From Kutesa to Kandiho: Can Museveni still stick with Speaker Among?

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From Kutesa to Kandiho: Can Museveni still stick with Speaker Among?
Speaker Anita Among has been sanctioned by the UK and US

Speaker Anita Among's options are running thin and while it would be easy for Museveni to forgive her alleged corruption, it is a completely different when it involves such tough UK sanctions

ANALYSIS | Anita Among's basket of flattery at the launch of her hospital and school in her native Bukedea District in Teso included "Charlotte Ward". Charlotte is the wife of First Son Muhoozi Kainerugaba and daughter of Sam Kutesa - once untouchable Foreign Affairs minister.

Mr Kutesa was dropped from Cabinet in 2021 and retired into a quiet life. The symbolism of the flattery Ms Among extolled on President Museveni in Bukedea must have been lost on the Speaker of Parliament. She was under so much pressure as a slew of scandals threatened to engulf her and here at her own event, she was consumed with showing absolute loyalty to President Museveni.

"I know you don't believe in kneeling, but I am kneeling for you," the Speaker beseeched Mr Museveni, who appeared to enjoy every wind of it like a 1700s tribal chief at a communal ceremony. "I want to tell you that you are the only person who is there for me. You are the only person who knows me as an asset. I will never disappoint you and this is my commitment," she added.

Mr Kutesa did not go down on his knees, maybe Ms Among thinks that is why Mr Museveni succumbed to diplomatic pressure and sacked his own in-law. Mr Kutesa and wife Edith Gasana were indicted by the US Department of Justice for soliciting and receiving half a million US Dollars from Chinese national Patrick Ho - in exchange for obtaining "business advantages" for a Chinese energy company.

It later emerged that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tapped phone calls and emails of Mr Kutesa and his wife after they were suspected of being involved in bribery acts at the United Nations, where Mr Kutesa served as president of the General Assembly from 2014 to 2015.

Patrick Ho was convicted, for among other charges; money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and foreign corrupt practices. The US Court of Appeal upheld the conviction in January 2021, months before Mr Museveni sent his in-law Kutesa into a quiet life.

In late 2021, the US Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on chief of military intelligence, Major-General Abel Kandiho over alleged human rights abuses committed under his watch. Weeks later, Museveni dropped Maj Gen Kandiho and posted him to South Sudan. He had barely unpacked his backup in Juba when he was recalled and later appointed as Chief of Joint Staff of Uganda Police where he is rather too quiet for his earlier alleged notoriety.

Gen Kandiho's deployment to South Sudan looked like a thing of oversight by Mr Museveni because the officer would need money to live out and work there and that money was not going to be ferried by Eco Bus across Nimule border every three days. The financial sanctions imposed on Kandiho left him looking like a dressed chicken when it came to transacting in wire money - whether through a bank or mobile handsets.

In deep trouble

It is that predicament that the UK threw Anita Among in on April 30 when it slapped the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament with travel ban and asset freeze. UK Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell said Ms Among benefited from the proceeds of corruption in the Karamoja iron sheets scandal.

Ms Among was sanctioned alongside two former Karamoja Affairs ministers Mary Goretti Kitutu and Agnes Nandutu. "The actions of these individuals, in taking aid from those who need it most, and keeping the proceeds, is corruption at its worst and has no place in society," Mr Mitchell said.

Following the sanctions, Speaker Among came out strongly, backed by a troupe of kowtowing MPs and a Parliament that appeared to fail to separate the institution from the individual. She accused the UK government of witch-hunt, alleging that she was being targeted for pushing buttons in the Anti-Homosexuality Act in May 2023 - even as the mover of the Bill MP Asuman Basalirwa was not touched.

"I'm carrying a cross for 48 million Ugandans because of the Anti-Homosexuality Act we passed in 2023," Ms Among, who took to chairing almost all sittings of Parliament, told journalists. "We will not allow 'bumshafters' in our country and they should respect our cultures."

But the reality appears to have sunk home. The kicks and elbowing from Ms Among have died down. Sources say the UK passed word to the top and near her, threatening to reveal much more if she did not shut up. If they could tap the phones and emails of Mr Kutesa, they have probably feasted on Ms Among's dealings beyond her own imagination.

Sources in the foreign service and diplomacy say the sanctions against the Speaker could only have been activated with the approval of President Museveni. Indeed, the Head of State revealed as much, that he was briefed by the British High Commission just hours before Mr Mitchell announced the sanctions.

Mr Museveni said in his May 2 letter to Foreign Affairs minister Jeje Odongo that he was rushing to Entebbe for other meetings when Ms Kate Airey, OBE, sought an urgent meeting at State House Nakasero. By implication, Mr Museveni was saying he did not have enough time to stop the sanction of the person of third national order of precedence.

He also said the UK had informed him that Ms Among, who had earlier purred that she did not even have a pussycat in the UK, owned a house or houses there, had bank accounts and sent her children to schools there. To these, Mr Museveni asked the Inspectorate of Government to verify and the Ethics ministry to confirm if the wealth was declared in the Leadership Code.

With the asset freeze, the UK would have already taken possession of the alleged wealth but it is the debilitating wider impact of the sanctions that awaits. In many cases, the UK and US usually have water-tight evidence before they impose such sanctions. Ms Airey speaking about houses would certainly mean there is one. Travel and financial sanctions extend beyond these two powers, with their allies usually quietly activating the same upon a few rib-pokes.

The Netherlands and the United Arabs Emirates, whose Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and Dubai International Airport, respectively, are the global transit centres outside the Heathrow in London, would have to effect the same red alert on the sanctioned Ms Among, leaving her travel options almost down to Kampala-Bukedea-Buyende.

In Buyende, Budiope East MP Moses Magogo must already be aware that his wife will carry the thorns the UK has stitched on her skin into bed. Magogo, once convicted for World Cup ticket fraud by global football governing body Fifa, is expected to bear the brunt of being family of a sanctioned person. Sanctions target reducing the individual and their family to their knees and anyone remotely suspected of the possibility of transacting on behalf of Ms Among - including director of public affairs Chris Obore - could be screened thoroughly.

Of course, they will refute this but Gen Kale Kayihura and his family have a firsthand experience of what can happen when a person is sanctioned.

It is a lame duck for Ms Among then. And a lamer duck for Parliament of Uganda. When the head of an institution cannot deal the deck, the institution invariably loses and for Parliament, the losses will be profound. Even if Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa - who Ms Among's supporters are giving cross-eyes over suspicion that he is behind his boss' woes - can continue to represent the institution outside the country, there are many commitments he will not be able to seal for Parliament of Uganda because few would be open to deals with an institution whose head has been red-flagged for corruption.

The 67th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference is coming up in Sydney, Australia, in November. Even if Ms Among wanted to attend, she might find that she can only put up a brave face in Kampala, Bukedea and Buyende, and she is unlikely to get a visa anyway, having been denied one by the US and UK in 2023 for the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians and the 67th MPs General Assembly.

Back in Bukedea on March 23, Mr Museveni had leaped to the defence of Ms Among. "People like Anita Among are not the problem, the real problem we have are the traitors working for foreigners," he said. Analysts, though, attempted to read between the lines, suggesting the President had only accepted the Bukedea invite to confirm the intel he was receiving on the Speaker's propensity to wolf everything edible down her stomach.

In allowing the sanctions, Museveni leaves two scenarios at his chessboard. The first is a reminder to eastern Uganda that having the two next persons on the national order of precedence from the region was not a licence to fly too close to the sun. He was clipping the wings as his probe would then absolve Ms Among to keep the humbled version of herself kneeling not for flattery but in real supplication.

But that would be to suggest that the British government can drop so low as to move Mr Museveni's Bishops and Knights against the Pawn that thought it had gained the promotion by reaching the opposite side of the board to become a Queen. The reality that Ms Among has been a Pawn on the chessboard is fast sinking in, the possibility of a one-term Speaker even starker.

So can Mr Museveni still stick with Ms Among? Overtime, the Speaker has told even those walls that she would be in office as long as she enjoyed the grace of the President. When she was a deputy speaker in 2021 and the first scandal hit her with IGG drawn to investigate, she declared she was in for the long haul and that after 10 years as deputy, she would upgrade to speaker for another ten. But it is likely that her supporters will now say it is the MPs who decide who the Speaker is - they are "Among's MPs".

Yet there is still another place for the Pawn to move. Somewhere at the lakeshores 12 kilometres southeast of the central business district of Kampala is the national detention facility, Luzira Maximum Security Prison. The high-rise walls there are manned by the only man who has not be shaken by global sanctions - Johnson Byabashaija.

In December last year, the US Department of the Treasury sanctioned Mr Byabashaija over allegations that the national correctional facilities he superintends engage in wanton torture of prisoners and other human rights violations. But just last month, President Museveni handed Mr Byabashaija another pie as the Commissioner-General of the Uganda Prisons Service for another two years.

The Prisons needs no charity and Mr Byabashaija would never need to scuttle between airspaces for deals - as long as he can supervise the guys in yellow garbs till the land and obey the bedbug when they get back into their cells. And it is the cell thing that is daunting at the moment, with the possibility that the sanctioned Johnson Byabashaija can receive a VVIP guest in the sanctioned Anita Annet Among fast changing from a wild imagination to a bet-able odd.

When that happens, astrologers will say Mr Museveni retained the sanctioned chief jailer to await the would-be sanctioned Speaker of Parliament and accord her hospitality. So is Speaker Among headed for Luzira?

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