A diplomatic row is simmering between Uganda and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Arab country has reportedly demanded an apology from Kampala for criticisms leveled against it by MPs recently.
“They are threatening sanctions against us; they may deny us entry visas into UAE which may adversely affect the economy,” Nakifuma MP Robert Kafeero Ssekitooleko told The Observer on Monday.
Kafeero, who is known to have considerable working knowledge of what government business occupies minds inside State House from time to time, said the UAE wants Uganda to say sorry.
The UAE first summoned Uganda’s ambassador Nimisha Madhvani who is said to have been the source of the April 18 comments by MPs about the UAE government which they accused of overseeing slavery and trafficking of Ugandans.
The MPs led by Butambala representative Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi voiced their concerns during a meeting of parliament’s committee on Defence and Internal Affairs that was interfacing with Internal Affairs minister Gen Abubakar Jeje Odongo.
Basing on findings of their recent trip to Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates that make up UAE, Kivumbi told Odongo that the MPs visited a slave market and learned with shock how Ugandan girls were being sold like commodities.
Owing to the harsh conditions, Kivumbi said, at least 16 girls had committed suicide over the last seven months.
Kivumbi’s statements were received in bad faith by Abu Dhabi where Uganda’s ambassador was summoned by the authorities. She was later hurriedly recalled by her bosses at the ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kampala.
She received her marching orders on May 10 when the acting Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Isaac Ssebulime wrote to tell her to immediately report back to Kampala for “consultations.”
Madhvani was asked to hand over to Sam Omara, the embassy’s charge d’affaires.
The developments have distressed President Museveni who was expecting to host his UAE counterpart Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Late in 2014, Museveni visited Abu Dhabi and held talks with Al Nahyan for bilateral cooperation in oil sector exploration, the development of the crude oil pipeline and capacity building for Ugandans engaged in the exploration of the oil industry.
The Abu Dhabi ruler was expected to reciprocate the visit but has since cancelled plans to visit Uganda, according to knowledgeable sources.
But senior presidential press secretary Don Innocent Wanyama in a WhatsApp message said he was not aware of any such planned visit.
The Observer, however, understands that Museveni last week met Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga at State House Entebbe and asked her to see how parliament can retract the statements which upset the UAE.
Trade between Uganda and the United Arab Emirates has been growing with each passing year. Many Ugandans are now flying regularly to Dubai to purchase goods and merchandise which are available at competitive prices.
As of last year, Uganda’s exports to UAE were valued at $468.8 million (Shs 1.7 trillion). Following her meeting with Museveni, Kadaga on May 11 summoned Muwanga Kivumbi over the phone to her office to persuade him to retract his statements.
Kivumbi reportedly declined to meet Kadaga. Interviewed, Kivumbi said he was discouraged by the long queue of people waiting to meet her.
“But I can’t retract my statements; the truth is, our girls are mistreated in UAE, we need to be working on how to make the conditions better,” Kivumbi said.