In July 2018, operatives from Internal Security Organisation [ISO] raided South African telecom, MTN Uganda’s data centre in Mutundwe.
The forced out the Data Centre Manager, Moses Keefah Musasizi, and switched off four servers. Not much was said about the raid but it was clearly security related.
On Saturday, 19 January 2019, the MTN Uganda Chief Marketing Officer, Olivier Prentout, was arrested by police at Entebbe airport upon arrival from a business trip abroad.
On the morning of Monday 21 January 2019, the MTN Uganda Head of Sales and Distribution, Annie Bilenge Tabura, was arrested by unidentified security personnel upon arrival at the MTN headquarter offices, in Kololo, Kampala.
Both Prentout and Tabura were deported from Uganda to their home countries France and Rwanda, respectively.
Police deputy spokesperson, ACP Polly Namaye, said Prentout and Tabura used their jobs to engage in activities that compromise national security.
On Tuesday, Elsa Muzzolini, MTN General Manager Mobile Financial Services, was arrested, rushed to Kireka based Special Investigations Department [SID] and later deported back to Italy.
Criminal Investigations Department [CID] deputy director in charge of special investigations, Elly Womanya, accuses Muzzolini and her colleague, Anthony Katamba, the General Manager Corporate Services and Chief Legal Counsel at MTN, of inciting violence.
Bobi Wine factor?
For Muzzolini and Katamba, the General Manager Corporate Services and Chief Legal Counsel at MTN, their fate is tied to the rise of Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine.
In a WhatsApp chat shared by MTN staff, Muzzolini revealed that she is accused of funding Bobi Wine’s “People Power” activities.
“Yello team, I am deported tonight. Hoping to be one day able to say a proper goodbye to you all…main allegation that I gave money to Bobi Wine during the 1% tax campaign,” Muzzolini told her fellow workers on WhatsApp.
This was allegedly during Bobi Wine’s Kampala protests against the 1% social media [OTT] and mobile money tax imposed by government.
According to security, Muzzolini was complicit during Bobi Wine’s demonstrations in July 2018.
Even when it came to MPs voting for the tax reduction from 1% to 0.5%, most of the ruling NRM MPs also wanted the entire tax gone [zero].
Prentout, on the other hand, is blamed for sponsoring a music concert which featured Bobi Wine and was attended by Muzzolini herself.
Muzzolini is seen shaking hands with Bobi Wine and smiling at the August 20, 2017 “Enkolera” concert.
Prentout was accused of using his large marketing/promotions budget to generously fund concerts which would in the end feature Bobi Wine like the latest in Jinja town at the close of last year.
Kigali spy network
Prentout and Tabura said to have travelled to Kigali where they reportedly delivered secretive telephone call recordings of Ugandan officials.
Tabura was reportedly working on orders of Kigali government believed to have fixed her in MTN through underhand methods since her job was not advertised.
She was allegedly building a mobile money platform through which money would be wired to refugee settlements and urban areas like Kampala for sponsoring criminal activities including assassinations.
One of the said targets was Minister Philemon Mateke for allegedly working against the Rwandan government.
Rwanda claims Mateke met Nyamwasa’s RNC and FDLR rebels?
On January 7, 2019, Rwandan websites Virunga Post and IGIHE syndicated a story titled: “Museveni’s Support for Rwanda’s Dissidents continues as Kampala Meeting”.
The story claimed that a week before, a meeting took place in Kampala between Ugandan senior security officials and high-level Rwanda National Congress [RNC] and Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda [FDLR] rebel representatives.
Igihe claimed these representatives were invited by President Museveni. The alleged meeting took place at Serena hotel between December 14 and 15 and was reportedly coordinated by Philemon Mateke, Uganda’s State minister for Regional Affairs.
FDLR spokesperson and deputy chief of intelligence, Ignace Nkaka (aka LaForge Bazeye Fils), who was arrested by DR Congo authorities at the Uganda-Congo border post of Bunagana on December 15, 2018 was allegedly returning from Uganda.
Colonel Nkaka’s team allegedly included Lt Col Nsekenabo Jean Pierre alias Abega Kamala (FDLR intelligence officer).
Igihe says having arrived in Uganda on 14 December 14, 2018, “the rebel delegation was received by the FDLR liaison officer, Lt Col Nkuriyingoma Pierre Celestin and taken to his Hotel Mubano in Kisoro, which is owned by minister Mateke”.
The officers then travelled overnight to Kampala and arrived at the home of their liaison officer in Nakulabye, a Kampala suburb, the next morning.
The report claims it was Mateke who picked them and took them for breakfast at his wife’s restaurant in Lugogo, before proceeding with them to his offices at Sir Apollo Kagwa Road.
During interrogation in Goma where the captured FDLR spy chief was detained, Nkaka reportedly told Congo authorities that his team found the RNC delegation led by Frank Ntwari – Kayumba Nyamwasa’s brother-in-law at Serena hotel where Mateke allegedly delivered “Museveni’s special message” to them.
Rwanda plants spies and assassins
According to intelligence information, Rwanda’s MTN plant Tabura was channelling information through the Rwandan embassy in Kampala.
Her instructions came direct from Col James Birabyo, a Defense Attaché in the Rwanda High Commission and Rwanda Inspector General of Police, Gen Dan Munyuza.
Prentout and Tabura are believed to have helped former Uganda police chief Gen Kale Kayihura’s kidnapping racket to delete call records implicating his aides in the kidnap and repatriation of Rwandan refugees.
It is said the Rwanda spy agency, National Intelligence Security Service [NISS] dispatched hot girls disguising as sex workers in Kampala with Tabura as their main handler.
Their male counterparts were distributed in major towns like Kampala, Mbarara, Mubende, Isingiro, Ntungamo etc, to posture as pastors yet they run cells from where they carry out assassinations.
Rwanda calls it witch-hunt
Rwanda termed the deportation of Tabura a “witch-hunt and harassment” of Rwandans in Uganda as tensions between the two countries continue to escalate.
“You should ask them [Ugandan authorities] why they keep doing this, not us,” Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s State Minister in charge of East African Community Affairs said, responding to the The EastAfrican.
“It is not the first time they have done this. This is a case of harassment of our nationals in Uganda.”
Rwanda accuses Kampala of “arbitrary arrest and torture of Rwandans in Uganda” and for hosting rebels seeking to destabilise it. Uganda claims that Kigali is deploying spies in the country.
Nduhungirehe said Kigali will “seek explanations” from Kampala, adding that there are also some Rwandans who were arrested in Uganda and “we don’t know where they were taken.”
“The Rwandan High Commission in Uganda always writes to seek clarification whenever such arrests are made but we never get responses. They never share evidence or give reasons why individuals are arrested. They kidnap, torture and then throw them out without a word,” Mr Nduhungirehe said.
While diplomatic ties between the two countries have remained strained, there are fears that the frostiness could affect cross-border trade.
Rwanda has since warned its citizens to “exercise caution while travelling to Uganda”.
“This is a delicate situation that we need to deal with. We are in a Common Market and for now we are trying to talk to Uganda about these incidents,” Mr Nduhungirehe said.
Mayors of Rwandan border districts — Burera, Nyagatare and Gicumbi — told The EastAfrican that while the residents are aware of the tension, they are undeterred in their cross-border trade.
Hope for MTN?
For Wim Vanhelleputte, new MTN Uganda’s new CEO, things aren’t about to get rosy.
Apparently the telecom’s 10-year licence expired on January 20, 2019. The company is offering $58m to renew the licence while Museveni wants $100m.
He also expects MTN to invest $200m in network upgrade to give the whole country a 4G experience.
On Wednesday afternoon, MTN Group President and CEO Shuter Rob met with President Museveni at the World Economic Forum to reaffirm MTN Group’s commitment to Uganda and discuss recent developments in the market.
Their discussions centred on MTN’s commitment to the telecom sector and giant strides made during its 20 year term in Uganda.