Picture: BLOOMBERG/NADINE HUTTON
Picture: BLOOMBERG/NADINE HUTTON

Uganda has deported a French and a Rwandan executive from telecoms group MTN, accusing them of planning to compromise national security, police said on Tuesday.

MTN Uganda said its chief marketing officer Olivier Prentout was detained at Entebbe airport on Saturday after returning from a business trip, then sent back to France.

The company said its head of sales and distribution, Annie Bilenge Tabura, was arrested by security personnel as she arrived at its headquarters in Kampala on Monday morning, then deported to Rwanda.

It did not comment directly on the police accusation but said the company and all its employees are committed to respecting and operating within Ugandan laws. There was no immediate statement from either executive.

Police said on Twitter that the pair were deported “over their engagements in acts which compromise national security”. It did not go into further details on the charges.

Last year, MTN Uganda said government security personnel had raided its data centre and disconnected four of its servers. MTN Uganda has more than 10-million subscribers and competes chiefly with India’s Bharti Airtel.

MTN’s 20-year licence expired in October. The firm applied for a 10-year extension and the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) gave it an interim renewal lasting 60-days, pending resolution of a number of unspecified issues before a final licence is issued.

Ugandan authorities have said that MTN has agreed to list its shares on Uganda’s local bourse as a condition of renewing its licence, though the firm itself is yet to confirm this.

In November 2018, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni criticised the country’s telecommunications regulator after it slashed MTN Uganda’s fee for renewing its telecoms licence, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The UCC ultimately decided to charge MTN Uganda $58m to renew its licence for 10 years, instead of the $100m originally set for the renewal. Museveni said in a letter he was “astonished” by UCC’s decision to cut the charge.

This is not the first time MTN has had to contend with deportations of managers. In November 2017, MTN’s CEO for Benin Stephen Blewett was essentially exiled from the West African country for half a year after MTN refused to meet the government’s demands that it pay frequency fees for 2016 and 2017 worth a staggering $213m.

Blewett was allowed back into the country after the company agreed to pay fees of $126m while also extending its licence by five years. 

Reuters