The government has summoned Moscow’s envoy to Kampala to protest against Russian press reports that Uganda had bought fighter jets paid for by promises of crude oil. Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga told Parliament yesterday that government has communicated to Moscow asking for the press reports to be withdrawn or explained.
It is the latest twist in the wake of a controversy that erupted after Vedomosti, a Russian business newspaper, reported that Kampala had entered an agreement with Moscow to buy six Su-30MK2s fighter jets at a cost of Shs108b each.
After saying the deal had failed due to the “prohibitive” price when the story broke, the army spokesman, Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye, on Tuesday said the UPDF would go ahead and purchase the fighter jets if and when it gets the money to pay for them.
Dr Kiyonga yesterday dismissed newspaper reports carried in the Russian press that Uganda would offer oil in return for the jets. “I would like to assure you that there has not been and there will not be such negotiations, i.e. negotiations to swap oil fields for military supply,” the minister said. “Government has clearly stated that oil money once obtained will be used strategically and in a transparent manner. There is no way that the NRM government could commit in advance the petroleum natural resource in the manner described by the Russian media.”
Dr Kiyonga, however, refused to say whether the government would try to buy the jets. “Uganda purchases military equipment from several countries under classified arrangement as is normal with security matters all over the world. In the case of Uganda, classified purchases are regularly audited by the Auditor General to ensure appropriate accountability,” he said.
Dr Kiyonga said in Parliament yesterday that the government had asked the Russian authorities to force the media to retract the story. “The ambassador of Russia to Uganda was invited and the matter was put to him that we were not happy with the falsehoods in the (Russian) media. As a result, the ambassador undertook to communicate our position to his country.”
MPs across the political spectrum yesterday asked the government to come clean on the deal, with some warning that acquiring fighter jets might trigger an “arms race” in the East African region. Shadow Defence Minister Charles Gutumoi asked his government counterpart: “Did you consult the newspapers to know how they got the information? Do you have the ability to buy the jets? We want to move on the basis of truth otherwise your statement lacks this detail.”
Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu (FDC) and Reagan Okumu (Aswa- FDC) wondered if there was need for such a fleet of jets at a time when a lot of propping in other sectors was needed. “It’s not beneficial to go into a stupid arms race instead of enhancing productivity. Let us not become victims of the oil curse,” said Mr Katuntu.
New Mbale Municipality MP, Jack Wamanga (FDC), a former diplomat who served in Moscow, said: “It’s rare for such a Russian publication to publish an article on such countries like Uganda. There must be something.” But Mr Guma Gumisiriza (Ibanda - NRM) defended the government, arguing that the country’s security must be beefed up with modern technology. “If there are any purchases, it’s proper and befitting but certainly not using oil money because the oil is still in the ground.”