Ugandan police arrested six Chinese nationals and two Ugandans at a border crossing, Voice of America reported Tuesday, and charged them with conducting acts likely to spread disease after they allegedly violated a Chinese coronavirus quarantine order.
The eight men allegedly tried to enter the Democratic Republic of Congo. They face a prison sentence of up to seven years if found guilty of the charges.
According to authorities, the six Chinese men left a Kampala hotel on March 19, five days before completing a mandatory quarantine period ordered to prevent the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. The two Ugandans were charged with aiding the Chinese in their escape from self-quarantine.
Dr. Joyce Moriku Kaducu, state minister for primary health care, said the men “violated the principles of self-isolation and they were intercepted at the border, crossing into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) … [T]hey have been brought back under the directives of his excellency, the president … [T]he president gave a directive that these people should be produced in the courts of law.”
Dr. Kaducu expressed hope that the prosecutions would serve as an example to the 1,800 others currently under quarantine in Uganda. The Ugandan government ordered a 30-day closure of all border entry and exit points on Saturday after doctors confirmed the country’s first case of Chinese coronavirus. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said the shutdown is intended to protect Uganda and its 42 million people from the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.
According to the directive, anyone who entered the country before Saturday and came from a nation with high numbers of Chinese coronavirus cases – such as China, where the virus originated – is required to be placed under mandatory quarantine or self-isolation for 14 days. Ordering police and army units to help monitor the borders, President Museveni acknowledged that regular border guards and medical personnel were overwhelmed by the new tasks.
“They cannot contain people by themselves,” he said. “They will have to work with [the] army and the police. And we also said we shall not allow people to come in through the gazetted centers and even the hidden ones. We are going to deploy the forces on all those.”
Uganda maintains close ties to China as a key participant in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a plan for China to establish and consolidate power across Africa, Asia, and Europe through infrastructure projects. According to Chinese state media, the goal of BRI is to ensure China becomes “responsible for the majority of infrastructure projects worldwide,” thus giving China control of global trade.
Heavily indebted African countries like Uganda offer opportunities for China to insert themselves on the continent via infrastructure projects, which they advertise as economically advantageous for the host nations. In Uganda’s case, China has established dubious transportation projects in the country, building highways and railways that the nation must go into further debt to finance. China promises job opportunities through these projects, then floods the job market with Chinese workers.
The influx of Chinese workers into African nations has led to tension in recent years, with Chinese nationals repeatedly found guilty of flouting African laws and cultural norms. In one notable instance in 2017, local Ugandan officials caught Chinese workers illegally operating a sand mine. When confronted by the ranking local government member in the area, the Chinese workers physically assaulted him; observers filmed the exchange.
China’s increased presence in Africa in recent years to pursue the BRI project means the countries it works closely with are now vulnerable not only to its predatory economic and social behavior but also to the novel coronavirus it spawned in Wuhan, China, late last year.