Massive bribery, extortion at Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport

Massive bribery, extortion at Uganda's Entebbe International Airport
Entebbe International Airport

There are high levels of bribery and extortion involving Immigration officials at Entebbe International Airport, this publication reveals. Our reporters talked to 21 travellers who have either been victims of the extortion or seen someone being pushed to pay a bribe to be cleared for travel.

Hundreds of people from all walks of life and countries pass through Entebbe International Airport to Uganda, on their way out or in transit to another country. The travelers are cleared by Immigration Officials before they are allowed to proceed to their destinations.

The travelers are required to present their travel documents for clearance. The immigration officials check the documents to determine any possible inconsistencies or forgery among other. It is this authority that immigration officers are using to extort money from desperate travelers

Sharon Alenyo is one of those who attempted to travel outside Uganda a month ago but was blocked by an immigration officer because she couldn’t pay a bribe of US$500. According to Alenyo, her aunt invited her to Dubai with promises of helping her to secure a job.

Alenyo processed the necessary documentation and secured her air ticket. According to Alenyo, she traveled to Entebbe International Airport on the day she was meant to travel but was stopped at the Immigration desk.

The officer reportedly told her that her documents had a problem, which she promised to solve only if she parted with USD 500. Alenyo’s sister Jackie Atim, narrated her sister’s ordeal as the 23-year-old looked on with tears rolling down her cheeks.

Atim says, her sister called them asking for help to raise the money. She says that even after raising USD 400 Alenyo wasn’t cleared, adding that by the time they got the USD 500, the check-in point had been closed for another flight.

Emma Mutebi, a frequent traveler to China, Dubai and South Africa cannot count the number of times he has had to pay Immigration officers just to go through Entebbe International Airport.

Mutebi says the officers make the extortion look voluntary yet they take advantage of one’s desperate state. “He finds you with something small. You end up giving the money voluntarily. He doesn’t need to put you on pressure. What can I do, when the plane is leaving me?. He just tells you to step aside. You end up corrupting yourself.”

The Deputy Chief Justice, Alfonse Owiny-Dollo says the high level of corruption among immigration officers has affected the way everyone looks at travellers from Uganda. He says, even the judges are looked at as criminals who have paid their way through clearance.

But how do the immigration officers manage to run a bribery racket at a place considered to be a link between Uganda and the rest of the world. The immigration desk is heavily guarded and only accessible by travellers and staff of airport.

From a distance, the desk looks like the most efficient point of the airport with neatly dressed immigration officers in their green and white uniforms. They scan through the travelers documents and those with issues are sent aside. They are attended to after all others have been cleared.

An Immigration officer told this publication on condition of anonymity that the exchange of money is not visible even to the cameras planted just above the desk. He explains that those who pay the bribes are so used to the system that they don’t need to be sent to the side or asked for the money.

“If you know that your documents have a problem and you have done it before, all you have to do is place some dollars inside your passport at the page with your visa and you are good to go,” he said.

The money is dropped on the floor by the officer at the desk, where they collect it later away from the view of the camera. “For example once the money is dropped on the floor, there is a cleaning person who comes and cleans it away. They later meet up and the money is given back to its owner and the cleaner is paid,” the immigration officer narrates.

Attempts to get a comment from the Internal Affairs Ministry Spokesperson, Jacob Siminyu didn’t yield results. Initially, Siminyu told this publication he was in a meeting and asked for more time to consult. He however, neither picked nor responded to our follow up calls and text messages to respond to the bribery and extortion allegations.

However, on March 21, 2018 Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) published a statement on its website responding to a complaint of extortion published on social media by James Tijay titled “Entebbe Airport thieves” in relation to a passenger who was scheduled to travel to China on Sunday March,18th 2018.

CAA assured the public that it had commenced investigations into the incident and many others. “We would like to assure the public that investigation of this and other complaints already commenced,” reads the statement.

Adding that, “All the other allegations of extortion are being thoroughly investigated. The travelling public is urged to immediately report any form of extortion experienced during travel through Entebbe International Airport to any of the Airport Operations Duty Officer, General Manager, Manager Operations or Manager Public Affairs.”

The notice also pointed out that it is important for the public to know that while CAA manages and operates Entebbe International Airport, there are several other independent service providers including, but not limited to Immigration, Customs, Handling agents (ENHAS and DAS) and airlines among others.

Since 2012, police has run two different investigations against the immigration department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs but none on Entebbe Airport operations.

The first investigation was over issuance of Ugandan Passports to foreigners while the second was on issuance of working permits. While none of the investigation report was ever released, more than 15 officials were fired.

This year, President Yoweri Museveni ordered the suspension of two senior officials including Geoffrey Sasanga, the director Immigration and Anthony Namara the Commissioner Immigration.

In March 2018, the two were ordered to handover office to the permanent secretary in the ministry of Internal Affairs, Dr. Benon Mutambi Mugisha for allegedly messing up the Electronic passport project.