Uganda hits back at US over sanctions

KAMPALA, UGANDA — Ugandan authorities objected Friday to new U.S. sanctions over what the United States calls significant corruption and gross human rights violations, saying the sanctions target parliament Speaker Anita Among and other officials who backed the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Law.

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department placed travel and financial sanctions on Among for what it called significant corruption tied to her leadership position. 

Others sanctioned were ministers Amos Lugolobi, Agnes Nandutu and Mary Goretti Gitutu for allegedly misusing public resources and diverting materials from Uganda’s neediest communities. 

Ugandan State Minister for Foreign Affairs Oryem Okello argued that all the ministers who were sanctioned are currently facing Ugandan courts of law, which have yet to find rule on the cases.

The sanctions also target Lieutenant General Peter Elwelu for his role in clashes between Ugandan security forces and a local militant group that resulted in the deaths of over 100 people.  

However, Okello said the U.S. government’s action is really targeting Among. 

“My belief is that this is an insult and undermines our judicial system,” Okello said. 

“The sanctions are unjust. They are punitive,” he said. “They are bullish because they know that we cannot do anything against it. And it’s just deliberate to punish the speaker for her role and leadership to fight LBGTQ and homosexuality in Uganda.”

The U.S. State Department said it stands with Ugandans advocating for democratic principles, a government that delivers for all its citizens and accountability for actions committed by those who abuse their positions through corruption and gross violations of human rights. 

Ugandan political analyst Mary Anne Nanfuka said that those people targeted by the sanctions are not acting on their own and that sanctions never work as a deterrent.    

“I see that these Western countries want to pander to their electorate,” Nanfuka said. 

“They know very well that they need the government to cooperate with them in certain areas. So, once push comes to shove, they will let it pass. Yes, it’s a gesture, but no, we are still not impressed,” she said. 

Chris Obore, the head of public affairs in the Ugandan parliament, said the corruption allegations are political and vendetta-driven, otherwise they would have targeted the entire Ugandan cabinet. 

The State Department specifically mentioned a giveaway of iron roofing sheets that were meant for a poor community but were instead shared by top government members among themselves.  

“It is a sign of their latent anger against the speaker for presiding over the anti-homosexuality law,” Obore said. “It is clear that the U.K., U.S., Canada have been putting pressure when that law was being debated here. Because it is not about iron sheets. How did the speaker personally benefit from those iron sheets when public schools that were roofed are there?” 

Okello said Uganda will engage U.S. government officials and get to the bottom of how the State Department decided to approve the sanctions.