An organization working to promote democracy in Uganda is being targeted by authorities after opposing a plan to change the country’s constitution to allow a president to serve beyond the age limit of 75.
President Yoweri Musevi, 73, is ineligible to stand at the next polls in 2021 unless an age cap of 75 is removed from the constitution.
Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of ActionAid Uganda, raided the offices of the organization, and brought the director Arthur Larok for interrogation multiple times.
The nominal reason for these actions is a police investigation into alleged “money laundering” and the vague charge of “conspiracy to commit a felony,” according to a letter from Deputy Central Bank Governor Louis Kasakende, which was circulated in Ugandan media.
But police investigators who actually questioned Larok instead focused on ActionAid’s recent involvement in the public debate on modifying the constitution. ActionAid was also publicly accused by government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo of funding “sporadic demonstrations” in several universities and towns.
“We are breaking down their networks across the country,” Opondo said, referring to ActionAid and other civil society groups allegedly fueling the unrest.
ActionAid has responded to the freezing of its bank accounts by saying that the move will affect its anti-poverty work: “It seems that the Ugandan authorities are willing to sacrifice the needs and rights of its citizens in order to maintain their grip on power. We must be allowed to continue to assist people living in poverty and facing marginalization. We cannot allow harm to come to ordinary people,” said director Arthur Larok.
The Ugandan organization’s partner ActionAid UK has also spoken out against the crackdown, saying, “Our work in Uganda campaigning against violence against women is harmed by the closing of ActionAid Uganda bank accounts.”
Fredrick Kawooya, the head of policy research and campaigns at ActionAid Uganda, said on Sunday that a school feeding program will soon be put to a halt as a result of the government move. He added that the reason for the crackdown was that his government had challenged the power of the government.
In the meantime, a parliamentary committee is conducting inquiries on the controversial bill before it is tabled for debate. Some members of Museveni’s party oppose the bill while others support it.
The Messenger is dedicated to investigative and expository reporting in East Africa. For updates, sign up for our newsletter here.