US sanctions politically-motivated, inconsequential, says spymaster Kandiho

Commander of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence Maj Gen Abel Kandiho. PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The two-star general yesterday dismissed the financial sanction as politically-motivated and inconsequential, and warned that unilateral punishments imposed by the US, which accuses him of superintending torture of government’s political enemies, risked alienating its allies.

The Ministry of Defence yesterday pre-empted an expected United States sanction announcement targeting, among others, Uganda’s military spymaster.
Diplomatic sources earlier told this publication that filings by the United States Mission in Kampala implicated Maj Gen Abel Kandiho, the commander of the Chieftancy of Military Intelligence (CMI), of superintending grotesque violations of the rights of political opponents of President Museveni’s government.
Sources said Washington DC picked on the two-star general in line with previous US pronouncement that it would sanction individuals who undermined Uganda’s democracy in the run up to, and after, the January elections.

Dozens of supporters of mainly the National Unity Platform (NUP) party leader Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, were abducted by armed states operatives and driven away in vans, nicknamed for their speed as Drones, to unknown locations from where they emerged quietly or in court with torture wounds.
Just as we went to press, the Treasury Department issued a press release confirming a blockade on assets of 15 political and military actors in Syria, Yemen and Uganda, several hours after Uganda’s Defence ministry outed a statement condemning the intended sanctions.

In the statement, the US alleges that Maj Gen Kandiho, and other CMI officers that he leads, targeted people for arrest and torture based on their nationality, political affiliation and critique of the government and that he personally directed torture of some of the suspects.
“Individuals were taken into custody and held, often without legal proceedings, at CMI detention facilities where they were subjected to horrific beatings and other egregious acts by CMI officials, including sexual abuse and electrocutions, often resulting in significant long-term injury and even death. During these incarcerations, victims were kept in solitary confinement and unable to contact friends, family, or legal support,” the Treasury statement reads in part.

In a swift rejoinder to this newspaper’s inquiries, Maj Gen Kandiho last night dismissed the financial sanction against him as politically-motivated and inconsequential, and warned that unilateral punishments imposed by the US risked alienating its allies.
“I am not bothered by the so-called sanctions. I have no business with the US.  I’m concentrating on my work. The threats we have in the region need more concentration. I will not allow to be diverted,” he noted.

The general added: “It [sanction] is political and I’m not a politician. They should just be careful not to create unnecessary enemies and losing allies. At the moment, I am too occupied with more important operations.”
According to the general, a veteran of the Bush War that brought President Museveni to power in 1986, Washington is needlessly involving itself in myriad counts and becoming “more and more irrelevant and with no effect” through their interferences.
The sanctions announcement was targeted by the US to precede this week’s democracy summit, convened by President Joe Biden, and to which Uganda was not invited.

“As part of a whole-of-government commitment to democracy, Treasury (Department) is taking a number of actions aimed at promoting accountability for those who undermine trust in democratic institutions,” officials noted in the statement announcing the sanctions.
Western government, particularly the United States, ratcheted up pressure on Ugandan authorities by demanding justice and prosecution of suspected killers of 54 civilians as a combined security force subdued the November 2020 rioters triggered by the arrest of Bobi Wine, then a presidential candidate, in the eastern Luuka District.

No one has been arrested or charged over the shootings, a year after President Museveni demanded inquiry into the “phenomenon of stray bullets” and accountability for lives lost.
In a tweet yesterday, Bobi Wine noted that “The CMI headed by Maj Gen Kandiho has presided over the vilest human rights violations. They have abducted, tortured and murdered Ugandan with impunity. The financial sanctions [against Kandiho] are welcome...”
However, many government supporters took to social media to condemn the US sanctions, saying they are intended to bring regime change in Uganda.
Human rights lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde, who incidentally represented several people detained by CMI, told this newspaper by telephone yesterday that he opposed the sanctions against Maj Gen Kandiho because he (Kandiho) isn’t the only person in the chain of rights violation.

“They (sanctions) come too little too late. He isn’t solely culpable. There is a chain of culpability running above him and below him that is overshadowed by these sanctions,” he said.
Mr Ssemakadde said he wants a statutory commission of inquiry that will investigate State operatives who have been involved in extrajudicial killing and human rights violations.
The sanctions targeting 15 top political and security officials in Syria, Iran and Uganda have been issued under Executive Order 13818.

The Executive Order issued by then President Donald Trump on December 20, 2017 targets any foreign person determined by the US Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, to “be responsible for or complicit in, or to have directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse”.
The impact is that the United States automatically blocks assets of a sanctioned person that is under America’s jurisdiction or transiting through it.

No other Ugandan official is on the sanction list.
Maj Gen Kandiho was thrust into the public limelight for leading operations that Uganda said disrupted and dismantled Rwanda’s infiltration and espionage, while Kigali accused him of superintending illegal CMI abduction of Rwandan citizens who would be held incommunicado for long periods or tortured.
He denied any wrongdoing and said his official actions were to secure Uganda.
In recent months, the military outfit he heads, alongside other State security and intelligence agencies, have spearheaded the arrest and incarceration of suspected rebels and members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a US-designated terror group that Uganda is fighting to remove from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Kampala yesterday, the Defence ministry in a move that appeared calculated to pre-empt Washington, issued a statement in which it condemned America’s unilateral listing of Maj Gen Kandiho for sanctions without providing an iota of evidence.
“As a country, and UPDF in particular, a reputable government institution, we are disappointed that such a decision could be made by a country (US) we consider friendly, a partner and a great ally, without due process and in total disregard of the principle of fair hearing coupled with failure to make the necessary consultations,” UPDF spokesperson Brig Flavia Byekwaso noted.

The Department of State lists Uganda as a “key ally” of the US and Washington each year gives Uganda about $1b (about Shs3.5 trillion), with health and security being biggest budget takers.
Uganda and the US are close partners in fighting terrorism in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa. For instance, the UPDF provides the largest troop contingent for the African UN Peace-Keeping Mission in Somalia (Amison) that the US supports by providing intelligence, equipment supply and training.

Maj Gen Kandiho is the second top Ugandan military officer to be sanctioned by the US within years after the former Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, since September 2019. Gen Kayihura was accused of human rights abuses, corruption and bribery while he was the police chief.
The latest sanction related to the fall-out from the January vote is unsurprising.
On February 11, the European Union Parliament recommended sanctions against Ugandan individuals and organisations they claim are responsible for the human rights violations during the recent general elections, which it said wasn’t democratic and transparent.