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Uganda deports MTN chief

Wim Vanhelleputte CEO MTN Uganda

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | MTN CEO Wim Vanhelleputte was Thursday night deported, weeks after three of the  company’s expatriate staff were expelled.

His deportation documents were signed by Internal Affairs Minister Gen. Jeje Odongo, hours after he had been held and grilled by security. He was later taken to Entebbe airport for an SN Brussels flight to Belgium.

Vanhelleputte was declared an undesirable immigrant by virtue of section 52(g) of the Uganda Citizenship and Immigration Control Act and therefore a prohibited immigrant.

His exit, will be a major blow to the South Africa-based corporation who are still rocking from the expulsion last month of three of their staff in Uganda.

MTN Uganda’s general manager for mobile money Elsa Mussolini, an Italian citizen, marketing chief Olivier Prentout, a French national, and Annie Bilenge-Tabura, a Rwandan who was head of sales and distribution were those earlier deported. Ugandan authorities accused them of using their positions to “compromise national security”, without giving further details.,

In a message to her staff published in local media and confirmed by MTN, Mussolini said she was deported following accusations that she gave opposition figure Bobi Wine money during his campaign last year against a proposed social media tax.

Acting CEO Kyomukama

MTN had meanwhile appointed  Chief Technology Officer Gordian Kyomukama to take charge. In a statement, MTN said that ” To ensure business continuity, we have appointed Mr. Gordian Kyomukama, currently Chief Technology Officer, as Acting Chief Executive. Our focus continues to be on delivering the best quality products and services to our customers.”

MTN boss recently met Museveni

Separately, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni met MTN’s chief executive Rob Shuter on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos .

The pair discussed “an array of issues”, Museveni wrote on twitter, without mentioning the deportations of staff.

MTN has complained in recent months of ill-treatment by Ugandan authorities, as focus has turned to the overdue renewal of its licenses.

Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director at UCC, a government agency mandated to issue licences to telecom firms told The Independent in an interview that they are ready to renew MTN licence once it agrees to fulfil some of the conditions as stipulated in the policy.

“The current issues surrounding MTN (of deporting its executives) is a separate matter being handled by a different entity,” he said. “Our (mandate) is to grant them licence once they meet the conditions as stipulated in the policy.”

MTN’s 20-year license expired in October last year. The company applied for a 10 year extension and UCC gave it an initial  interim renewal lasting 90-days pending resolution of some issues with the coming on board of the National Broadband Policy before a final license is issued.

MTN has around 10.5million subscribers, and controls slightly more than 50% of the country’s telecom market that has approximately 23million subscribers.

Last July, MTN said armed men claiming to be from Uganda’s Internal Security Organisation “kidnapped” two of its contractors and forced them to open up the company’s main data centre, where they made an unsuccessful attempt to access servers.

MTN Uganda said at the time that it took the “criminal incident” seriously and had reported it to the authorities, while adding it didn’t believe it was under investigation.

The telecom firm, one of Africa’s largest, has run into legal trouble elsewhere.

Last month it paid Nigeria a $53-million (46.7-million euro) penalty following allegations the company illegally repatriated more than $8 billion to South Africa.

The deportation of a Rwandan staffer from Uganda has raised speculation that a feud between the two neighbours may have played a role.

Uganda has occasionally arrested suspected spies for Rwanda, while Rwanda has accused its northern neighbour together with Burundi of supporting rebels opposed to President Paul Kagame.

RELATED STORY: MTN Uganda’s troubles


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