By Patience Kirabo
Ugandan authorities continue to show hostility towards Rwandan nationals even after their head of state signed the Memorandum of Understanding in Angola that among other things commits them to stop their persecution and harassment.
The case of one Benimana, a Rwandan citizen that was dumped at the border, September 16 – on the very day of the meeting of the ad hoc committee to discuss implementation of the Luanda MoU – is one of the many examples showing the Kampala regime’s continued hostility.
Benimana was released following a period of illegal detention and physical and psychological torture in the notorious Kiburara Prison in Ibanda District, western Uganda. In that prison, those that have suffered illegal detention have told how it is a slave labor camp for Banyarwanda that end up there. They have told how they do seriously hard labor – digging on sorghum, maize and other plantations – while kibooko beatings are constant. Food is dirty kawunga or posho meal with dirty, watery bean stew. Anyone that stops work will get a thorough beating.
The latest victim, Benimana confirmed to our journalist that this remains the case, to this moment. The young man who looks in his early twenties but with a weary, haunted look says he has left several Banyarwanda, who have never been tried in a single court, “digging” in Kiburara!
Benimana who hails from Kinigi in Musanze District says he went to Uganda to visit a relative through the Cyanika Immigration and Emigration border in 2018 – with proper travel papers. However, his journey was put to a stop when his bus came to a roadblock. The Ugandan security operatives at the roadblock forcefully pulled him off the bus together with another Rwandan.
After they were thrown off the bus, the security agents asked them for their identification and travel documents. Benimana says they immediately showed the documents only to be shocked when the Ugandan agents tore the papers, “jettons” (temporary travel passes) out of their hands.
The brutal agents then told Benimana and the other guy that they were under arrest!, narrates Benimana who has some bad-looking scars on his legs. The arrest happened in the Kisoro area. The agents drove them in their “panda gari” to Kisoro Police, to suffer a brutal beating on allegations of “illegal entry”.
There was no trial or any legal procedure taken against the two Rwandans. Benimana was later taken to Prison, after being informed his sentence was to be eighteen months’ imprisonment! They just threw me into the jail like that!, Benimana narrates almost in tears.
After a month in Kisoro Prison, they transferred him to Mbarara Kiburara Prison. “In Kiburara I was asked by security guards for a bribe of one and a half million (Ugandan) shillings so that they could cut my sentence and let me go. But I did not have such money and couldn’t have found it since I had already been a month in Kisoro,” said Benimana.
Detention in Kiburara was like in hell, he almost sobs. People died almost every week, and it was doubtful for many others if they will ever make it to the end of their sentence, Benimana discloses. “We were overworked in huge hectares of land to dig, make bricks, or carry heavy loads. We were abused, harassed and tortured because we are Rwandans!”
He said in Ugandan prisons Banyarwanda are treated as if they aren’t people. Benimana narrates the ordeal of one man they only knew as Sam, a Rwandan detainee who died because they kept feeding him food that contained steel wire particles. When Sam died his body was taken away by security operatives in a police car. “We never got to know where he was taken or buried,” said Benimana.
In Kiburara people become weak and weaker due to heavy workloads without rest, without proper food and on top of constant beatings. Benimana said that many fellow Rwandans became very ill, yet no one gave them medical care. Those that became very ill and weak were “taken away to Mbarara, but we did not know where exactly. They were never brought back, and we never got to find out what happened to them.”
Towards the end of Benimana’s sentence, he says his labor was changed from digging the soil to cattle grazing and planting maize. He discloses that all of the Rwandan detainees in Kiburara were there on accusations for illegal entry, although none had been convicted by a court. “That shows the charges weren’t true!” Benimana says.
He adds that those able to pay the Ushs 1.5 million bribes were immediately released while still at Kisoro Police.
“For a Rwandan to get out of a Ugandan prison, it is only by a miracle of God!” Benimana exclaimed.