NATIONAL | Former MTN Uganda general manager in charge of sales and distribution Annie Bilenge Tabura was blindfolded upon arrest and driven in circles around Kampala on the day she was deported.
In an interview with The East African, Tabura said she feared for her life and wept inconsolably when security operatives finally removed the cuffs on her wrists and dumped her in a cell at ISU in Kireka.
“I was shoved into a van and ordered to put my face between my legs. I sat in the middle, with two men on one side and a woman on the other,” Tabura said.
“The bent position I was in was very painful. They [later] stopped near a kiosk to buy food, and they also bought two handkerchiefs which they tied together and blindfolded me.”
Tabura was on January 22 deported by Ugandan government alongside MTN Uganda chief marketing officer Olivier Prentout, and the general manager in charge of mobile money, Elsa Mussolini.
Prentout was put a plane back to France while Mussolini was sent back to Italy on a journey of no return.
Deputy Police Spokesperson Polly Namaye said the deportation of the MTN Uganda senior managers followed investigations by security agencies in close coordination with immigration officials.
“We want to commend the Directorate of Immigration and citizenship control for strengthening the screening procedures at all border points,” Namaye said.
“We strongly believe that the deportation of the two foreigners, who were using their employment as tools to achieve their ill motives, has enabled us disrupt their intended plans of compromising our national security.”
While Mussolini later told her former colleagues that she was questioned on her dealings with Bobi Wine during the brief period she was held by Ugandan security, Tabura did not say anything regarding interrogation during custody.
Tabura told The East Africa that she was driven around for about four hours and detained until 6.30pm when she was driven to Entebbe International Airport and put a RwandAir plane back home.
Tabura had survived an arrest at the airport three days before her deportation but Prentout, with whom she was returning from attending an MTN Group conference in Kivu, western Rwanda, was did not get out of the trap that had been laid for them at the airport.
“On arrival in Entebbe, we joined the residents’ queue because we both had permits,” Tabura said.
At the Immigration Desk, the officer told her that something was not clear in the system. However, he cleared her after she asked him to check her passport for a valid work permit. Prentout had by then been taken into an office.
“I asked him what he was doing there, and he said they were checking something. I told him this was not normal, but he said it was alright and that there was nothing to worry about. He asked me not to wait for him since we both had our drivers waiting for us.”
She left the airport and later called him but he did not answer. She called again after a few minutes, and his phone was off.
Prentout was deported on January 19 to France.
Bundled and blindfolded
From the airport, Tabura drove to her home in Kololo, dropped off her luggage and went to work. She had a meeting scheduled for 4.30pm at the MTN head office in Kampala.
The following day, two police vehicles came to her home but did not find her.
“I was at my friend’s house. I asked to talk to the men on the phone, but they refused. In the evening, I went home after talking to the Rwandan ambassador,” she said.
On Monday morning, as she was leaving for work from her apartment in Kololo, she noticed two police cars parked nearby. It was clear that she was being trailed. Putting the Entebbe incident in perspectives, Tabura worried something was awfully wrong.
“I called the [MTN Uganda] CEO and told him that it seemed like the police were looking for me. I was scared. I left my office and went to the BAT office on Jinja Road for a meeting. While there, I received a call from the MTN head office telling me that the police were looking for me,” she said.
She told them she would be arriving there soon, and her bosses at MTN Uganda assured her that the company’s lawyers were present. But as soon as she reached the basement parking lot, security operatives surrounded her.
They were about ten of them in total, in civilian clothes but armd.
“A man who identified himself as a deputy police commander asked me if I was Annie. I responded in the affirmative and he said I was under arrest. I asked for an arrest warrant but they did not present one. All of them were in civilian clothes but were carrying guns,” she said.
She was bundled into a van at around 9.15am and ordered to put her head between her legs, apparently so she would not see and know where she was being driven to.
Tabura said the security operatives were constantly on phone with their superiors, taking directions about how to proceed and where to go. They changed the destination several times as directed on phone.
The operatives noted her discomfort with head between her legs after more than an hour of driving in circles and decided to stop for a snack break, using the same opportunity to buy handkerchiefs which they tied together and blindfolded her.
Tabura said it took four hours to reach their destination.
“When we arrived, they removed my handcuffs and blindfold and when I saw where I was, I thought they would kill me. I started crying,” she said.
Later, she was told by one of the men that it was Kireka Police Station.
She was detained in a cell until about 6.30pm when she was picked up by a police vehicle and driven to Entebbe, where they arrived at 9pm.
“At the airport, they handed me my passport, handbag and a boarding pass and put me on a RwandAir flight to Kigali. It was only when I arrived in Rwanda that I read in the media that I, Prentout and Mussolini had been deported for undermining state security,” she said.
Tabura’s deportation comes as relations between Uganda and its south-western neighbours continue to sour. Rwandan companies, allegedly on state orders, between 2017 and 2018 terminated contracts of several Ugandans.
The Ugandan government accuses Kigali of working with some unscrupulous elements within security circles in Kampala to abduct and deport Rwandan dissidents.
Uganda, on its part, has over the years arrested and interrogated several Rwandans, some of them deported in the process.
Tabura’s deportation, though, saw the relations between the two countries grow more sores and sour with Rwanda’s deputy foreign minister Olivier Nduhungirehe sarcastically noting that Uganda only wants Rwandan dissidents preparing to attack Kigali.
“Apparently, walking and working in Uganda while Rwandan have become a crime. The only activities allowed for Rwandans in Uganda seem to be plotting against their country, training forces for the RNC/P5 and denouncing fellow Rwandans,” Amb Nduhungirehe said.