ActionAid USA Executive Director, Marie Clarke

ActionAid USA has demanded that Ugandan authorities unfreeze its affiliate ActionAid Uganda bank accounts and also end acts of intimidation against civil society in the country.

“On Thursday the Ugandan authorities closed down the bank accounts of ActionAid Uganda, preventing the organization from doing its vital work tackling poverty and injustice. The authorities also sent a letter to 25 other non-governmental organizations demanding their bank account details,” ActionAid USA Executive Director, Marie Clarke.

She added: “We will not be silent in the face of this latest attempt to suppress civic engagement, and we invite all of our allies and organizations to join us in expressing solidarity with Ugandan civil society.

According to Ms. Clarke, all Ugandans must be allowed to freely express their views for or against issues of national importance to them.

“The actions the government is taking in this case amount to criminalizing dissent and go against both Ugandan and international law,” she added.

On his part ActionAid Uganda Country Director Arthur Larok, said: “It seems that the Ugandan authorities are willing to sacrifice the needs and rights of its own citizens in order to maintain their grip on power. We must be allowed to continue to assist people living in poverty and facing marginalization. We cannot allow harm to come to ordinary people.”

The ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) wants to amend the constitution to remove the presidential age limit of 75 years of age. The move is widely seen as a way of allowing incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, 73, to stand for President again in 2021. President Museveni has already ruled Uganda 31 years.

Many individuals, organizations and MPs have themselves been protesting against this move – the authorities have responded by cracking down on civil society and preventing vital poverty reduction and civic engagement work in the country, Ms. Clarke said in press release yesterday.

She said that without access to funds, ActionAid Uganda will not be able to continue its essential work, which includes efforts to protect women against violence. This is particularly important because of a series of unexplained murders of women in and around Kampala.

This is not the first time that ActionAid has been targeted in Uganda. On September 20 and 21, approximately 20 police and state security officials entered the ActionAid Uganda Head Offices in Kansanga, Kampala. All staff in the office were prevented from leaving for several hours as the police thoroughly searched the premises. They removed some documents and confiscated the personal cell-phones of some staff and official laptops. They also raided the offices of two of ActionAid Uganda’s local partners.

Mr Larok and Director of Finance, Bruno Ssemaganda were summoned by police for interrogation on October 10 and 11. Although both were released without charge, ActionAid subsequently found that its major bank accounts had been closed down. “The personal bank accounts of some of its staff have also been frozen,” she says.

The police claim that ActionAid Uganda has been involved in ‘illegal activities’ including money laundering. “ActionAid believes that the office raid, police interview and the freezing of its bank accounts are part of a wider crackdown against legitimate protests against the plan to remove the presidential age limit from the Ugandan Constitution, which would allow the current president to remain in power indefinitely,” Ms. Clarke said.