Witchcraft scare, internal fights hit Uganda’s embassies abroad

Sunday January 10 2016

By Tabu Butagira

Kampala. Uganda’s execution of its foreign interests through overseas missions is under threat by infighting, intrigue and power wrangles among the diplomats, Sunday Monitor can reveal.

Our investigations show patterns of feuding among ambassadors and their accounting officers, mostly over money, and lately the alleged practice of witchcraft by some foreign service officers ostensibly to protect their jobs.
A family has petitioned the Foreign Affairs ministry in Kampala to investigate claims that their daughter, flown back home on November 17, 2015, after doctors in Europe diagnosed her case as “psychotic depression”, had unknowingly been initiated into a gone-bad underworld of spirits.

The woman, who resigned a banking job in Uganda to work as a “house help” in the home of one of the country’s envoys in Europe, told her parents that on arrival overseas in May 2014, the ambassador one evening gave her a “vertically split unsheathed stick about five centimetres in length” to rub on her teeth to ward off fear.
Afterward, the employee whose name we are withholding for legal reasons, said she began sighting serpents in bed and others of varying colours and sizes clinging on her body. The family said she saw pets and, in some cases, heard cats meowing in the dead of the night even when there was none in the house and that she often listened to footsteps of invisible people on staircases while others hummed away.

In a meeting last month at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Kampala, the aggrieved family told human resource officials that what happened to their daughter was a “high class witchcraft being exhibited in high offices”.
“If we citizens are being taken from here and treated overseas like this, where is the love for this country and its people?” a relative asked.

The implicated ambassador arrived in the country last week to attend the annual heads of mission meeting that opened in Kampala yesterday.

Two other embassies have separately reported suspected witchcraft by lower-cadre staff members that use concoctions of “strange” herbs and malodorous food portions, supposedly to help them keep their jobs and placate enemies. Ambassador James Mugume, the Permanent Secretary, said he was aware of the complaints, but found no merit in them because he does not believe in wizardry and the matter is difficult to prove.
“I don’t believe in witchcraft. For those who believe, they will say anything. I am Christian James Mugume; I go to church. For those who believe in them, may be they believe it works,” the permanent secretary told this newspaper on Friday.

These allegations of divination come in the wake of heightened tension and mutual mistrust among various Uganda’s foreign missions.

Insiders told Sunday Monitor that the differences, which had been brewing, peaked from 2012 when President Museveni posted more political loyalists, who lost elections of the previous year, to head the embassies and supervise career diplomats who felt sabotaged on their career path.

At least 14 ambassadors appointed over the last five years, according to our compilation, were either unsuccessful flag bearers for the ruling NRM or aspirants that party executives persuaded to step down in favour of government big shots during campaigns for the February 2011 elections.

As a result, only eight out of the current 35 heads of mission are career diplomats, former envoys who argue that Foreign Service should remain professional for Uganda’s decent external image and effective representation. That would, in their view, necessitate an immediate reversal of the present trend.
From Canberra in Australia to Rome, Italy, and New York, diplomats are facing litigation for underpaying and, in some cases, not paying particularly domestic servants in breach of remuneration thresholds in host countries. The infighting remains nasty and unrelenting.

In Egypt, ambassador Richard Laus Angualia, resigned to contest as a Member of Parliament after accusing some of his subordinates at the Cairo embassy of plotting to kill him.
Matters are made worse that the political appointees consider themselves superior because of direct access to the President while the career diplomats despise them.

In part II tomorrow, we detail the intrigue and money woes at the embassies.

Accused ambassador responds

“My side of the story is very simple; that there is no truth in what she (complainant) is saying whatsoever...The story is propagated by people who are trying to destroy not only my reputation but also my career as an ambassador. It’s being done by people who want to take up my posting. [Publishing] the story would have destroyed a very committed person who has served this country diligently. They want the story to appear so that everyone at the [ongoing annual] ambassadors’ conference here [at Speke Resort Munyonyo, Kampala] can read it so that I look useless; that all my colleagues will be pointing at me saying that is [the ambassador]; so that I look embarrassed. After they have ruined my career, what next?,”
ambassador [name withheld]