Uganda and Israel in Secret Talks?
President Museveni yesterday met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem as it emerged his trip took Foreign Affairs ministry officials in Kampala by surprise.
"I was not aware of that trip [by the President] to Israel," the Permanent Secretary Ambassador James Mugume said by telephone. His ministry is responsible for operation of Uganda's foreign policies geared toward securing national interest and therefore officially the conduit through which the government interfaces with other countries.
Ms Lindah Nabusayi, the deputy presidential press secretary, said in an email statement from Jerusalem that Mr Museveni and Mr Netanyahu "discussed matters of mutual interest, including attracting Israeli investors to Uganda and promoting infrastructure development".
The President was due to meet his Israeli counterpart, Mr Shimon Peres, and other leaders there, she wrote. Mr Museveni flew to Israel yesterday, according to Ms Nabusayi, and is in the Middle East country on a four-day "working" visit. When the Ugandan leader visited Israel in January 2003, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon praised him for his "firm stand against global terrorism".
The officials at the time signed a trade and investment agreement, which has seen Israel's business portfolio in Uganda expand to cover road construction, agriculture, mining and telecommunications.
Yesterday, a senior government official, who asked not to be named to speak freely on an otherwise sensitive subject, said the President's secret visit likely had something to with "security matters and buying arms". "You cannot rule it out," the official said. " And that may be the reason most government officials do not know about it."
Israel has a longstanding involvement with Uganda's military, having worked closely with Idi Amin's government, and is understood to have helped upgrade some of UPDF's jet fighters' operational capabilities and versatility. Yesterday's is the President's second clandestine foreign trip in two months.
In September, his overstay of a "private" visit to India using the presidential jet stirred controversy, although Mr Museveni would later explain that the trip enabled him to court Indian entrepreneurs to come and establish sugarcane plantations/sugar factories here so as to diminish the stretching deficit marked by superstores rationing sugar to customers.
In yesterday's statement, Ms Nabusayi said "Israel and Uganda both called for enhanced economic cooperation between the two countries" during talks held at premier Netanyahu's official residence in Beit Rosh Hamemushala.
The visit comes in the wake of escalating tension in the Middle East region following revelations Israel is on the brink of striking suspected nuclear facilities in Iran whose leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Kampala in April last year.
Diplomats in Kampala said President Museveni at the time tried to sweet-talk Mr Ahmadinejad out of any intended development of nuclear bombs, a programme that UN nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency, last week said was underway.
It is not clear if Mr Museveni would try to play an arbiter's role.