MTN spy saga: Rwanda spy Tabura tells arrest ordeal

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Annie Tabura

By The EastAfrican

Before her appointment to work in Uganda in April 2018, Annie Tabura — who lived in DR Congo as a child and went to school in Kenya — had worked at MTN Rwanda for 17 years.

Last month, she left Uganda unceremoniously along with her colleagues, French national Olivier Prentout, who was the telecom’s chief marketing officer, and Italian Elsa Mussolini, the general manager for mobile money. They were sent home for alleged breach of national security and inciting violence.

In an exclusive interview with The EastAfrican, Ms Tabura narrated her ordeal.

“We were in Rwanda for an MTN Group conference at Kivu Serena Hotel,” she said. “I had travelled on a night flight with three colleagues on Thursday January 17. After the meeting the following day, Mr Prentout and I left the venue at around 9.30pm for Kigali, because we had to catch the Saturday 8.50am flight.

“The following morning, we left for the airport. On arrival at Entebbe, we joined the residents’ queue because we both had permits.”

At the Immigration Desk, the officer told her that something was not clear in the system. However, he cleared her after she asked him to check her passport for a valid work permit. Mr Prentout had by then been taken into an office.

“I asked him what he was doing there, and he said they were checking something. I told him this was not normal, but he said it was alright and that there was nothing to worry about. He asked me not to wait for him since we both had our drivers waiting for us.”

She left the airport and later called him but he did not answer. She called again after a few minutes, and his phone was off.

Mr Prentout was deported on January 19 to France.

Armed arrest

From the airport, Ms Tabura drove to her home in Kololo, dropped off her luggage and went to work. She had a meeting scheduled for 4.30pm at the MTN head office in Kampala.

The following day, two police vehicles came to Ms Tabura’s home but did not find her.

“I was at my friend’s house. I asked to talk to the men on the phone, but they refused. In the evening, I went home after talking to the Rwandan ambassador.”

On Monday morning, as she was leaving for work from her apartment in Kololo, she noticed two police cars parked nearby.

“I called the CEO and told him that it seemed like the police were looking for me. I was scared. I left my office and went to the BAT office on Jinja Road for a meeting. While there, I received a call on my Ugandan line from the MTN head office telling me that the police were looking for me.”

She told them she would be arriving there soon, and her bosses at MTN Uganda assured her that the company’s lawyers were present. But as soon as she reached the basement parking lot, about 10 people with guns arrested her. It was about 9.15am.

“A man who identified himself as a deputy police commander asked me if I was Annie. I responded in the affirmative and he said I was under arrest. I asked for an arrest warrant but they did not present one. All of them were in civilian clothes but were carrying guns,” she said.

“I was shoved into a van and ordered to put my face between my legs. I sat in the middle, with two men on one side and a woman on the other.”

On the way, the officers changed the destination several times as they spoke on the phone, she said.

“The bent position I was in was very painful. They stopped near a kiosk to buy food, and they also bought two handkerchiefs which they tied together and blindfolded me.”

4-hour drive

During that time, the Rwandan embassy was alerted that Ms Tabura had been arrested.

“We contacted them, but to date they have not told us why they arrested and deported her, nor have they presented evidence of the charges they claim,” ambassador Frank Mugambaje told The EastAfrican.

It took four hours to reach their destination.

“When we arrived, they removed my handcuffs and blindfold and when I saw where I was, I thought they would kill me. I started crying.”

Later, she was told by one of the men that it was Kireka Police Station.

She was detained in a cell until about 6.30pm when she was picked up by a police vehicle and driven to Entebbe, where they arrived at 9pm.

“At the airport, they handed me my passport, handbag and a boarding pass and put me on a RwandAir flight to Rwanda. It was only when I arrived in Rwanda that I read in the media that I, Mr Prentout and Ms Mussolini had been deported for undermining state security,” she said.

Her three children left Uganda the following day.

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