Uganda was awestruck when authorities this past Thursday evening unceremoniously threw the chief executive officer of the largest telecommunications company out of the country.
Wim Vanhelleputte had been the CEO of MTN Uganda since July 2016, an office he assumed after replacing Brian Gouldie who had been in it for two years.
A Belgian national, though he took the reins at MTN Uganda about three years ago, Vanhelleputte first came to Uganda in 1993 and he was married to Babara Adoso, a Uganda national.
Wim Vanhelleputte would later acquire Ugandan citizenship.
But the government that naturalized him now feels betrayed.
According to government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo, when authorities deported three senior officers in January of this year, Vanhelleputte gave them his word that he would, going forward, support them in the efforts to straighten out the egregious mistakes the company had made.
But recently, Opondo told newsmen, the government got reliable information that Wim had traveled to Dubai where he met Olivier Prentout, MTN chief marketing officer and Elsa Mussolini, the mobile money general manager, who had been deported late January.
“And CEO Mr. Wim was fully aware and he made commitment to the government of Uganda how he was going to make internal reforms to ensure that his staff do not use their privileged positions to undermine, to collude with other people to undermined the security of Uganda,” Opondo said.
“To the surprise of the security in Uganda, last week Mr. Wim traveled to Dubai and held meetings with two people, the Italian and the French (…) who had been deported and security has credible belief that this meeting which he did not declare prior to his travel was perhaps meant to further espionage activities against Uganda.”
Wim and Katamba
Other reports also indicate that before he was sent packing, Wim Vanhelleputte had earlier been warned by Anthony Katamba, who was serving under him as a general manager of Corporate Services, that he would be deported like his colleagues.
Katamba, who is said to have been working with security to spy on his workmates, warned his boss after he (Wim) threw in his face a letter, showing he was being fired.
The government, however, insists that by cracking the whip, it is not targeting MTN as a business but a group of executives who are using their positions to undermine the economy and security of Uganda.
“This is not against MTN the business company, this move is against some MTN executives who we have credible evidence that they are using their position to undermine the security and economy of Uganda because if you don’t declare what you earn so that you pay your due share of the tax, clearly you are undermining our economy,” Opondo has said.
At MTN, Wim Vanhelleputte has been temporarily replaced by Gordian Kyomukama, who was a chief technology officer.
An engineer by profession, before being posted to Uganda, Wim was the head of the MTN unit in Ivory Coast.
He had also worked with Bharti Airtel, overseeing business operations in Gabon, Congo B, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Madagascar, Seychelles, and DRC, which he left to come to Uganda.