The Government of Uganda is to investigate and ascertain the authenticity of reports that a neighbouring country spied on ex-prime minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and other top officials.
The Minister of Internal Affairs, Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, said once the verification of the Rwanda espionage allegations is carried out, an official response will be given regarding the matter that has stirred public debate.
“The report is not yet authenticated. For now, it remains an allegation and a rumour which we cannot comment on officially or accuse a neighbouring country of masterminding.
There is no way I can accuse a foreign country basing on hearsay,” the internal affairs minister told journalists on Wednesday.
“Once it is authenticated, we shall give an official statement,” he added.
According to allegations in a leaked report, more than 3,500 telephone numbers of politicians, journalists and diplomats were targeted since 2016, in a phone tapping-related espionage allegedly initiated by Rwanda with the help of an Israeli NSO Pegasus spyware.
The leaked Pegasus database indicates that mobile phone numbers of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, among other leaders, were tapped using the Israeli-made malware in what many have described as a “bombshell” spy allegation initiated by an African country.
Within Uganda, the phone-tapping espionage targeted Rugunda, former foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa, former Chief of Defence Forces and state minister for internal affairs Gen. David Muhoozi, Ambassador Joseph Ochwet, the director general of External Security Organisation (ESO); veteran journalist Andrew Mwenda and Yassin Nyanzi, the brother of former presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine.
According to telecom researchers, Pegasus sneaks its way onto a phone through booby-trapped text messages that install themselves onto the phones of targeted people, especially those that use smartphones.
Without noticing the uninvited spy malware, the phone-user or targeted person is enticed by the malware to click on the unsolicited message, triggering the spyware to download.
For many unsuspecting politicians in Africa, the Pegasus, which is developed by NSO Group, an Israeli firm, experts say, easily found its way onto their phones due to limited knowledge in telecom-related technology.
It has been established from various sources within the security circles that intelligence services years back, especially towards the preparatory stages of the 2021 general election, countered the possible security penetration from a neighbouring country or its agents.
“We are aware and we have completely countered any possible penetration. That is why we gave Bobi Wine security before elections and after, among other measures that we initiated to counter the spy network,” a top intelligence officer intimated.
In his speech shortly after the January 14 presidential elections, President Yoweri Museveni also warned a “neighbouring” country against meddling into Ugandan affairs.
The President noted: “In this last election, there is one country in the region which has been sending their agents to come and meddle in our politics.
‘We are not going to tolerate that. We are not going to tolerate anybody meddling in our politics. We are following everything and we have been counteracting them. But those meddlers from the region must stop.”
On the other hand, Rwanda’s Kagame has several times hinted on a neighbouring country in the North, accusing it on meddling into their affairs.
Relations between Uganda and Rwanda worsened with the closure of the Gatuna and Cyanika border in February 2019, with the latter excusing it on works on its One Stop border apparatus, but later said Uganda was torturing its citizens.
Efforts to solve the sour relations have not yielded any result, despite meditations from presidents of Angola and DRC.