The Observer (Kampala)
By Baker Batte
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grip on power may be shaky back home, weakened by legal troubles, but on his road trips abroad Bibi, as he is popularly known, is exuding lots of confidence when negotiating deals with foreign leaders.
Mr Nethanyahu was here on a one-day visit on Monday, hosted by President Yoweri Museveni at State House Entebbe. Sudan’s Sovereign Council head Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan also flew in to meet the Israeli leader at Entebbe. This was the first sign of the thawing of relations between the two nations following the overthrow of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir last year.
In a tweet in Hebrew, Mr Netanyahu said he and Gen Burhan had “agreed to start a cooperation that will normalise relations between the two countries. History!”
On camera, President Museveni and Netanyahu projected calm and camaraderie as they discussed several issues of mutual benefit but off-camera, away from the press conference, the leaders addressed in the evening, their security minders injected a hefty dose of unexpected drama in the one-day visit. The Israelis insisted on taking control of the entire security operation at State House.
When journalists arrived at 12:15pm at State House for a scheduled press conference, about four cars were parked at the main gate off the Entebbe highway. All the cars had State House or Uganda Police registration plates.
This seemed a little odd. On any given day, Special Forces Command, SFC, the presidential guard unit, is firmly in charge of security at State House. At the gate, SFC disarms every armed escort. There are no exceptions. They disarm vice presidential guards and Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga’s guards.
No armed escort takes a gun beyond the quarter guard. On several visits of high-profile dignitaries, SFC has remained in charge at State House. They were in charge when presidents, Felix Tshisekedi of DR Congo, Salva Kiir of South Sudan, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and late Omar Bashir of Sudan visited.
It’s only when the late former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi visited or when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited in 2016 that dramatic fights for supremacy ensued between SFC and the foreign escorts. But with Netanyahu, SFC showed respectful restraint. They let the Israelis run the show.
At the main gate, Israeli soldiers turned everything upside down. Even a pile of sand dumped near the gate was shoveled upside down and scanned for suspicious elements. The pile of wheelbarrows nearby was also flipped and carefully scrutinized. Next, the Israelis turned to the big gun statue at the entrance; or is it a real gun?
They went round it several times. They were dressed in black suits and sported dark shades. They carried guns we usually see in movies. On seeing the guns, one SFC soldier whispered loudly to a colleague, “Obushaija bwine omuzinga,” literary meaning, these guys have a sophisticated gun.
The Israelis carried machines, which looked like bomb detectors, some very small, others medium and others really big. They took control of the main entrance to State House.