By David Ndayonde
Ugandans have been both intrigued and revolted at the unabashed covetousness that a hitherto unheard of Canadian lawyer has been displaying towards our country. Until a couple of months ago most Ugandans would not have been able to tell you who Robert Amsterdam was from Adam.
A random survey by this publication (now that the irascible foreigner has been seen foaming at the mouth in tirades against Uganda for a few weeks) engendered responses like ‘He is a pop artist’ or ‘Isn’t that an actor?’ to our most popular ‘He was a chilling American serial killer in the 1980s’.
No one knows if Robert Amsterdam has any mutilated bodies buried in his back yard yet, but his actions and those of his benefactors are no less unsettling. Born in New York in 1956, he and his family later migrated to Ontario, Canada, where he grew up. He got his law degree in 1978 from Queen’s University (Kingston, Canada).
Unfortunately, his graduation did not launch him on a career to defend the oppressed minorities in North America (who are brutalized everyday) but was the beginning of an insatiable craving for riches no matter what the cost. The blacks and Hispanics in the US have no money for the most part, so this recently unveiled ‘Crusader for human rights’ had no time for them. No, his sights were firmly set on the riches of developing nations.
Amongst the first cases he took was to represent Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Group in a case in Venezuela. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is a large Canadian hotel chain that owns approximately 111 hotels in 46 countries around the world. It had a total revenue of 4 billion dollars in 2013 and counts Bill Gates and Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal amongst its share holders. Hardly the people whose human rights would be in danger you would think? So, from the very beginning this Mr. Amsterdam was representing the rich and powerful against smaller, developing nations.
Next Amsterdam tried to tussle with a superpower, namely the Russian Federation. In his usual shameless hankering after money he represented Mikhail Khordorkovsky, former CEO of Yukos Group. Khordorkovsky had grabbed his country’s most profitable oil fields (located in Siberia) in the last days of the Soviet Union.
When the Russian state (under Vladimir Putin’s firm hand) moved to reclaim its rights over its wealth Mr. Amsterdam stepped in to deprive them of that. So, in other words this so called ‘Intrepid campaigner for democracy and human rights’, was acting to prevent the great people of Russia from reclaiming their sovereignty over the oil fields and was supporting Khordorkovsky’s colossal corruption.
Thankfully, the Russians had no time for these games and physically threw Mr. Amsterdam out of their country in 2005. Khordorkovsky was jailed for a total of 8 years. If you are waiting for a paragraph where Amsterdam actually represents a genuine human rights issue you’re waiting in vain.
In the next act of the international adventurism of Mr. Amsterdam we shall unmask his shady dealings with international mercenaries in the quest for Africa’s riches. One of Robert Amsterdam’s closest friends and benefactors is Anthony Leslie Rowland ‘Tony’ Buckingham. Commonly referred to simply as ‘Tony Buckingham’ he is a character fresh out of a Frederick Forsyth book; especially, the decrepit novels you’d find your uncle reading in the 1960s and 1970s.
A former North Sea oil rig diver he plunged into the illicit world of mercenaries and private military contractors in the 1980s. In the early 1990s, as the last white bastion in Africa (Apartheid South Africa), tottled on the verge of collapse and the victory of the long oppressed Africans increasingly looked inevitable, ex-soldiers looked about anxiously for job opportunities.
Tony Buckingham, Eeben Barlow, Lafras Luitingh and Simon Mann formed the now infamous Executive Outcomes. All were ex-soldiers who had served with the racist Apartheid military (with exception of Buckingham).
Executive Outcomes recruited men from some of Apartheid South Africa’s worst units (in terms of human rights violations) e.g. the Recces (South African Special Forces), Koevoet, 32 Battalion and the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB). It was Eeben Barlow (an astute and capable military intelligence officer) who initially formed and recruited for Executive Outcomes. Barlow’s idea was to use the expertise of South Africa’s Apartheid era soldiers in the service of African governments battling insurgencies in their countries.
This work came with a price tag of course, these were mercenaries not volunteers. Their first contract was with the MPLA government in Angola. Up till a few years prior, Angola (backed by thousands of Cuban troops) represented the most serious threat to the white minority regime in South Africa. Now Barlow and company were training and assisting their former enemies against their former allies (UNITA).
This is the definition of ‘Turncoats’ if ever there was one. However, it must be a trait of soldiering to have short memories and to deal with present day exigencies.
For true soldiers old grievances are easily put aside once the conditions change. The actions of Executive Outcomes on behalf of the MPLA government won it many friends across the continent. Soon Executive Outcomes was getting contracts in various countries.
While soldiers like Eeben Barlow and Lafras Luitingh can be forgiven for seeking some sort of camaraderie with their former enemies, the businessman Tony Buckingham remained the cold fish in this motley crew. For Buckingham it was all about the money and nothing else.
So as Barlow and the soldiers within Executive Outcomes sort to build bridges with revolutionary African governments who had fought Apartheid South Africa and eventually defeated it, the Englishman Tony Buckingham sort profits above all else. Eventually, Executive Outcomes was dissolved in 1998 with the passing in South Africa of the ‘Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act’ by the ANC government.
The Act essentially proscribed any South African from engaging in armed conflict for private gain. This put paid to the military escapades of Barlow and Lafras; however, Buckingham exploited their wide networks within African security forces for the purpose of establishing businesses. This is how Buckingham was introduced to Uganda.
As far back as the mid-1990s Lafras Luitingh had struck up friendships with a number of key security figures in Uganda. This allowed him to conduct business in Uganda and even open a number of companies here. Lafras’s inroads into Ugandan security circles was the opportunity that Buckingham had been waiting for, it wasn’t long before he joined the party. Buckingham had formed Heritage Oil & Gas (Ltd) in 1992 primarily focusing on oil blocks in Angola (not surprisingly the first area of operations for Executive Outcomes).
In 1997, Heritage Oil made its entry into Uganda with the help of the security contacts Lafras had established. Government offered them Block 3 in the Albertine Graben for oil exploration. In 2001, Heritage Oil & Gas sold 50% interest in Block 3 to Energy Africa and in 2005 the company acquired interest in Block 1 and 3A. In 2007 and 2008 Heritage made discoveries of commercial quantities of oil in both Block 1 (Warthog) and Block 3A (Kingfisher). The problems for Heritage (as far as Uganda was concerned) began in 2009 when the company sold its remaining 50% stake in Block 1 and 3A to Eni International B.V.
Tullow Oil which had bought into Block 1 and 3A after purchasing the 50% interest in the blocks that had been held by Hardman Resources (which Heritage had sold in 2006) exercised its rights of preemption and bought the remaining 50% shares from Heritage. Government of Uganda demanded 30% of the $1.45 billion deal in Capital Gains Tax before Tullow could buy the interest from Heritage.
Heritage Oil & Gas was against paying the tax, making the lame argument that the transaction was not taxable in Uganda. In landmark rulings the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) won the legal battles that ensued. The URA cause was upheld by the Uganda Tax Appeal Tribunal (twice), by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and in the High Court of Uganda. So in no less than four litigations Uganda prevailed against Heritage Oil & Gas Ltd. To make matters worse for Heritage, Tullow proceeded to sue its former partner for leaving it in the lurch so to say. Tullow became liable to pay the $434 million tax to URA before it could proceed with its own sales to Total and CNOOC.
All these legal and financial losses in Uganda could not have made Buckingham a happy man. The financier of international mercenarism started plotting his revenge on Uganda in the old tried and tested methods. Soon after the first Tax Appeals Tribunal ruling in November 2011, an unhinged Member of Parliament (MP) started making the rounds in Kampala loudly declaring to all and sundry that he was organizing a coup d’état against the government of Uganda.
The MP was called Tony Kipoi, MP for Bubulo West. This was in late 2012. It didn’t take long for security to get interested in Kipoi. Since he was actively trying to recruit from the armed services, Special Forces Command (SFC) mounted a sting operation. They inserted undercover agents into Kipoi’s recruitment drive within the security forces. The clumsy MP had no clue he was being led down the garden path. The SFC agents became so trusted by Kipoi that he essentially deputized them and authorized them to act as his intermediaries.
They duly proceeded to act on his behalf and increase the list of transgressions against him. As his trusted deputies in the conspiracy the agents applied pressure on Kipoi to see and interact with his foreign benefactors. Kipoi finally relented and organized for one of these mysterious foreigners to travel to Uganda and meet them. Who do you think turned up for the meeting with Kipoi and his co-conspirators? Well, you didn’t guess it. It was none other than Eeben Barlow.
Barlow was extremely uncomfortable and insisted on meeting in a low budget hotel and behind closed doors. He met Kipoi and a few of the conspirators at night. He left that same night for a neighboring country. It didn’t take a seasoned operator like Barlow long to know that in Kipoi he was dealing with a joker. Fortunately for him his old military intelligence antenna was still working. Half the people Barlow spoke to in that room were security agents.
SFC had also bugged the room prior, so everything was recorded. A couple of days after returning to South Africa, Barlow called his old friends within Ugandan security (like General Saleh, General Katumba and Maj.General Muhoozi) and alerted them to the plot. He also warned his Ugandan contacts of further teams from South Africa who might try to enter the country in preparation for the action against government. Uganda Police arrested a number of white South Africans in the following days that did not have clear reasons to be in the country.
One couple that was arrested claimed to be insane and incredibly said they did not know how they had ended up in Uganda? All the South Africans were eventually deported after consultations with South African external intelligence. Kipoi was arrested a few months after the Barlow meeting and charged with treason. He eventually fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but was arrested by Congolese security and put in a safe house in Kinshasa. The Congolese obviously tired of hosting this lunatic and released him sometime in 2016. He continued his illicit life and was eventually arrested in Botswana for ‘Obtaining money by false pretences’ and deported back to Uganda in March of 2018.
So the Kipois of this world are the people international gangsters (of the Amsterdam and Buckingham ilk) think should be leading our country. Having been outplayed in the Kipoi affair, Buckingham returned to the drawing board. The old methods of coups and military insurrections were not working, especially in a country with a disciplined, revolutionary military like Uganda; however, there was a new trend in Africa, a new generation of naïve, uninformed juveniles was coming of age and they were a lot more malleable than the 40 years and above generation.
From their imperialist perches in places like London, New York and Sydney these characters had noticed this new phenomenon on the African continent. In places like South Africa they had seen the rise of Julius Malema and his increasingly effective challenge of the ANC.
Still in South Africa, they had seen the ‘Fees must fall movement’ that had swept university campuses. Julius Malema was a difficult sale because he was actually more radical than the centrist ANC. Malema was certainly very dangerous to the business interests of the large corporations because he called for immediate land expropriation with no compensation. What Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) wanted was akin to what Robert Mugabe had done in Zimbabwe.
However, it was not lost on these old colonialist hands that the Malema style (which itself was an imitation of the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela) was an attractive beacon for a generation that lacked any intellectual depth. The red berets, red attire, wild chanting and zero logic were the sort of thing inferior Africans did. What they needed was a Malema lite character whose message they would craft. Essentially they needed a Ugandan puppet.
At this juncture a whole host of characters enter the story, all associated in one way or another with the current US ambassador (Debra Malac). Ms. Malac had made no attempt to conceal her partisan positions right from the beginning of her tenure. She openly flouted diplomatic decorum to show support for the opposition. As far back as 2016, the political office at the US embassy (under her direction) had carried out a study that revealed that the majority of Uganda’s population was girls under the age of 18 years.
Malac and her advisers started looking at what influences these young people. They zeroed in on music and entertainment. They then embarked on a search for a suitable candidate for their political program. This search was conducted by various field officers who conceal their true intentions with innocuous sounding job descriptions e.g. USAID researcher, Peace Corps volunteer, human rights worker, communications expert etc. These field officers were mostly young women, it had been noted years earlier that the use of young white women in Africa was seen as less threatening by the population. Many of these young women used their feminine charms to develop relationships with African men and in so doing incorporated themselves into the society.
After the February 2016 elections and Kiiza Besigye’s fourth electoral defeat, the field officers reported back that a certain Bobi Wine was ideal for the role they had defined. He had a history of association with the opposition, was lacking in intelligence and was of a minimum education.
The field officers were instructed to organize meetings at the embassy for Malac, her political officers and Bobi Wine. These meetings started as far back as March 2016. Bobi Wine was instructed to shed off his ghetto image (get rid of the dreadlocks), to reduce on the drug taking and to run for political office as soon as possible. Malac promised him political and financial support in return. That is how the Bobi Wine project was birthed.
It does not take much to link the disgruntled mercenaries, to this carefully crafted program under the auspices of a very partial ambassador. Let me hasten to add that Malac’s activities faced (and continue to face) stiff resistance from the military advisers at the embassy who continue to have close relations with the UPDF. They saw her program as a lot of trouble making and disruptive of a security relationship with a key regional ally that they had taken decades to build. Many of these military men at the embassy chose to cut short their tenures and return home than to serve under her.
Therefore, the outbursts of Robert Amsterdam should surprise no one. It would not take much of an imagination to see him for what he is; an international gangster for hire. A disgruntled mercenary like Tony Buckingham could easily hire someone like Amsterdam (a friend of his no less) to support a project that was designed by a partisan ambassador. Their anti-Uganda interests intersect after all, one wants to retrieve hundreds of millions of dollars that were lost to a vigilant tax body and the other wants a quisling regime in Kampala.
So Bobi Wine is the beneficiary of this Faustian bargain. Just like Johann Faust (in the medieval German legend) sold his soul to the devil to experience unlimited worldly pleasures, Bobi Wine has sold the interests of his young and naïve supporters to neo-imperialism in order to have a shot at power.
It is incumbent on the under 30 years old to resist this new assault on our sovereignty by the old forces of oppression. The trend in Africa must be towards greater independence not towards re-colonization. Bobi Wine is the classic example of a traitor and collaborator. The patriotic youth in Uganda should avoid him like the plague.