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Africa minister James Duddridge accused of conflict over Uganda

Bobi Wine, an opposition leader who has faced arrests and beatings, said he was disappointed by Britain’s stance on human rights. (ABUBAKER LUBOWA)

By Jane Flanagan

Britain has been accused of turning a blind eye to hundreds of state-sponsored abductions and killings in Uganda amid questions over the Africa minister’s business links to a key ally of the president.

A crackdown on critics of President Museveni before and after his disputed re-election in January has drawn sharp rebukes from Europe and America, but a more muted response from its former colonial power.

“I have been surprised and disappointed that the British government has not said much more about the appalling violations of human rights,” Bobi Wine, the opposition leader who has faced repeated arrests and beatings, told The Times.

President Museveni with the Queen in 2007. He has been in power since 1986. (CHRIS JACKSON/GETTY IMAGES)

A dossier featuring hundreds of cases of disappearances and deaths at the hands of Uganda’s security forces has yet to be acknowledged by Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, or James Duddridge, the Africa minister. There are also reports of rapes of women in detention. The escalation harks back to the brutal rule of Idi Amin in the 1970s.

The ballot that delivered Museveni, 76, his sixth five-year term was welcomed as “relatively calm” by Duddridge, even though 50 unarmed civilians had been killed by then.

Following a social media backlash, he appeared to harden his stance to tweet “concerns about restrictions of political freedoms” in the east African country.

Bruce Afran, Wine’s American lawyer, cited Duddridge’s “revolving door” business links to Uganda as a possible reason for failing to engage with the investigation. Afran said that Britain was “the sole hold-out in condemning the Museveni regime”.

A report by Declassified UK, an online investigations unit, found that in the years between his two stints as Africa minister, Duddridge earned tens of thousands of pounds as an adviser to a London-based finance house with an advisory board chaired by a Museveni acolyte.

Eighteen months after his first two-year stretch as Africa minister ended in 2016, Duddridge became an adviser to TLG Capital alongside Emmanuel Katongole, a wealthy ally of Museveni who runs Uganda’s National Oil Company, his entry in parliament’s register of interests showed.

Duddridge recorded that he put in eight hours a month for the company from 2017, for which he was paid £2,500 a day, and is said to have earned at least £22,500. The role was approved by parliament’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, Declassified UK reported.

By the time he returned as Africa minister in February 2020, Duddridge had given up his TLG role, a spokesman for the foreign office said, adding “there is no conflict of interest”. Duddridge did not respond to a request for comment.

Among hundreds of cases of disappearances is Jolly Jackline Tukamushaba, 45, who has not been since January. Her children reported she was snatched from her home by men in plain clothes along with posters of Wine, who is also Uganda’s most famous singer.

“Her sole offence appears to have been in possession of some opposition election material, and she has just disappeared,” Afran said. More than 420 high ranking officials of Wine’s National Unity Platform are also missing without any indication about their location or condition. The dossier includes pages of graphic images of survivors’ beatings and torture.

Museveni, a former guerrilla leader who has held office since 1986, has spoken unapologetically about the arrests, and boasted of deploying a commando unit that has “destroyed” what he labelled as Wine’s rebel militia.

Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham, said the lack of criticism “that hits his regime where it hurts” from Britain and elsewhere “appears to have emboldened Museveni to become increasingly brazen in his disrespect for human rights and democracy”.

Wine has urged Uganda’s partners to suspend billions of pounds in foreign aid, which is “bankrolling a repressive police state”. Britain’s contribution to Uganda’s budget is 140m pounds a year.

This article was published by The Times.


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