By Alex Muhumuza
A baffling headline has appeared this Wednesday in a Ugandan newspaper, The Observer, claiming to quote President Kagame telling Uganda: “Yes, we spy on you.” This headline demonstrates the lengths Ugandan propaganda will go to milk a faux scandal manufactured in Western media, which among other things alleges that Rwanda used the Pegasus spyware “to spy on foreign officials.”
Listening to what the Rwandan head of state has said about the Pegasus issue, nowhere does he mention that Rwanda spies on Uganda. The Observer alone knows where it found that statement. Perhaps it was taking an example from outlets of misinformation controlled by Ugandan Military Intelligence, CMI, which has been running an anti-Rwanda propaganda campaign for some years.
One thing about the Observer’s story is that in fact they didn’t write their story themselves. They simply copied and pasted articles that appeared in the Guardian newspaper of London, which alleged that multiple countries had been using the Pegasus spyware to hack thousands of targeted numbers. Among the allegations was that Rwanda had spied on a number of Ugandan civilian and military officials.
The Observer regurgitated the claims that “Rwanda had used Pegasus to hack the phones of high profile Ugandan officials including Gen. David Muhoozi, the former chief of defense forces and now junior minister for Internal Affairs, former Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa.
One problem with the Observer’s article is that nowhere does it show where the president of Rwanda said “he spies on Uganda.” It then proceeds to undermine it’s own claim by reproducing statements President Kagame issued to The Financial Times, a UK newspaper in 2019, which is when the Pegasus issue first surfaced.
The question is: why is The Observer reporting things the president said in 2019 as if he said them last week? “The purpose is to mislead,” said an official in Kigali. Basically the Ugandan newspaper is scraping around in the bottom of the barrel, mining a non-existent scandal.
Speaking on the Pegasus allegations when Western media first published them, President Kagame said Rwanda uses no such technology for two simple reasons. The first is that Rwanda doesn’t possess the technical capability in any form to make use of the spyware. Secondly, using it is said to be very expensive.
Furthermore, the president said, “Rwanda had no reason to use such technologies as it is “very good at human intelligence.”
He pointed out that Rwanda like any other country does intelligence as part of its duty to ensure the security of its citizens. There is no other way to know what a country’s enemies do, or whether they are up to something, without gathering intelligence. But, he added, “We have always tried to do things within our rights like it is in the rights of all the countries we know in this world.”
Moreover, others point out, intelligence is not something Rwanda invented. “The ludicrous pretentions emanating from Kampala that ‘Rwanda spies’ is very laughable considering how they do the very same thing they are accusing Rwanda of, but in criminal ways,” laughed a social media commentator.
In August 2019 The Wall Street Journal, an American publication detailed how Kampala regime security organs tracked the phone of Robert Kyagulanyi, more popularly known as Bobi Wine, and other NUP officials.
Everyone has seen the torture, disappearances, and mass killings that NUP members and supporters suffered before, during, and after the January elections. The technology they used to track them was supplied by China’s Huawei, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Unlike verified stories such as Museveni security agencies’ use of Huawei however, the Pegasus story is very dubious in it’s sourcing.
Issuing a statement on the controversy, Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Vincent Biruta disclosed that “only 0.1 percent of the phone numbers on the list (of the 50,000 people worldwide supposed to have been spied on by different governments using the spyware) have been forensically examined, and only half of those had traces of Pegasus.”
What this means is that the Guardian, and others only took random guesses, and based their accusations on those.
“These false accusations are part of an ongoing campaign to cause tensions between Rwanda and other countries, and to sow disinformation about Rwanda domestically and internationally,” concluded Biruta.