The crackdown in Uganda against Rwandans that started more than a year ago has now taken a new twist. Uganda’s intelligence services, the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) are now targeting especially retired army and police officers, or anyone who has ever served in the Rwandan uniformed forces, accusing them of spying for Rwanda.
On July 23 at around 4pm at the Gatuna border, Lt. Charlie Mugabi, an ISO officer, better known by his work title of “BISO” (Border Internal Security Organ), accompanied by Mark Paul, a CMI officer attached to the border, grabbed Smith Oswald Ndabarasa, a Rwandan national working as a ticket agent for Rwanda’s Trinity Bus Company.
A suddenly hostile Mugabi barked at the Rwandan with whom he had previously had very cordial relations, “Mwe mulowoza tubela wano nga tutude tetulina milimu jjakukola?” [You think we are here for no purpose?]. Ndabarasa was shocked by the sudden hostility as he and the two security agents knew each other very well and were even friends before that point. “We were usually together at the border,” Ndabarasa says.
Despite the sudden change of manner, Ndabarasa asked, still rather casually, “Boss nkozeki?” [Chief, what have I done?]
“BISO” said nothing, instead dragging Ndabarasa to the border police post where he dumped him and instructed the officers there, “Lock him up!” Ndabarasa, still in shock, waited hoping that someone would come to tell him what he was being charged for, and to at least be invited to make a statement.
Ndabarasa was instead locked up without making a statement and still unaware of the reasons for his detention.
After some hours had passed Swaibu, a ticket agent for Trinity Bus Company in Kabale, a Ugandan citizen, showed up to inquire why his colleague had been locked up. A police officer replied that only BISO knows and “only BISO can decide what happens to him.”
A day later things started to get clear. BISO and Mark Paul called a meeting of all employees of bus companies at the Gatuna border. The bus employees were then separated into two groups.
Rwandans were told to go to one side and Ugandans to another side. The Ugandans were let go. The Rwandans remained behind. They too were separated according to the busses they work for in order to interrogate them separately. All the questions were about whether they had ever served in the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) or in the Rwanda National Police (RNP).
They turned in their passports, employment cards, and cell phones. An officer began to enter their information in a computer. The CMI and ISO officers kept threatening them that they had instructions to take them to Kampala because they had information that they are “spies.” “We are taking you to Kampala,” the officers kept repeating in reference to Mbuya, at the CMI Headquarters, where many Rwandans have been jailed and tortured before being dumped at the Gatuna border for Rwandan officials to pick up.
Then suddenly BISO said, “We won’t take you to Kampala but we don’t want you in Uganda. I have given you two hours to pack your belongings and cross to your country. We don’t want you here.”
“So, I can’t go back,” says Ndabarasa, who now must find new employment. “I have been there for almost two years.” Ndabarasa says that Rwandans in Uganda are not free, “They are scared. They know that none of them is safe.”
Ndabarasa believes he was targeted for detention to send a message to his colleagues: “I was the one who was closest to the people who arrested me. The fact that they turned on me was meant to show the rest that they can’t feel safe.”
“Good” Rwandans versus “bad” Rwandans:
It would be incorrect to think that all Rwandans in Uganda are unsafe. Paradoxically, members of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) are among the best protected category of people in Uganda, enjoying the kind of protection that even prominent Ugandans can only dream of.
Interestingly, they also happen to be former army officers of the RDF: Corporal Rugema Kayumba, the chief mobilizer of the RNC, Corporal Abdul Karim Mulindwa “Mukombozi” a recruiter, Sgt Claude Ndatinya, also a seasoned recruiter and business manager for Tribert Rujugiro, a key financier of the RNC –all work closely with Dr. Sam Ruvuma and Pastor Deo Nyirigiria of AGAPE Church, with heavy escorts provided by CMI.
It’s all bizarre: Uganda’s support for Rwandan deserters who have become actively hostile to their country while persecuting former officers of the Rwandan armed forces who have refused to turn against their country.
Moreover, the majority of the bus services that operate the Kampala-Kigali route are Ugandan-owned and are staffed by Ugandan citizens. At no time has any Rwandan security or immigration official ever asked any of them whether they have ever served in the UPDF or in the UPF; they are free to enjoy the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Rwandan citizens and any other resident, and go about their daily lives all across Rwanda without hindrance or any obstacle being put in their way.
Uganda’s support to Rwandan former army and police dissidents, and his persecution of those perceived to be pro-Rwanda Government, who are then labelled as spies is a new development in the wave of harassment of Rwandans in Uganda.
This hostility against any Rwandan refusing to join anti Rwandan government dissidents in Uganda is unlikely to change as long as there are orders to ISO and CMI to persecute Rwandans remain in place.