Uganda arrests top academic for 'espionage'

Lawrence Muganga, vice-chancellor of the private Victoria University, was arrested in broad daylight at the university's main building.

Photo credit: File

Ugandan security forces on Thursday arrested one of the country's top academics on suspicion of espionage, the military said.

Lawrence Muganga, vice-chancellor of the private Victoria University, was arrested in broad daylight at the university's main building on one of the busiest streets in the capital Kampala.

Amateur video posted on social media showed plainclothes gunmen forcing a man said to be Muganga into a type of van known in Uganda as a "drone", which is associated with abductions of government opponents.

Commentators on social media suggested he had been taken because he is seen as being close to the military intelligence service of Uganda's regional rival Rwanda.

Responding to the comments, military spokeswoman Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso said reports that Muganga had been kidnapped were "false".

"He was arrested by joint security forces in connection with espionage and illegal stay in the country. Investigations into the matter have commenced."

There was no immediate comment from the university.

Muganga is perhaps Uganda's most prominent Banyarwanda -- of Rwandan ethnicity -- and has acted as a spokesman for a section of the community in Uganda.

Earlier this year, he led a campaign to have the ethnic Rwandan community renamed Abavandimwe because he said they were being "marginalised" by the Ugandan government and denied public services such as ID cards as they are viewed as "foreigners". 

One of Uganda's most prominent businessmen, Frank Gashumba, backed the campaign, claiming ethnic Rwandans suffer "dehumanisation" in Uganda.

"The violent and high-handed manner in which Dr Lawrence Muganga was kidnapped and disgraced in broad daylight amidst still unclear circumstances, leaves a lot to be desired as well as many unanswered questions," Gashumba said on his Facebook page.

Muganga, who has published books on learning, was born in Uganda, where his family fled to refugee camps after leaving Rwanda during mass ethnic killings in the late 1950s, according to US bookseller and publisher Barnes & Noble. 

Victoria University is owned by Sudhir Ruparelia who Forbes magazine named in 2019 as being Uganda's richest man and one of the wealthiest in East Africa.

According to the university's website, Muganga studied at Harvard and earned a PhD from the University of Alberta in Canada.

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