The United States imposed sanctions on five Ugandan public officials on Thursday, including the Speaker of Parliament and the former Deputy Chief of Defence Forces, in a move that increases pressure on Kampala to address corruption and human rights issues within its ranks. This action comes a month after the United Kingdom enacted similar sanctions against the Speaker and two former ministers.

The US State Department announced on May 30, 2024, that Speaker Anita Among was sanctioned for her involvement in significant corruption related to her leadership in Uganda’s Parliament. The UK had previously sanctioned Among in April, freezing her property and financial assets in London. This has led to multiple investigations, with state agencies and President Yoweri Museveni demanding that the Speaker clarify her assets and financial holdings as required under the Leadership Code Act.

In addition to Among, the US sanctions target former Minister of Karamoja Affairs Mary Goretti Kitutu, her deputy Agnes Nandutu, and Minister of State for Finance Amos Lugolobi. These officials were accused of significant corruption involving the misuse of public resources and diverting materials meant for Uganda’s most vulnerable communities.

“All four officials abused their public positions for personal gain at the expense of Ugandans,” said Matthew Miller, the State Department spokesperson.

Washington’s move also included sanctions against Lt-Gen Peter Elwelu, former Deputy Chief of Defence Forces, for gross human rights violations. Elwelu was implicated in extrajudicial killings by the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) under his command. These sanctions make the designated officials ineligible for entry into the United States.

Uganda’s Speaker Anita Annet /VOA/

Elwelu is notably remembered for his role in the 2016 attack on the palace of Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere, which resulted in over 100 deaths, including children, and more than 180 arrests and detentions. Despite widespread condemnation, Elwelu was promoted and appointed Chief of Land Forces and currently serves as a Member of Parliament representing the army.

The sanctions are implemented under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2024. Consequently, the US also sanctioned the spouses of Among, Kitutu, and Lugolobi, barring them from entering the US. Additional visa restrictions on other Ugandan individuals are being enforced under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, targeting those undermining democratic processes and repressing marginalized or vulnerable populations in Uganda.

Among has argued that the corruption allegations are a pretext by Western nations, asserting that the true motive behind the sanctions is her role in presiding over Uganda’s anti-homosexuality act, which includes a death penalty for aggravated homosexuality. 

Human rights and LGBTQ+ activists have criticized the Ugandan government for enacting one of the world’s harshest laws against same-sex relations, hindering marginalized groups’ ability to live freely and access essential services, including healthcare.

Opposition political leaders have also accused the government and security agencies of violating their supporters’ rights, citing instances of incommunicado detentions, prolonged imprisonment without trial, and forced exile of opposition members. These detentions include supporters of the National Unity Platform (NUP), who were targeted for supporting President Museveni’s main challenger, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, also known as Bobi Wine, during the 2021 presidential election.

/ABC News/

The United States emphasized its support for Ugandans advocating for democratic principles, accountable governance, and transparency. “Impunity allows corrupt officials to stay in power, slows the pace of development, facilitates crime, and causes unequal distribution of resources, disproportionately affecting underrepresented and underserved populations,” the State Department said. 

“Today’s actions reaffirm the US commitment to support transparency in Uganda’s democratic processes, counter corruption globally, and address the broader culture of impunity that prevents all Ugandans from enjoying their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Analysts suggest that the sanctions against Elwelu signal a clear message from the US to the Ugandan government to control its high-ranking military officers involved in human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings. In December 2021, the US imposed financial sanctions on the then Chief of Military Intelligence Maj Gen Abel Kandiho for alleged human rights violations. 

Two years prior, the Department of Treasury sanctioned former police chief Gen Kale Kayihura for gross human rights violations, corruption, and bribery.

These measures highlight a continued effort by the United States to hold Ugandan officials accountable for corruption and human rights abuses, urging Kampala to take meaningful action in addressing these critical issues.


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Faith Nyasuguta

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