As MTN saga rambles on, Uganda peddles new contradictory deportation pretexts

Barely weeks since Uganda decided to ruthlessly arrest and deport the CEO of MTN’s Ugandan subsidiary, less than a month after it had deported its Chief Marketing Officer, its Head of Sales and Distribution, and its Head of Mobile Financial Services, various Ugandan tabloids linked to security organs have been peddling contradicting pretexts upon which they deported the said officials.

When the news first broke out in January, 2019 that the country deported MTN Uganda Chief Marketing Officer, French national Olivier Prentout, its Head of Sales and Distribution Annie Bilenge Tabura; and the Head of Mobile Financial Services, Italian Elza Muzzolini, Ugandan national police was quick to accuse the trio that they were planning to compromise national security and incitement of violence by financing the youth linked to Bobi Wine’s People Power, through mobile money and using numerous unregistered SIM cards.

Amid the arrests and deportation saga, President Yoweri Museveni held a meeting with MTN Group Chief Executive Officer Rob Shuter @ShuterRob , at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month. In a tweet issued by the group at the time — and retweeted by Shuter — it said the CEO reaffirmed MTN’s “commitment to Uganda” in the meeting. They discussed “recent developments in the market”, the tweet said, without elaborating.

MTN CEO Rob Shuter and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (Photo:Internet)

However, the truth is that ahead of the meeting, Museveni had criticized Uganda’s telecommunications regulator in a letter on 19 November 2018 after it cut MTN’s license renewal fee from US$100-million to $58-million. Museveni is said to have in his letter complained that MTN Uganda had, during its two decades of operation in the country, reaped vast profits, most of which have obviously been repatriated.

Sources within Uganda’s state house indicate that during the meeting with Rob Shuter, Museveni acquiesced that deportations were triggered by erroneous information provided by an MTN insider that the deported officials were involved in acts that threatened national security.

As many people expressed optimism that they would finally see some light at the end of the tunnel following Museveni’s comments, things turned worse when on 13 Feb 19, Uganda’s MTN board resolved to fire it’s legal and cooperate affairs director Anthony Katamba and a day later MTN-Uganda CEO, Mr Wim Vanhelleputte was deported from Uganda to Belgium for what the police again said his deportation was related to threatening national security. 

Before we again delve into the crux of the matter, when this whole MTN mess first came to light, Ugandan security operatives stormed MTN Head Offices and opened their servers. The pretext at the time was that they were probing cases related to tax evasion and under declaration by the telecom company.

As days went by following the deportation of the MTN officials, Uganda then tweaked the story that the deported officials were accused of supporting subversive activities backed by a foreign government using MTN Mobile Money (MoMo) and numerous unregistered SIM cards.

As this wasn’t enough, Uganda again recently changed the tack by accusing the deported CEO Wim of phone tapping of government officials, senior security officials and officials at State House.

Intriguingly, basing on the accusations of phone tapping and use of mobile money to incite the youth against the Government of Uganda, it begs a question: Why has Uganda failed to arrest any official at MTN Technical department that ideally, would been the overseer of such operations? Ironically, the former Chief Technology Officer, Mr. Gordian Kyomukama who could have been the prime suspect in this saga, was, to everyone’s surprise, appointed the acting CEO to replace, Mr Wim Vanhelleputte.

Make no mistake. The truth behind the ongoing saga at MTN is that deportations of the said officials were triggered by a grand corruption scheme by Ugandan top leadership where they sought a bride of Shs 2 Billion from MTN in order to renew the MTN Uganda operating licence which was due to expire on October 28, 2019.

This worrying trend signals Uganda’s resolve to fabricate facts whenever they suit their diversionary narrative intended to clear her image while victimizing innocent people who refuse to be part of their shady scheme.

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