Kampala. Diplomats of the European Union (EU) and some European countries who intended to visit prisoners on death row in Luzira prison were on Thursday blocked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saturday Monitor has confirmed.
Mr Patrick Mugoya, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, played down the incident, saying it resulted from a process issue that is easy to resolve.
Mr Mugoya said: “The note [from European Union asking to visit the prison] came in very late and we had no time to consult and clear the visit. It [the visit] may take place at a later date if they are still interested.”
On Monday, October 1, the Delegation of the European Union in Uganda wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking for permission to visit Luzira prison on October 4.
The EU said four ambassadors and six other officials would visit, including Mr Patilio Pacifici, the head of the European Union Delegation to Uganda, Ms Stephanie Rivoal, the ambassador of France, Mr Domenico Fornara, the ambassador of Italy and Mr Per Lindgarde, the ambassador of Sweden.
For a number of years, Saturday Monitor has been told, European ambassadors have been making trips to Luzira prison to visit death row inmates around this time of the year and all they needed to do was to write to the prisons authorities seeking permission and were not required to seek clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The envoys sought the clearance to “express solidarity” with condemned prisoners ahead of the World Day against the death penalty on October 10.
On Wednesday, a day before the visit, the prisons service wrote back allowing the visit by the EU team together with members of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), a local non-governmental organisation.
The letter, signed by Mr Wilson Magomu on behalf of the Commissioner General of Prisons, listed as cleared the ambassadors and other officials of the EU and FHRI, including its head, Dr Livingstone Sewanyana.
However, in what sources said was an unusual step, the envoys were then asked to seek clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, hence the letter to the ministry.
Asked about the incident, Mr Emmanuel Gyezaho, the press and information officer at the EU office in Kampala, said: “I can confirm that today we couldn’t go.” He declined to share details.
There has been a somewhat frosty relationship between the EU and government since the events in Arua Municipality that led to the shooting to death of Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine’s former driver, Yasin Kawuma, the arrest and charging with treason of the MP and 32 others.
In the scuffle that resulted from what security officials and President Museveni have said was a result of people in the Bobi Wine’s procession stoning the President’s car and shattering its rear windscreen, Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake and Bobi Wine were brutalised, requiring treatment abroad.
Bobi Wine has since returned from the US but Mr Zaake still remains hospitalised in India nearly two months later. At least five people sustained gunshot wounds in the Arua violence and scores were flogged by security agents. At least two people were killed in subsequent and related disturbances in Kampala and Mityana.
In a statement issued at the time, the EU delegation described the events as “very disquieting” and expressed deep concern.
Envoys of the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the EU visited Bobi Wine while he was in custody at Makindye Military Police barracks, which visit, sources say, did not go down well with government officials.
Relations were further tested on September 13 when the EU Parliament issued a 14-point resolution accusing the Executive arm of the Uganda government of undermining Parliament. They called for the dropping of treason charges against Mr Kyagulanyi and others.
In response to the resolution, the government accused the EU of backing what they called “an indisciplined Opposition”, vowing not to give in to such pressure.
Addressing the media a week after the resolution was issued, Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said: “We also object to the condescending tone contained in the language of this resolution. The matters referred to in this resolution such as the threat to the security of the President while in Arua on August 13, the 33 arrested in connection with this incident, including the MPs and the regrettable loss of life of some of the people, are all under investigation by credible and competent arms of the state and overseen by an independent judicial system in Uganda.”
He added: “The people of Uganda and their government, therefore, would do well with respectful partnerships to promote the work done over very many years than the current sanctimonious lectures on rights most of which had been trampled upon even when the current pretenders at their defence were either looking on sheepishly or they were active participants in their violation.”
Debate then ensued on whether the EU and other donors should have a say in how Uganda is governed.
The European Union is a leading donor to Uganda and has committed €578 million (Shs2.5 trillion) as development funding to Uganda in the cycle of 2014-2020. Under the previous cycle of funding from 2008-2013, the EU dedicated €479 million (Shs2 trillion) to programmes in Uganda, with a main focus on transport and infrastructure, rural development and macroeconomic support. This excludes funding that individual member countries of the EU offer to Uganda on a bilateral basis.
Take Sweden as an example. On Tuesday, Daily Monitor reported that Sweden, which has been a major funder of public universities-led research in Uganda, injecting $101m (Shs374b) into the sector over the past 15 years, announced that it was reviewing its priorities and redirecting the money to support governance-related projects.
Mr Per Lindgarde, the Swedish ambassador to Uganda, said in a statement: “The issue of funding universities is a matter of development of and for a country, and needs to be steered nationally… We expect the government of Uganda and the universities shall allocate more local funding to post-graduate training and research and that new ways of partnership shall be promoted.”
The decision followed a routine review and does not appear to have been prompted by recent developments in the country.
Our sources say there will be an attempt to reset relations with the EU in a scheduled interaction between government and European envoys on October 20.