By Jackson Mutabazi
Ugandan newspapers and propaganda websites have pounced on an incident in which Rwandan security patrols are reported to have shot two smugglers, and twisted it into stories that they (Rwandan security forces) “shot starving Rwandans that were sneaking food from Uganda.”
The Daily Monitor, Chimpreports, Commandpost, eyalama.com and several other Ugandan-intelligence sponsored propaganda outlets all piled on with headlines like: “two Rwandan nationals shot at Uganda-Rwanda Border” (Monitor). “Rwandan Army executes another starving national attempting to sneak food from Uganda” (Commandpost). “Tension rises as two Rwandan nationals are shot at Uganda-Rwanda border” (Eyalama.com). “Rwandan shot after returning from Uganda” (Monitor again).
All this alarmism concerned two men – Ashimwe Daniel and Havugimana Jean Pierre – that were intercepted by a Rwandan border security patrol in the evening of Monday, this week, as they were smuggling from the Ugandan side.
According to reliable sources from the Rubaya Sector in the Gicumbi District where the incident took place, the patrol ordered a group of four suspected smugglers that were carrying the potatoes to stop. They instead chose to resist, and Ashimwe attacked the security men with a thick, sharpened stick.
In such a situation the lawful thing to do is to shoot in self-defense, according to security regulations. A member of the patrol used a pistol and shot Ashimwe. They then apprehended him. The other smugglers dropped everything and ran away – back to Uganda through the ungazetted border crossing they had used.
It later transpired that one of them, Havugimana, was hit and wounded in the arm.
No one died despite the fact some of the Kampala websites were claiming “Rwandan security had killed one”.
Monitor, Chimpreports, Commandpost and the others however couldn’t let this “opportunity” go to waste. On the Ugandan side they traced Havugimana where he was getting treated for his arm injury, and began putting together their alarmist and incorrect reports.
The kind of articles they wrote – all claiming that the smugglers were “starving”, or “desperate” Rwandans – serve a Kampala regime misinformation campaign whose goal is to mislead people into believing that Rwanda is, “very badly off because it has closed the border!”
The facts on the ground totally contradict that claim.
Rwanda did not close any border. A trip to Gatuna, Cyanika, Kagitumba and other border posts will show that. What happened was that Kigali warned her citizens, earlier in March this year, against crossing to Uganda. That, as Rwanda made clear, was because Rwandan nationals are at high risk of all sorts of persecution or horrendous physical abuse at the hands of security services in Uganda.
Hundreds of Rwandans languish in Ugandan prisons; and others in the torture dungeons or “safe houses” of intelligence agencies like the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, CMI.
Rwanda also restricted heavy commercial trucks from Uganda, as works on border infrastructure were ongoing.
When Rwandans – following the travel advisory – stopped going to Uganda, the latter’s businesses, traders and merchants suffered a steep decline in their sales. Restaurants, lodges, petrol stations and others all took a huge hit – all the way to Lyantonde, Mbarara and beyond. Even in Kampala businesses felt the squeeze. They were missing the Rwandan market terribly.
Ugandan officials began crying foul. State Minister for Regional Cooperation Philemon Mateke threatened they would sue Rwanda at the East African Secretariat. But perhaps realizing they would ba asked about their regime’s crimes against multitudes of Rwandans, nationals of an EAC member state, Mateke toned down.
Ugandans were suffering the consequences of their regime’s hostility against Rwanda that’s been extended to innocent Rwandans. The Ugandan ruler, it has been proven with reams of evidence, backs, funds, and closely facilitates Kayumba Nyamwasa, his RNC, and other proxy groups with the mutual goal of destabilizing Rwanda.
Ugandan economists reported huge losses to their country running in millions of US dollars.
One of the mainstream papers in Uganda recently reported a little bit what Ugandan businesses have suffered. In the period since the restriction at Gatuna of Ugandan commercial trucks; and after Rwandans stopped crossing to Uganda the country has lost more than US$ 664 million (Ushs 2.5 trillion) worth of export revenues.
“Contrary to the things Ugandan propagandists say, it is not Rwandans that are ‘starving’ or ‘desperate’. It is Ugandans!” observers on both sides of the border point out.
The truth of this is immediately visible in the fact many areas of Uganda bordering Rwanda are almost ghost towns.
“People are very angry with Museveni; in Kisoro, in Kabale, in Mirama, everywhere,” said a Ugandan citizen that preferred not to be named, in a phone interview.
Ugandan farmers are so desperate for money; they grow their food but have nowhere to sell it. So they resort to criminality. They sometimes use Rwandan elements along the mutual border to try to smuggle a little of their produce to the Rwandan market, our source added.
Other observers say the smuggling activity actually is a result of Museveni himself encouraging it. The Ugandan ruler – asked in May this year when he would act to normalize relations with the southern neighbor so that his suffering people would resume the profitable trade – shamefacedly said: “even if the border is closed, trade will go on. Only that it will be through smuggling!”
People were shocked. What kind of leader encourages open criminality instead of acknowledging his mistakes and taking steps to rectify the situation?
Rwanda on her part is adamant it will not tolerate criminality whatever Ugandan media or officials say.
“There are several official border crossings across the frontier with Uganda; if someone wants to do legitimate business why resort to illegal crossings?” a Kigali official asked.
But things are so bad for the people on the Ugandan side that they will resort to measures like selling to petty smugglers, at giveaway prices. Things aren’t likely to get easier for them. Rwanda has another reason not to take any chances with anyone using illegal border crossings.
Armed rebel groups like RNC, FDLR, RUD Urunana, or FLN have been trying to use the illegal entry points to launch attacks into Rwanda. Philemon Mateke has been named as having facilitated the recent FDLR-RUD attack in Kinigi, which the security forces quickly repulsed killing several of the attackers and capturing five.
The security patrols are only likely to increase their vigilance.