By Alex Muhumuza
On Wednesday January 8, the Ugandan authorities released nine Rwandans who had been illegally detained in Uganda for lengthy durations; some for almost two and a half years, as far back as August 2017. Although hundreds remain in illegal custody in Uganda, the two countries agree this is “a positive gesture” and an “act of goodwill” Rwanda and Uganda respectively interpreted the release of the Rwandans. But will this end the crisis?
For starters, the decision to release the illegally detained Rwandans followed a New Year message in which President Yoweri Museveni assured Ugandans that he was about to “take decisive action to end the tension.”
Clearly, few would say that the release of nine out of what is hundreds of people in illegal custody is a a “decisive action.” Which suggests that even Museveni must know that more needs to be done to “end the tension.”
This was more clearly enunciated by Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Uganda, Maj Gen Frank Mugambage, who, commenting on and welcoming the release of the Rwandans as a “symbolic gesture towards the implementation of the Luanda MoU” observed, “There is a need to address other things. These include putting an end to [Uganda’s] support to negative forces against the government of Rwanda.”
Museveni’s “decisive action” therefore will be measured not by dealing with the symptom of the crisis but by mustering the courage to deal with the root cause of the problem: the RNC and other Rwandan armed elements operating on Ugandan territory with his government’s support.
Indeed, although Uganda framed the release of this first batch of Rwandans as a “gesture of goodwill,” as Minister Sam Kutesa put it, this is not the measure of goodwill that the mediators – DRC and Angola – had requested from Uganda. The mediators were categorical that in order to show goodwill for the Luanda MoU, the Ugandan authorities needed to expel all known RNC elements in the country. If anything, this is the list that Uganda should have been asking of Rwanda; not the list of those detained there.
This is the “decisive action” that everyone – including the mediators – is waiting for from the Ugandan President before any semblance of normalcy can return in the relationships between Uganda and Rwanda.
This is why it is rather premature for Minister Kutesa to demand reciprocity from Rwanda at this stage. “It is the hope of the Uganda government that the Rwandan authorities will reciprocate the gesture of goodwill that we are making today,” Kutesa said in a not so veiled reference to the usual demand regarding the Gatuna border.
Kutesa’s remark brought into question the sincerity of Uganda’s goodwill in releasing the nine Rwandans. In fact, it played into the hands of those that suggest that the pressure that Museveni is facing from his traders who have lost hundreds of billions of shillings from the bilateral friction is motivating the limited actions and that should normal trade resume the pressure to resolve the causes for its interruption in the first place will ease and nothing will be done, with Rwandans crossing over to Uganda soon getting targeted again.
It is worth recalling that border crossings declined to a mere trickle because Rwanda could not guarantee the safety of its people in Uganda. Those crossing the border have often been arbitrarily targeted by Ugandan security agents, mainly from ISO and CMI, working in tandem with operatives of Kayumba Nyamwasa’s Rwanda National Congress (RNC).
The number of such victims soon grew to the hundreds, with some estimates suggesting that almost a thousand Rwandans have been illegally detained going as far back as 2017, when the RNC’s recruitment drive in Uganda intensified, with Ugandan security agencies’ support, mainly in the Banyarwanda communities of Nyakivale, Ntungamo, Mubende, Mityana, etc.
The presence of the RNC in Uganda is therefore the root of the problem, and the driver of the crisis between the two countries. The Rwandans victims of arbitrary detention in Uganda are just one of the consequences of Uganda’s decision to partner with the RNC to destabilize Rwanda.
Indeed, everyone is looking closely at what President Museveni is going to do with the RNC operatives who had been allowed to infiltrate his security apparatus to the extent that Kayumba Nyamwasa’s nephew, Rugema Kayumba, who was once deployed in Uganda and had been actively involved in the arrest, harassment, illegal incarcaration and torture of Rwandans once bragged on social media of this close infiltration, “I will not only work with CMI but I will be part of them,” he bragged on his Facebook wall shortly after personally kidnapping Fidele Gatsinzi (who had gone to Uganda to visit his son at Mukono Christian University) in December 2017 and taking him to CMI’s Mbuya headquarters in Kampala, where he was tortured for weeks before finally being dumped at the border unable to move without a wheelchair.
In their wisdom, the mediators noted the importance of expelling the RNC and representatives of other negative forces as a key confidence-building measure, although the release of innocent Rwandans should similarly be celebrated by all who wish to see a return of positive relations between the two neighbours.
The RNC recently inaugurated the “Uganda Province” in it’s structures and had the audacity of naming its executive committee, headed by Pastor Deo Nyirigira who operates from his Agape church, a hotbed of RNC recruitment and a supply hub for both fighters and arms to RNC bases in eastern DRC.
President Museveni must now dismantle the RNC Province on his territory and either arrest and repatriate its members to Rwanda to face justice for the crimes of terrorism that their organization is responsible for in Rwanda (innocent people have been killed or maimed by their bombs tossed in markets and bus parks by RNC operatives); or, at the very least, expel these RNC officials from Uganda.
As important as the goodwill gesture of releasing illegally detained Rwandan citizens in Uganda is, only by dealing decisively with the root cause of bilateral Rwanda-Uganda tensions – Uganda’s hosting of and support for negative Rwandan forces – can there be a resumption of real and durable cordial bilateral relations between the two countries.