By Alex Muhumuza
Few stories are more heart breaking than the one of Julienne Kayirere, the woman whose baby was forcibly taken from her by Ugandan policemen, specifically the District Police Commander (DPC) of Mubende. The Ruhango-born Kayirere, 41, scarcely says a few words before breaking into tears. She hasn’t seen her child again ever since the baby of just a few months was taken from her in December last year.
Kayirere says she knows for certain that the DPC of Mubende and accomplices sold her baby in Gulu, northern Uganda. That is something she learnt during months spent looking for the child, a search that ended in tears this September.
Kayirere and her baby fell victim of circumstance due the anti-Rwanda policy that the Ugandan leadership has chosen to pursue over the recent years. From our investigations, we gather that the woman and her child fell prey to the DPC of Mubende because he saw how his country’s intelligence organs and other security agencies have been mistreating Rwandan nationals.
He obviously concluded it would be easy to take this woman’s child away and lock her up though she had done nothing wrong – as has happened to hundreds of other Rwandan citizens.
When Kayirere first went to Uganda in early August 2017, she was taking advantage of the fact countries of the region have formed a single bloc with laws that say citizens can move freely to each other’s country, settle, work or do business. She had seen that there were many Ugandans, Kenyans and Burundians that come to Rwanda to work or set up businesses.
She saw no danger in doing the same in Uganda.
The mother of three made a decision to invest in a clothes business there, and gathered the funds to start one in the district of Mubende. When she crossed the border at Katuna, it was with proper travel documents. She settled in the trading center of Kasambya, Mubende, and for over a year had no problems with anyone. Up to December 2018, that is.
Before then, she often came back home to visit her family and children and soon she was expecting a fourth child. It was baby Imaniranzi Joanna, whom she had in Rwanda in October 2018. When she went back to Kasambya in December she took the infant with her.
But then a man in the trading center had begun harassing her. He knew she was a Munyarwanda. One other thing was that she had refused the man’s sexual advances. “He kept telling me he wanted to sleep with me, but I refused and beseeched him to never talk to me again!” Kayirere says.
Then a few days later her never-ending nightmare began. “Two policemen came looking for me saying, ‘you have a child that is not yours’!” she narrates, tears rolling down her cheeks. The policemen were with the fellow that had been harassing her.
They bundled her and her child into a vehicle and took her to the Kasambya police jail. She was in there a few hours before the policemen took her out, loaded her and her child onto a pickup of the “panda gari” type and drove her to Mubende town, the administrative seat of the district. They drove to the town’s police station.
According to Kayirere, it was obvious the DPC – “a big bellied man who immediately walked out of his office into the crowded reception area” – already knew she had an infant with her.
“He ordered his men to take Joanna from me and said: ‘you can’t take the child inside the jail because it is very bad in there; we will safeguard her for you’!” Kayirere thinks the Kasambya police had already told the man about her baby before they arrived.
She said she fought tooth and nail not to be separated from her child. She screamed at the men and clutched her tightly to her bosom.
But two policemen in the hot, humid station building grabbed her by the shoulders, “in full view of even passersby,” Kayirere says, and the DPC slapped and manhandled her until he snatched away the loudly yelling infant.
The Mubende Police boss then hurled accusations at her: “We know you Banyarwanda; you are a spy sent by Kagame! We will deport you back to Rwanda then you report to him you can’t spy here any more!”
They then dumped Kayirere, who was crying loudly for her baby, into a dark cell she describes as “very smelly with a cracked floor”. Hers was a fate many Rwandans have suffered – with varying degrees in the severity of each one’s misfortune.
But a woman’s child being abducted right from her arms is a unique kind of misfortune. The cruelty of it is hard to fathom.
It also has to be the incident that is most emblematic of the inhuman treatment that has befallen hundreds of Rwandan citizens in the neighboring country since President Museveni got into bed with Kayumba Nyamwasa and his RNC, as well as a number of similar groups with the mutual goal of destabilizing Rwanda.
There is no doubt that Kayirere’s suffering can directly be linked to the Ugandan regime’s partnering with the anti-Rwanda outfits. The acts of Kampala security organs – which, evidence repeatedly has shown, work with agents of Nyamwasa’s RNC in illegally arresting; illegally detaining, and subjecting Rwandans to physical and psychological torture – exactly are what Mubende Police inflicted on the Rwandan mother.
The DPC of Mubende – whether he was working in his personal interest or not when he snatched the baby – drew courage from his government’s anti-Rwanda hostility, publicly on display. The very accusation he chose to use, “spying”, was straight out of the playbook of Ugandan Military Intelligence, CMI.
Everyone is aware of Kigali’s complaints to Uganda for the mistreatment of her nationals. Even people that scarcely read news will be aware the abuse – the endless arrests and detentions with no trial – of Rwandan nationals by Ugandan authorities is a major cause of strained relations. Uganda’s espousal of the anti-Rwanda was another major cause. Collectively they led to mediation by Angola, after which the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda signed a memorandum of understanding to resolve the issues. It was not a joking matter.
Yet Uganda hasn’t done a thing to end grievances due the mistreatment of; or rectify the injustices so many Rwandans have suffered at the hands of its security forces.
The terrorist groups hosted by Kampala (it is beyond dispute, despite Uganda’s repeated denials, that it hosts, works and facilitates them as numerous documentary proof and verbal testimonies have shown) were such a menace to Rwandan nationals that Kigali took the measure to issue a strong advisory against travel to Uganda.
Very unfortunately for Kayirere it was issued after her calamity had befallen her.
The suffering she endured in the police cells, and the agony of the loss of her baby were compounded a few days later by incarceration without trial in Mubende’s Kaweeri Prison. She was there for a month, doing hard farm labor in a pattern of abuse that has become all too familiar for victimized Rwandans.
But when they released her she went right back to Mubende Police to ask for her baby. The DPC had her locked up again.
She says even after she came out of the Mubende Police jail a second time, in early February, she persisted in looking for her baby. Then one told her, “Your child died!”
She says she went mad at them, shouting at them “you liars; if my baby died why didn’t you tell me before?!
She says it was an obvious, terrible lie because they had stolen her baby.”
Kayirere says she refused to leave even when the policemen threatened her.
But finally she gave up, completely exhausted and powerless. That was when; during yet another morning at the police station, the Mubende DPC threw a death certificate at her saying it was “confirmation that her child’s died.”
But the name on the certificate was “Birungi Rebecca!” the sobbing mother says. “That was not my child, and even the picture was not Joanna’s!”
In September some “good Samaritans” in an orphanage in Mubende, whose name she says sounds like “Holusland”, informed her Joanna indeed was alive. “A policeman had brought her to the orphanage some months back,” they told her.
But then afterwards, they added, “the big policeman had come with a family and they took the baby away. The family was from Gulu”, they overheard.
“At least if my baby had died and I buried her, it would be better than this suffering,” says the inconsolable mother, blowing her nose and wiping her eyes.