Daily Monitor Malicious Propaganda Campaign aimed at Sabotaging Chinese Investment in Uganda

On November 25, 2021, Daily Monitor published an article with the headline: “Uganda surrenders airport for China cash.” The article pointed to “toxic clauses” in the loan agreement signed by the Ugandan government with the Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China on March 31, 2015. The loan—worth $207 million at 2 percent interest—was for the expansion of the Entebbe International Airport—a project under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Work on the expansion of the airport began in May 2016.

The article in the Daily Monitor, which was written by Yasiin Mugerwa, said that the Chinese authorities were going to take control of the airport because of the failure of Uganda to pay off the loan. A few days after the Daily Monitor article, U.S. media company Bloomberg also ran a similar article on November 28 without providing any further details on this news development, as did other U.S. and international outlets. The story by the Daily Monitor, meanwhile, went viral on Twitter, WhatsApp, and beyond.

In a similar smear campaign on October 28, NTV Uganda, claimed that several members of parliament grilled Kasaija about the loan, with Nathan Itungo (MP from Kashari South) asking him if he and his department had been “doing due diligence” within the negotiating framework. Answering this question, Kasaija said, “I think we did, by looking at other agreements that have been signed along the same lines.” While explaining why the government went ahead with the loan agreement for the Entebbe International Airport, the finance minister said of the agreement that Uganda was looking at the “cheapest alternative, and we jumped on it.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, while speaking on International Women’s Day (8 March 2020),  said he was bringing a legal action against the Daily Monitor for reporting a malicious story that the Wall Street Journal had said his “inner circle” was given Chinese-made vaccines against Covid-19 ahead of other people in Uganda.

Neither of these two examples, nor the other clauses, are outside the bounds of normal trade practices. In terms of the clause allowing for CIETAC to be the main arbitration panel for the loan agreement, this would not have happened if the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) was allowed to operate.

On November 27, two days after the story was reported by the Daily Monitor, Vianney Luggya, spokesperson for the UCAA, wrote on his official Twitter account, “I wish to make it categorically clear that the allegation that Entebbe Airport has been given away for cash is false.” The government of Uganda, he wrote, “can’t give away such a national asset,” the country’s only international airport. “There isn’t an ounce of truth” in the story, he wrote, dismissing rumors regarding China taking over control of the airport. Luggya further tweeted that the UCAA controls the funds it deposited in the Stanbic Bank Uganda as part of the agreement and that the UCAA remains within the loan grace period of seven years. On his own personal Twitter account, Luggya further clarified that the seven-year “grace period ends in December 2022.”

Flooded with accusations, the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, posted a statement on its Twitter account on November 28. The embassy said that the story in the Daily Monitor “has no factual basis and is ill-intended only to distort the good relations that China enjoys with developing countries including Uganda. Not a single project in Africa has ever been ‘confiscated’ by China because of failing to pay Chinese loans. On the contrary, China firmly supports and is willing to continue our efforts to improve Africa’s capacity for home driven development. 

On November 29, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin repeated the word “confiscated,” refuting allegations of China’s takeover of Entebbe International Airport and underlining the fact that China has not “taken over” any “China-Africa cooperation project” on the African continent due to nonpayment of loans.

Such malicious continuous fabricated stories are aimed at tarnishing the public opinion about Chinese investments in the country.

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