By Patience Kirabo
Two Rwandans, Desire Uwitonze, 28, and Kayirere Julienne 41 are some of the latest dumping victims by Ugandan authorities. They suffered illegal detention, the usual inhuman torture and afterwards were dumped at the Cyanika and Gatuna border posts on September 27, 2019.
Uwitonze, a color paint artist went to Uganda through the Cyanika Border to visit a friend and to also collect part of the remaining cash he was owed by his art contractor in February this year. The following day his phone was stolen and he went to the police to report a theft. At the police station, he was assured his phone would be restored and was given a few days for the search to be conducted.
But while walking back to his friend’s residence he was stopped by two Uganda security officers on a motorbike who told him they had been sent for him.
“I was immediately handcuffed and taken to Kisoro Police Station,” he narrates. “While at the police I was told that I was in Uganda illegally! I asked them to call my friend whom I had come to visit and also for him to come to my defense because I was lawfully in Uganda.
“But my friend didn’t come; he only told me to sell him my other phone so ‘he could pay for my release’” At that point, Uwitonze says, he suspected a conspiracy. He says he refused to sell the phone to the guy because it was the only thing he had left.
The security officials of Kisoro charged him one million shillings “if he wanted to be released!” It was the usual move on innocent Rwandans by Ugandan officials that have been taking advantage of their government’s anti-Rwanda hostility to extort or torture Rwandans that fail to give them money.
Uwitonze had no money at that point, he says. He was immediately charged with “illegal stay” in Uganda. They told him “his sentence was twelve months’ imprisonment.” To his shock, there was no due legal process accorded him.
At Kisoro Prison, the guards accused Uwitonze of being a “Rwandan spy”. He narrates that one prison official that spoke Kinyarwanda endlessly harassed him. “He said I should never be let out of my cell because I might leak information to Rwanda”. He made it his mission to torture and abuse me daily, that I was “a spy”.
Uwitonze says he became weaker by the day due to all the mistreatment. They later transferred him to Ndorwa prison, “one of the worst prisons in Uganda!” Beatings, torture and forced hard labor were the order of the day. In Ndorwa, Rwandan nationals are used as slaves, he reveals.
Crimes are mostly committed by Ugandans but in the end, you find Rwandans being convicted of those same crimes, which they did not commit. Rwandans are simply victimized, an emotional Uwitonze said.
During detention, Uwitonze also testifies to another peculiar facet of Uganda’s anti-Rwanda activities. It is the attempts at forcing Rwandans to register as refugees in Uganda. He says that “mobilization of Rwandans” in Ndorwa to declare themselves refugees was done by “UNHCR people” working with Ugandan prison officials.
“When one agrees to register as a refugee, they are taken out of prison and to different camps in Uganda. There, agents of Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC working with operatives of the country’s Military Intelligence, CMI try to recruit the able-bodied to join the rebel group.
Rwandan nationals while in prison are made to believe that when they get out, they will “never be safe if they go back to Rwanda, and that is why they should join RNC! They gather all Rwandans in prison and lie to them that they are going to take them back to Rwanda if they accept to be registered as refugees.
However, most Rwandans insist that they came to Uganda legally and possessed all legal travel documents despite allegations of illegal entry.
What Uwitonze observed while in prison is that most Kinyarwanda speaking prison guards and security operatives were also once prisoners like them, but later agreed to join RNC! This is further proof of how closely intertwined Ugandan security agencies are with RNC, observers say.
Kayirere, the other dumped victim was running a business in Uganda since August 2017 when one fateful day, on November 29, 2018, she was approached by policemen who forcefully took her to police and arrested her for “illegal entry”.
She was illegally locked up for one month in Kaweri Prison, Mubende District. Kayirere had a one-month-old baby (Joanna Maniranzi) who was taken away from her by a police station commander (one PC Asiimwe) when they abducted her.
After a month in detention, she was released and taken back to the police station where her initial arrest was. On reaching there, she asked to see her baby, but was ignored. She was kept at the police station for three more weeks, supposedly waiting for a car that would take her back to the border.
The Uganda security operatives have perpetrated one of the most inhuman acts on a parent: taking her child away from her. They kept “giving her false hopes of seeing her child again,” she says tearfully.
“They kept telling me that my baby will be brought to me but they never did. Months and months of waiting but it never happened!”
Kayirere was once again illegally detained, this time in Jinja, in late December 2018, while still searching for her child. In Jinja, police officers assured her they would help her reach out to Mubende Prison to ask the whereabouts of her child, but again nothing was done.
On February 25 this year, Kayirere went back to Mubende to look for her child, but the security agents said her child was no more! Kayirere asked to see the remains of her baby, or be shown where they had buried her if she indeed had died. She was certain they weren’t telling the truth.
Kept in limbo, Kayirere kept insisting she be given her child. She says the Ugandans later forged a death certificate; “but it bore the wrong names of the child!”
I asked them why they hadn’t informed me if my child had died, or if it were true, to inform the Rwandan government” Kayirere narrates.
“The child is not yours to keep!” one of the Ugandan security agents scoffed.
“The RDC promised to follow up her case although later the police officers at the station came back with death threats. “They said if I didn’t withdraw my complaint and go back to my country, I would die!”
Kayirere says she went and informed the Rwandan High Commission in Kampala, which is now handling her case.