President Museveni has held bilateral talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Nairobi after attending Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta inauguration to serve his last five-year term.
According to Don Wanyama, a senior press secretary to the President, both leaders committed to strengthening the relations between their two countries.
Museveni’s handlers did not pronounce any further information about the secret meeting but the government is yet to explain under what circumstances it allowed Israel to relocate ‘its’ migrants to Uganda.
Quid pro quo refugees-for-arms deal?
The Israeli government recently made a deal with Rwanda to pay $5,000 for each African asylum seeker currently living in Israel that it would accept and absorb.
The behind-the-scenes deal between Israel, Uganda has been exposed for some time in Israel, but Museveni’s government officially continues to deny its existence and in the Kampala, Israel has found a government that will do anything to lay their hands on Israeli arms, hence the vow of secrecy and conspiracy of silence.
In September, the Prime Minister, Rukahana Rugunda was questioned by Lwemiyaga Member of Parliament (MP) Theodore Ssekikubo about the foreigners.
“The minister responsible [for Foreign Affairs] will be making a report on the matter so that Parliament and the country can be better informed about this rather unique and intriguing matter,” Dr Rugunda replied.
The Times of Israel (TOI) online edition on August 29, 2017 reported that Israel would relocate many Eritrean and Sudanese migrants to Uganda.
The tiny Middle East country, according to The Jewish Standard (June 2012), hosts 34, 000 Eritreans and 15, 700 South Sudanese.
At least 1, 500 of the above were reportedly relocated to Uganda.
Many might have left their home countries due to political persecution. Three Eritreans who were deported to Uganda were later killed in Libya in 2015 by ISIS, reportedly after seeking to cross the Mediterranean for Europe with other refugees. The three that were taken prisoner and executed by ISIS were identified over social media by a distant relative who lives in Israel, according to +972 Magazine.
A local newspaper reported in its September 10 edition that Israel send had sent 1,400 refugees to Uganda. The behind-the-scenes deal between Israel, Uganda and Rwanda has been exposed for some time in Israel, but Uganda officially continues to deny its existence.
The newspaper reported that it had interviewed ten refugees who said Israel had promised to resettle them in Uganda, only for them to have been abandoned and harassed by state agents in Kampala.
Persistent reports suggest that Kampala and Kigali are getting Israeli weapons, military training and other forms of aid in return, but just like their counterparts in Jerusalem, officials in both countries refuse to talk about any quid pro quo refugees-for-arms deal.
Government caught in denial?
Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo told respected local journalist James Tumusiime point-blank that there are no Eritreans and Sudanese arriving from Israel on Ugandan soil.
“We have cross-checked that information, even with Rwanda and our Immigration Department, we don’t have those people,” he said. “We don’t know why they [Israelis] circulate that information, we don’t have an agreement with them and we don’t have Eritreans or Sudanese or any other nationality [here] on the basis of an agreement with the Israelis.”
— Yoweri K Museveni (@KagutaMuseveni) November 29, 2017
Mr Opondo further said that the Ugandan authorities had challenged the Israelis to produce the list of people they have sent to Uganda but got no response.
“Uganda is welcoming to refugees, so why would we hide these ones?” he queried.
Asked about an arms deal as the possible explanation for the secrecy, Mr Opondo retorted, “Do we need to buy arms secretly? We are not under an embargo, and if we want to purchase arms from Israel, it is not under an embargo either.”
Of course, the arms business is legendary for its secrecy.
Uganda and Israel have a longstanding relationship based on military procurement, with Netanyahu playing a key role. An Israeli journalist last year revealed that Netanyahu, while working as finance minister in 2005, visited Uganda with arms manufacturer Silver Shadow Systems. The trip was paid for by the Uganda government to the tune of $57,000 or Shs 207 million.