There could be more than meets the eye in deportation of MTN officials

Saturday January 26 2019



Victoria Nyeko

Victoria Nyeko 

By Victoria Nyeko

Recently, members of telecommunications giant MTN Uganda’s senior management team were deported back to their home countries.

The senior officials were alleged to have been involved in issues deemed as security threats and compromising Uganda’s national security.

MTN Uganda’s chief marketing officer Olivier Prentout, a French national, was arrested on Saturday at Entebbe airport and deported back to France while Rwandan national Annie Bilenge Tabura, the telecom’s head of sales and distribution, was deported on Monday back to Rwanda.

The two officials were reportedly returning from an MTN Group meeting that took place in Rwanda. According to Uganda police deputy police spokesperson Polly Namaye, “We strongly believe that the deportation of the two foreigners, who were using their employment tools to achieve their ill motives, has enabled us disrupt their intended plans of compromising our national security.”

Although police did not provide any details on the matter, rumours made rounds that the MTN officials could have been involved in intercepting calls of government officials, business people and sharing their conversations with security agencies of foreign countries.

But the abrupt deportations left many people wondering why they were not produced in the courts of law, charged and prosecuted as it is normally the practice in other countries before being deported.

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In December 2018, Wanzhou Meng, telecommunications giant Huawei’s chief financial officer, was arrested in Canada by the police.

Although Canadian authorities detained Meng for Huawei’s evasion of US sanctions against Iran, there was suspicion that he could have been arrested because China’s largest telecom company had allowed the Chinese to monitor electronic communications of US government officials and businessmen using Huawei mobile phones and network.

Two months earlier, US senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Mark Warner of Virginia directly warned Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau that his participation in joint intelligence activities with the US, the UK and Australia may be curtailed if Canada allows Huawei to help build or maintain the country’s 5G wireless network.

As telecommunications technology capabilities advance rapidly, different governments seem to be taking keen interest in exploiting and manipulating telecom companies to hand over stored data and information for security monitoring purposes.

In light of recent terrorist attacks and the bid to improve security, some governments seem to be taking charge of telecom company data storage. According to documents revealed a few years ago by Edward Snowden, a former contractor at National Security Agency (NSA), the US had a programme that paid US telecom companies for access to their customers’ data.

The NSA has a long history of cooperation with the first generation of American telecom companies such as AT&T which gave the US and its English-speaking allies a huge technical intelligence advantage over the Soviet Union.
In Uganda, MTN says “We, all our employees remain committed to respecting the laws of the country and are fully committed to operating within and respecting the laws of the country”.

But suddenly it seems there is an additional element of possible interest from neighbours. The speedy deportation of the French and Rwandan nationals seems to have raised more questions on regional insecurity, unidentified interests and suspicions than answers.

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