How US sanctions affect army generals in Uganda

Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kale Kayihura (left) and the Chief of Military Intelligence (CMI), Maj Gen Abel. PHOTOS/ ABUBAKER LUBOWA/DAVID LUBOWA 

What you need to know:

  • Gen Kayihura was sanctioned a year after being dropped as IGP, while Maj Gen Kandiho is Uganda’s substantive military spymaster.

The United States government on Wednesday imposed financial sanctions on Maj Gen Abel Kandiho, the Chief of Military Intelligence (CMI), making him the second Ugandan military general to be punished after former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kale Kayihura.

Kayihura, an active-duty full general of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), was sanctioned 27 months earlier, on September 13, 2019.
There are similarities as are differences between the punishments and circumstances of the duo. 
Gen Kayihura is two ranks above Maj Gen Kandiho, but both are serving UPDF generals, meaning they engage directly with strategic military, national defence and geo-political issues.

Gen Kayihura was sanctioned a year after being dropped as IGP, while Maj Gen Kandiho is Uganda’s substantive military spymaster.  
In the separate indictments, Washington accuses both men of superintending organisations – in the case of Gen Kayihura the police’s Flying Squad Unit (FSU) and CMI for Kandiho – whose officers it claimed engaged in gross rights violations leading to severe life-long injuries, and in some cases death of victims.

The excesses in both instances targeted political opponents or demonstrators, according to the sanction listings, suggesting the officers undertook and qualified their actions in defence of the government in power.
Both generals have been sanctioned under the President Donald Trump-issued Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, by prescribing sanctions on individuals who mastermind or execute grotesque rights abuses or involve in corruption.

For the Ugandan generals, besides command responsibility, each was accused of personal wayward conduct. For instance, Washington noted that Maj Gen Kandiho was “personally involved, leading interrogations of detained individuals” during which victims were tortured and sometimes sexually abused, resulting in life-time injuries and, or death.

While for Gen Kayihura, besides superintending the FSU, whose members are reported to have tortured or killed government critics, the sanction statement noted that he “engaged in numerous acts of corruption, including using bribery to strengthen his political position within the government of Uganda, stealing funds intended for official Ugandan government business, and using another government employee to smuggle illicit goods, including drugs, gold, and wildlife, out of Uganda”.
Unlike Gen Kayihura, Maj Gen Kandiho’s sanction did not include a visa ban or punishment of his family members.
US laws allow its government officials to conceal or disclose sanctioned individuals and diplomatic sources in Washington told this newspaper that publicly naming the Ugandan generals aims to “send a strong message to the government and shame the individuals”.

Put another way, America makes the disclosure to put other government officials on notice that it is able to go after an errant official, however high up, and that officialdom does not indemnify against punishment for indiscretions.
Both Gen Kayihura and Maj Gen Kandiho have denied any wrongdoing, faulted Washington for taking unilateral action without giving them fair hearing and said the sanctions will be inconsequential since they owned no property across the Atlantic.


But just how do the sanctions work?
Under Executive Order 13818, imposition of a financial sanction by the United States Department for Treasury means that “all property and interests in property of a designated person that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons are blocked and must be reported to [the] OFAC (Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control)”.

By targeting the financial system, it means an affected parent, for instance, may be unable to send money for upkeep of family staying, or tuition of children studying abroad so long as the finances are coming from their individual bank account since most international cash transfers are cleared by banks in New York (US) or London in the UK.  
According to the US Treasury, any entities owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more, by one or more blocked persons are also blocked and any transactions in the US by an American citizens, or any transiting person, which involve the property or interest of a designated person are also blocked.

In addition, those prohibitions include the making of any “contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person”.
The US Embassy in Kampala on Thursday did not directly answer our inquiries about the next practical steps in implementing the sanctions, the evidence against Maj Gen Kandiho, the latest to be sanctioned, and the risk as he argued of the unilateral decisions alienating Washington’s allies.
US Embassy spokesperson Anthony Kujawa said they are committed to ensuring that rights abusers are held accountable in line with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s proclamation that America “is committed to using its full range of tools to counter … repressive acts across the world”.

“We will continue to engage the Ugandan government to address shared interests, and will continue to work with the people of Uganda to advance a prosperous, vibrant, democratic society, even as we act on concerns about human rights abuses or anti-democratic actions,” he wrote in an email reply. 
In providing local context, Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, said the sanctions signal that the international community is watching wayward acts of top state officials and will not hesitate to punish the perpetrators.

If the sanctions are inconsequential or inadequate, Mr Ssewanyana hazarded, the US could widen the options and reach to include travel bans and using economic and trade tools..
Mr Geoffrey Turyamusiima, a lawyer who has represented dozens of suspects detained by CMI, said blocking Maj Gen Kandiho to transact in anything with entity that has a branch in the US will severely impact the general.
“Many of these senior security officers have property abroad. They have children who stay or study abroad,” Mr Turyamusiima said, without specifying if the military spymaster is one of them.

Uganda Human Rights Commission chairperson Mariam Wangadya yesterday declined to comment on the sanctions, citing constitutional prohibition, and said anyone hurt by Maj Gen Kandiho’s actions should petition the Commission for justice.
The law mandates UHRC to institute investigations into rights abuses on its own, and it remained unclear why it has never acted on generals Kayihura and Kandiho.