After arrestng and deporting officials of the telecom giant MTN, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is on tenterhooks as international pressure mounts on him.
The country on Thursday arrested and deported of the company’s chief executive, Belgian national Wim Vanhelleputte.
The president now has to choose between believing intelligence from his security agents or the pleadings of a multinational backed by the diplomatic power of three countries.
Since the earlier deportation of three senior MTN managers two weeks ago, Uganda has been under pressure from France, Italy, South Africa and Rwanda to substantiate claims that the trio had been engaged in espionage as alleged by security agencies.
French national and MTN Uganda’s chief marketing officer Olivier Prentout, Rwandan Annie Bilenge Tabura, who was head of sales and distribution, and Franco-Italian citizen and general manager for mobile financial services Elsa Muzzolini were also accused of waging a campaign to sabotage the collection of new taxes introduced last June on mobile money transactions and social media sites, known as the Over The Top (OTT) tax.
Mr Vanhelleputte’s deportation came just days after President Museveni appeared to soften on the latter charge.
Just before he set off for the African Union’s Heads of State Summit in Addis Ababa last week, President Museveni held a meeting with French ambassador Stéphanie Rivoal to discuss the deportations.
In that meeting, President Museveni is reported to have said that the campaign in which members of MTN’s executive committee discussed strategies to lobby against the tax could be forgiven.
He, however, deferred a decision on the trio’s alleged spying on government officials for Rwanda.
No official reason has been given for declaring Mr Vanhelleputte a “prohibited immigrant.”
Mr Vanhelleputte’s deportation order, signed by Interior Minister General Jeje Odongo, did not state any reasons for the action.
Sources at MTN however said that Mr Vanhelleputte had told his colleagues at MTN Uganda that he was being deported for “speaking to people who had been deported” from Uganda. That is what the security officials had told him.
MTN Uganda chairman Charles Mbire said he did not know what had happened.
“I have nothing to say about these developments because I don’t know what is happening. Let’s wait for security to appraise us on the reasons for the deportations.”
Mr Vanhelleputte’s deportation came two days after he had sacked MTN’s manager for legal and corporate services, Anthony Katamba, after a stormy encounter in which Mr Katamba reportedly threatened his boss with deportation.
Indeed, in his brief to management on the incident, Mr Vanhelleputte, who joined MTN Uganda in 2016, said Mr Katamba had threatened him with deportation.