By Mary Mugisha
Last month on 25 October, Uganda’s Foreign Minister, Sam Kutesa, visited Rwanda as President Yoweri Museveni’s special envoy to his Rwandan counterpart President Paul Kagame. This was the second such visit this year, apparently aimed at thawing the relationship between the two countries. However, it was unlikely that such visits would yield any results in the face of the same Museveni’s determination to destabilize his neighbour to the south as well as the continuing harassment of Rwandans in different parts of Uganda.
After the first such visit this January, the people of the two countries were keen to observe for any changes in the relations between the two countries, to see if there were any really tangible signs of change as far as the torture and harassment of Banyarwanda by Museveni’s intelligence agencies were concerned. However, and to the surprise of many, the very opposite happened soon after Kutesa returned from Rwanda. More innocent Rwandans in Uganda were detained for no apparent reason and sequestered in “safe houses” outside any legal controls, where they were tortured, with the lucky ones subsequently dumped on the border with Rwanda. Lucky because many others have disappeared after their abduction, leaving disraught relatives, friends and work associates wondering about their whereabouts and even whether they remain alive or have been killed.
It was some sort of clampdown against ordinary Rwandans going about their business in Uganda. Indeed, the harassment and torture of Rwandans by shadowy operatives of Museveni’s security organs is best exemplified by the widely reported incident early last month in the lead up to Kutesa’s visit. A Rwandan businessman, Patrick Niyigena was in Kampala preparing to travel to Nairobi by bus when he was abducted by agents of the Internal Security Organization (ISO).
In Niyigena’s case he was lucky to escape with his life, but is not so sure about his long term health after the ISO men that took him to a ‘safe house’ and tortured him badly, stealing his money in the process, and injected him with a substance into his arm that he is still unable to identify. After he came back to Kigali he has been appealing to the government to help him travel overseas for tests to identify the nature of the substance he was injected with and, where appropriate, obtain the needed treatment.
Cases like this have left Rwandans deeply uneasy. Significantly, Kutesa’s visits have done nothing to reduce that unease. Thus far, the only hopeful moment came from Anna Adeke, Uganda’s youth member of parliament, who tabled a motion in the House demanding that the security minister come to parliament and explain “the status of some Rwandan nationals who have been arrested and detained by security forces and not presented before court” detailing how the links between the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and the rebel Rwandan National Congress (RNC) have negatively affected ordinary Rwandans in Uganda and were seriously eroding Uganda’s relations with a neighbour and fellow EAC member.
“As long as the Ugandan authorities do not address serious issues like this, what is the reason of Kutesa going to Kigali?” asked an analyst who was reacting on the subject of Kutesa’s visit to Kigali.
Analysts also contend that another issue that has to be resolved if visits like the foreign minister’s are ever to have meaning is that of several fugitives that participated in the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda who have found sanctuary in Uganda. None of these suspects has been apprehended, and they are going about their lives without any authority lifting a finger against them despite their criminal history being known by Ugandan authorities.
Why criminals find Uganda to be a safe haven is worth consideration. As a matter of fact, it seems clear that Museveni is “signalling to fugitives they have nothing to fear in Uganda and that they are indeed welcome to stay,” according to another analyst.
According to sources from Kigali, of the about 1000 active arrest warrants against genocide fugitives worldwide, around 250 of them are for those who reside in Uganda. Not a single one of them has been apprehended by Ugandan authorities. In fact, even those suspects who had previously needed to hide when they were still in such other countries as Malawi and Zambia have since relocated to Uganda, perceiving it to be safer for them because once there they don’t have to remain in hiding.
It is said that these people, who live in several areas all over the country, like Fort Portal, Kasese, Mubende and others, have set up businesses and others have even joined local politics.
“How can something like this happen? If even Europeans have the decency to arrest and repatriate genocide suspects, why not Uganda?” is the question most Rwandan genocide survivors ask. “Museveni is not the person we thought he was; otherwise, how can those who killed our loved ones get protection from him?” asked a genocide survivor from the former Murambi Commune, where some of the worst massacres took place and today is a site of one of the country’s most horrifying genocide museums.
Analysts also agree that unless Museveni gives up on his ambition to destabilize Rwanda by facilitating the recruitment for Kayumba Nyamwasa’s terrorist organization (the RNC) and similar outfits, then “no matter how many visits to Kigali by Ugandan officials, it will show Museveni is not honest in his words or intentions,” said a retired journalist, who added, “What Museveni needs to do is to put an end to these acts of sabotage, not to send special envoys with empty packages.”