Uganda’s controversial surveillance contract with Russian company – Quartz Africa


July 23, Uganda won a controversial 10-year surveillance contract to a Russian company with a history of debt problems. Moscow-based joint-stock company Global Security is asked to implement “intelligent transport monitoring systems” on vehicles, motorcycles and ships in Uganda. The government insists that Joint Stock’s financial challenges will not derail the project.

Motorcycles, commonly known as boda-bodas in East Africa, are an increasingly popular means of transport in urban places. In the absence of efficient public transport, Ugandans across the country rely on boda-bodas to get from place to place. But Ugandan authorities also see them as a threat: Over the past decade, boda-bodas have been used in several assassinations and other high-profile crimes.

In at least 10 recent high-profile assassination attempts, all involving boda-bodas, the government has failed to secure the conviction of suspects in part due to failures of intelligence services. Boda-boda assassins easily disappear after eliminating their targets. Regular trading boda-boda riders are also targeted by criminals using the same ones who steal their boda-boda, in many cases killing them.

What does Uganda’s agreement with the Russian surveillance contractor involve?

With the agreement, the government intends to re-register public and private vehicles, boats such as boats and boda-bodas. This is a process that will involve the installation of digital trackers to allow authorized state officials to track the movements of anyone using these modes of transport.

Once the system is operational, the government says that users will not be able, for example, to remove a license plate from a vehicle without alerting the authorities.

Imagine a situation where the government can at any time follow the whereabouts of anyone. Is there a guarantee that the government will not use this technology to oppress citizens?

Summary details on the deal say car owners in the country will have to pay the bill for the implementation directly, including the UGX 20,000 ($ 5) tracker installation fee, the cost of one. new license plate and subsequent penalties. All revenue generated by the process will be shared between the government and Joint Stock, in accordance with the agreement.

Different modes of Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking exist in the market, ranging from those that follow a car or motorcycle when it is in motion, to those that monitor the same whether it is moving or not. Details have yet to be explained to the public on the types of trackers that will be used.

There are privacy concerns

The extension of the state’s surveillance capacity to the boda-bodas will cover a large part of the population given their scope and relevance to the Ugandan economy. It will also grant the Ugandan state access to data on the journeys of the millions of people they transport every day. Already, efforts are underway to challenge the agreement on joint actions in and before the courts over privacy and constitutionality concerns.

“The type and scope of information collected by GPS surveillance allows governments to monitor a person’s political associations and love interests in a way that invades their privacy and thrills.[limits] the expression of other fundamental rights, ”writes Lynette Akankwatsa, Peter Kibilango Resident Member of Social Justice at the Center for Legal Aid in Kampala. “Imagine a situation where the government can track where anyone is at any time. Is there a guarantee that the government will not use this technology to oppress citizens? “

Government officials including President Yoweri Museveni have dismissed the privacy concerns, insisting the move is made for security reasons and only criminals have reason to worry.

But Akankwatsa’s observations are not exaggerated. In Uganda’s January 2021 election, surveillance and control technology purchased from Chinese tech giant Huawei was used by the government to quell dissent. Last year, the country’s security forces used the same cameras to target protesters after the arrest and detention of two presidential candidates.

In this conflict, a commando unit led by soldiers who had served in a UN and AU-backed AMISOM mission in Somalia was deployed to urban areas of the country to quell growing dissent. More than 50 people have been killed; President Museveni boasted of having been killed legally or illegally by “my commandos”.

Despite installing cameras in the capital Kampala, the government has ignored criticism of the crackdown and constantly downplays concerns about the lack of transparency in its procurement process. These concerns also arose around the mandatory registration of the country’s SIM card and the registration of the national ID.

Museveni, who was president for 35 years, doesn’t inspire much confidence when it comes to compromises in implementing technology-centric solutions. A former guerrilla leader who fought his way to power before taking office in 1986, he is credited with bringing relative stability and security to much of the country. But his once stellar democracy and human rights record has taken a hit over the years as he struggled to control the opposition during his long reign.

Museveni has championed the Huawei deal as a silver bullet to tackle growing crime and insecurity in Uganda, but facial recognition technology has done little for the general population. In some cases, it has been said that critical images from Huawei cameras “disappear” or are not used for prosecution when police and military are accused of being involved in criminal activity.

Museveni lobbied for various measures, including the use of drones, fingerprinting of firearms, and banning of hoodies for boda-boda runners and other cyclists, among others, as the Public anger grows against his rule by a largely young population seeking employment in a country. with decades of rising unemployment.

Joint-stock company Global Security mired in controversy

To complicate matters, the track record of the company that won the recent contract. Court records and other reports detail Joint Stock’s difficulties in staying afloat, as bankruptcy and debt proceedings filed between 2019 and 2021 in Russia cast doubt on the company’s future and viability.

In March 2019, another Russian company, Rus Prom-Technologies, successfully sued Joint Stock for non-payment of approximately $ 225,000. Rus Prom then filed a lawsuit saying he wanted Joint Stock to be declared bankrupt; a hearing is still ongoing there, according to The Observer. At its next hearing on September 3, Joint Stock will have to produce proof of debt repayment.

The Rus-Prom-Technology case is just an tip of the iceberg on the legal challenges faced by Joint Stock in Russia. The company has reportedly, in other separate legal challenges, been sued by six other companies in Russia for defaulting on its debt among other obligations totaling more than $ 900,000.

Companies looking for stock through shares include: Limited liability company “Orken Alem; »The Russian National Pension Fund; Stok-Trading LLC, which deals with the logistics of road transport; Royal Silk Factory Jsc; and Turday GS sro Slovak Republic, wholesalers of non-durable goods and of commercial and industrial machinery and equipment. JSC ZVI, which produces AC motors and other household items such as electric stoves, has three separate lawsuits against Joint Stock. All these files were submitted between January 2019 and July 2021.

Joint Stock was also fined by Russian tax authorities for currency violation for the supply of military equipment to Kazakhstan and Brazil in South America. In both cases, court documents show that Joint Stock does not have its own production line, but operates as a broker for established companies.

Quartz attempted to contact Joint Stock for a statement, but was unable to obtain contact information from relevant Ugandan sources. The company and its bosses have no contacts listed beyond their address in Moscow. Russian websites listing the challenges of the business also did not include contact details for the business.

Senior Ugandan officials, who were presented with readily available facts through basic computer research, were unaware or pretended to ignore the entrepreneur’s abilities and financial problems. The government subsequently argued that the country would not be financially exposed by the troubles of the company.

Uganda has a history of corruption and inadequate due diligence in procurement

Uganda’s international and local public procurement profile is laden with stories of corruption and lack of due diligence that end up costing taxpayers a fortune.

In 1997, for example, the Ugandan government bought four “unwanted” helicopters from Belarus. President Museveni’s younger brother, General Salim Saleh, has been found to be an accomplice in the transaction. President Museveni later said his brother confessed his crimes to him, reimbursed him the money and was therefore pardoned.

General Saleh, named in other corruption cases, continues to play a key role in his brother’s government, including leading a multibillion-dollar government “wealth creation” project.

Retired Major General Jim Muhwezi, who recently returned to cabinet as Minister of Security and responsible for this project, has a questionable past. He has already been sacked and censored by the Ugandan parliament for abuse of power, influence peddling, inability to account for his massive wealth and disregard for army rules.

With the controversy surrounding the deal and the negative publicity this recent deal is receiving, it will be a litmus test of whether the will of the Ugandan people is strong enough to undermine the pillars of an increasingly corrupt and authoritarian regime. Once the surveillance system is in place, Ugandans will have even fewer options to challenge their government without fear of sanctions.

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