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Nearly 3 years after Rwandan baby was kidnapped by senior Ugandan policeman, mother’s grief is like a fresh wound

By Patience Kirabo

Julienne Kayirere, the grieving mother whose baby, Joana Imanirakiza, was snatched in Uganda/Mubende and has not been returned to her in three years by Ugandan authorities.

The grief that eats away in the heart of Julienne Kayirere, who lost her baby after a senior Ugandan policeman in Mubende District abducted the child close to three years ago, does not abate. Julienne constantly remembers how the Mubende District Police Commander (DPC), who arbitrarily arrested her, then proceeded to kidnap her baby, Joana Manirakiza.

The inconsolable mother says it feels as if her heart will give away one of these days.

Julienne’s baby was a breastfeeding tiny newborn of just a few months when the kidnap happened, which was when she was locked up in the Mubende police cells. By now Baby Joanna is three years of age. Julienne gave birth to her in October 2018, and they snatched her away on 9th November the same year, following Julienne’s arbitrary arrest at Kasambya in Mubende.

Tears just flow down her face when she recalls the cruel way how her child was taken from her arms. “It haunts me very much whether my child is still alive, and who has her,” weeps Julienne.

When they released her after a couple of weeks in the cells, the police refused to give her her baby back, even after her endless cries and begging to see her child. To her great shock, they instead conspired with local authorities there to throw Kayirere back in detention, this time in Mubende’s Kaweeri Prison where she spent 11 more months, incommunicado and without the news of her baby.

They illegally detained her on the accusation of “illegal stay” in Uganda, like most Rwandans that security authorities in Uganda choose to victimize. She was never taken to any court to defend, or even defeat any accusations against her. They just jailed her with no legal procedure.

“The tragedy for Julienne is not only that her baby was kidnapped, but also that they subjected her to all this inhuman treatment to facilitate the Mubende DPC’s theft of her baby,” said an official in Kigali familiar with her case. Rwanda tried a lot of times to intercede with Ugandan authorities on the mother’s behalf, but in vain.    

After they released her from Kaweeri in late 2019, the distraught Julienne had gone back to Kasambya hoping to pick her child, only to be told that “her baby was taken to Glory Land Children’s Home.” That’s an orphanage in Mubende.

Kayirere went to the orphanage, but found no baby. She frequented the police, demanding to be shown where they had put her child. “By then I was like a mad woman, and they threw me back in the police cells,” she recounts. Afterwards some policeman told her that “her baby had died.” It was a lie. If she had died, why didn’t they show her the body?

Even the “post-mortem report” that they showed her bore other names than her baby’s. The names on the certificate were Rebecca Birungi.

On proving them wrong, and pressing more on the matter, the mother only received death threats. “They began threatening me that they would kill me if I kept pressing the matter; but to be honest I didn’t care any longer!” says Julienne. In the end Ugandan security authorities strong-armed her, throwing her into a van with a few other Rwandans whom they drove all the way to Gatuna and dumped them there.

Kayirere has gone to all lengths to try to get her baby back, but Ugandan authorities have remained the main stumbling block to her reuniting with her child. Kigali authorities through the Ministry of Justice did all they could to help the distraught mother, establishing a correspondence with their Ugandan counterparts, but the latter showed no interest in helping.

Still, Julienne Kayirere waits, and hopes for a miracle.

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