Refugee scandal: UNHCR replaces its country boss

Action. Left to Right: Mr Kantande, Mr Onek and Gen Kayihura at a recent function. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • Background. This newspaper reported a week ago that Mr Kantande faced a possible recall due to alleged mismanagement of resources for refugees under his watch.


The United Nations High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) has recalled Mr Bornwell Kantande, its country representative to Uganda and replaced him with a French national, Uganda’s Refugee minister Hilary Onek said yesterday.
“It’s true,” the minister said by telephone to our inquiries about the development. He added: “What you have heard is true and correct. He is going to be replaced by another officer.”
Mr Onek, however, would not say when the new UNHRC head, Mr Joel Boutrue, will arrive. There was also no immediate update on when Mr Bornwell would depart, with government bureaucrats and UNHCR officials saying the three days off work had kept them out of the information highway.
A UN refugee agency’s head in a country is a high-level diplomat, meaning the exit of an incumbent and or the arrival of a replacement goes through an elaborate approval process handled through the Foreign Affairs ministry.
Minister Onek has already notified the Foreign Affairs ministry to expedite the planned changes. Mr Sam Kutesa, the Foreign Affairs minister, said yesterday that he had been upcountry and is yet to be briefed about the developments.
He referred further inquiries from this newspaper to his ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Amb Patrick Mugoya, who was unavailable.
This newspaper reported a week ago that Mr Bornwell faced a possible recall due to alleged gross mismanagement of resources for refugees under his watch. Uganda currently hosts up to 1.4 million mainly South Sudanese refugees, but a whistleblower alleges that the count is inflated, prompting fresh ongoing screening and verification exercise.
The Ugandan government, working with UN agencies and international funders, has commenced investigation into the allegations that includes reported trafficking of children and women for sex and forceful marriages. There is also inter-agency fight over the sharing of millions of dollars raised during the refugee solidarity summit in Kampala jointly hosted by President Museveni and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Minister Onek told a news conference last week that the investigators have three weeks to complete the one-month probe.