Saturday March 12 2016

US tells Uganda to reverse troubling trend

By Nelson Wesonga

KAMPALA -The United States has said Uganda government’s continued crackdown on civil liberties, if not reversed, could affect economic and political ties between the two countries.

Mr John Kirby, the Assistant Secretary and Department spokesperson Bureau of Public Affairs said the US is troubled with Uganda’s persistent violation of the rights and freedoms of Ugandans and the media.

Mr Kirby cited the continued detention of opposition figures [like Dr Kizza Besigye] and their supporters without legal justification and the harassment of opposition supporters.

That and the interference in legal challenges to the election results as well as the intimidation of Uganda's media, he said, are “unacceptable activities in free and democratic societies.”

With reference to the proposed legislation to enhance the powers of the government to restrict media, Mr Kirby added, is an attempt to further limit the country’s political space.

“The United States and Uganda have a long standing and strong partnership that has contributed to the stability and prosperity of the region,” said Mr Kirby.

“We are concerned that the Ugandan government’s recent actions could endanger the economic and political progress that has enabled our relationship to grow. We urge the government to take prompt action to reverse this troubling trend.”

When contacted, Uganda’s State minister for Internal Affairs James Baba said the US should raise the concerns through diplomatic channels.

“They should leave us to do our work. We have our laws and institutions. If they are concerned, they know where we are; they should raise those issues with us. They have ambassadors,” Mr Baba, a seasoned diplomat, said on Saturday.

In the run up to the February 18 presidential and parliamentary elections, the US said it was concerned with the deteriorating electoral environment in Uganda.

Unlike now though, it did not issue any threat of what that would mean for the relations.

Mr Kirby did not mention how economic and political ties between the two countries could be affected.

According to information on the US State Department website, the US has since 2011 provided a small number of military advisers to Uganda and other regional militaries to pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels and to protect the civilian populations.

It adds that more than 700,000 Ugandans receive life-saving antiretroviral treatment funded by U.S. assistance.

In terms of trade, the US exports to Uganda include machinery, optical and medical instruments, wheat, and aircraft.

On the other hand, US mainly imports from Uganda coffee, cocoa, base metals and fish.