Behind the attacks on NGO Forum, UWONET
Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | The government on Dec.11 unexpectedly froze bank accounts and clamped down on the activities of two prominent local civil society organisations—the Uganda NGO Forum and the Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET).
A day earlier, Sydney Asubo, the head of the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA), a government agency that is tasked with tracking suspicious money movements in the country, had written to the Director of Public Prosecutions saying that his agency had “received intelligence from one of the security agencies indicating that the Uganda National NGO Forum and the Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) were involved in terrorism financing activities.”
“Therefore in accordance with section 17A (2) of the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Act, 2015, we hereby bring this matter to your attention for your further management,” said Sydney Asubo, the executive director of FIA.
Asubo ordered the freezing of seven bank accounts of the Uganda National NGO Forum and 10 accounts of UWONET. These accounts are in Stanbic Bank, Absa Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank.
Nicholas Opiyo, the executive director and lead attorney at Chapter Four, a Kampala-based civil rights charity that works to defend civil liberties in Uganda, says the move did not surprise him.
“It is a political strategy for President Museveni to secure victory in this upcoming election,” Opiyo says.
He says it is easy to see why the two organisations under the spotlight were singled out. They have invested in civic education and have been critical of what they say is government’s failure to enable a level playing field for political competition as the January14, 2021 general elections edge closer.
The UWONET is a network of over 100 women-led organisations across the country while the Uganda National NGO Forum is perhaps the largest forum of NGOs in the country.
UWONET was also involved in the 2016 election observation exercise and it was at the centre of the Women’s Situation Room that advocated for free, fair and peaceful elections. Meanwhile, the Uganda National NGO Forum has also been accredited by the Electoral Commission to observe the 2021 election.
On their respective websites, UWONET says it is an advocacy organisation that has been helping to improve women’s governance and leadership, women’s economic justice and empowerment and knowledge management, voice and accountability. Meanwhile, the NGO Forum says it seeks to mobilize citizens to engage with development processes as part of their civic role in society.
Opiyo says that Museveni’s government has targeted these two to disable them from doing the work they are currently doing—which is holding his government accountable; especially during the current election cycle.
Agents of hostile foreign governments
Opiyo says President Yoweri Museveni likes to claim during elections that there are foreign powers interfering in Uganda’s affairs and that local NGOs are agents of these foreign powers. “But he does not define what those powers are, which countries are doing it and how they are doing it,” Opiyo told The Independent on Dec.16.
“You would think that someone would have evidence against the person or organization they claim is financing terrorism activities,” Opiyo told The Independent. He says before the public pronouncement, Chapter Four met FIA and asked for the evidence but the FIA only pointed to information from security agencies citing intelligence reports.
“They do not provide any evidence to back-up the claims and yet their arbitrary actions have far-reaching implications. If you were indeed funding terrorism activities but you leave us to roam the streets, what does that show? You should arrest us and take us to jail.”