By Alex Muhumuza
When Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS (the United Nation’s anti-Aids program) tweets something, one can assume she knows the kind of clout her word carries. She knows the kind of influence someone in her position has, and her capacity to shape opinion.
By the same token, one can be certain when an individual assumes a position such as hers; that person is supposed to become impartial, and neutral in everything they say – at least publicly.
Also, as an employee of the United Nations, and one in such a high-ranking capacity Byanyima must know she is not supposed to make partisan pronouncements, as the rules and guidelines for UN staffers strictly direct. Yet with a recent tweet she has, once again, revealed herself to be a willing participant in an ongoing Kampala-sponsored, anti-Rwanda propaganda campaign – albeit in the most sly manner.
The tweet, sent out last week said: “Please open the Uganda/Rwanda border Mr President. Ordinary people on both sides of the border are suffering. They can’t trade, send their kids to schools, bury their loved ones, or visit their relatives.” It obviously was directed at the head of state of Rwanda.
Part of regulation 1.2 (f) of the UN’s status, basic rights and duties of its staff members says, in part: “they shall avoid, and in particular any kind of public pronouncement that may adversely reflect on their status, or on the integrity, independence, and impartiality that are required by that status.” It is bad enough that Byanyima violated these guiding ethics with her tweet, many have observed.
Moreover, anyone that has been observing Kampala’s misinformation campaign against Rwanda will recognize all the tropes in that one tweet.
First is the lie they have been continuously telling, and which the UNAIDS’s executive director now is quoting: that “the border is closed”.
Ugandans of all walks of life, in addition to members of all other nationalities, use all the official crossings between the two countries – Gatuna, Cyanika, Kagitumba and others – every day. They come and go as they please. The only people not crossing to Uganda are Rwandan nationals.
That situation came about after Kigali – in a clearly worded statement by then Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera in February 2019 – issued a strong advisory against Rwandan citizens crossing to Uganda. The Minister articulated the main reason: the safety of Rwandan citizens could not be guaranteed once in Uganda.
This entirely was the doing of Uganda’s security organs. It was entities like Ugandan Military Intelligence (CMI), Internal Security Organization, (ISO), UPDF Second Division Counterintelligence in Mbarara, and others that over the past three years have been harassing and persecuting Rwandan nationals.
It is persecution that’s been characterized by abductions on concocted charges like “illegal entry”, “espionage”, “illegal weapons’ possession”, and others. The arbitrary arrests would be followed by illegal detention, physical and psychological torture, and afterwards – for those lucky enough to be released – many cases of brutal dumping at the borders.
Numerous other incidents continue to justify Rwanda’s travel advisory to her nationals, the most recent being the death of Dieudonne Uzabumwana who passed away last week in Ruhengeri Hospital. Burera-born Uzabumwana – who until recently was a resident of Kisoro District in Uganda – succumbed to injuries sustained when he was badly beaten up, losing teeth and getting disfigured in the side of the head. Ugandan soldiers had dumped him at Cyanika Border.
Commenting on the incident, Twitter personality Joel Ruhinankiko asked, “who said Ugandan hostility towards Rwandans is over yet?”
Has Madam Byanyima unaware of things like this, all this long? Can this lady credibly claim she has no knowledge that multitudes of Rwandans have been held in Ugandan custody, but none is ever tried so that their accusers prove the charges? Did she not see the nine Rwandans that her Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa handed over to Rwanda, some after three years in military prison, yet none ever was convicted of one crime?
The answer simply is no. Winnie Byanyima is not, and cannot be ignorant of the facts. She knows the truth.
One can at least be quite certain that during the times she’s been in Kigali – the last one as recently as December the preceding year – she must have conversed with people. They must have apprised her of all the facts. She cannot pretend to be talking of things she knows little about.
Therefore when she sends out a tweet like she did to the Rwandan leadership, Byanyima is deliberately distorting facts. There can only be one reason for this. The lady is lending her voice to the misinformation campaign originating from Kampala and targeting Rwanda in violation of the regulations that guide her status at the UN.
The only difference from Kampala’s ordinary tools of misinformation: “SoftPower”, “SpyReports”, “ChimpReports”, and similar is that Byanyima speaks more carefully. She aims to more carefully hoodwink the public into believing she’s impartial.
Yet her feigned concern for “people from both sides of the border”, easily gives her away. Her true concern, concealed in this sham “pity” for both Ugandans and Rwandans (when she’s never spoken one word about the cruel and unjust treatment of the hundreds of Rwandans by CMI and others!) is the same as that of the Uganda Government. The only thing that interests them is Ugandan goods’ accessing the Rwandan market.
They have chosen to keep harping away “border closure”, but forgetting Rwanda’s stand, one being that there can be no free movement of trade without free movement of people. In other words, you cannot keep mistreating one’s nationals while demanding they open their market for you!
The Ugandan authorities have released a few dozen innocent Rwandan nationals whom their security organs have subjected to unspeakable torture; many of whom upon arbitrary arrest were robbed of their money, but whom they haven’t compensated a single coin. On the basis of that they are becoming more insistent that Kigali “open the border”.
But releasing a few dozen people falls far short of the Angola MoU’s stipulations. One of them is that any person detained with no due process either be immediately released, or be given an open court trial – something Uganda has not done with the hundreds of Rwandans that still languish in detention there.
Another thing Byanyima cannot claim ignorance of is that Kampala hasn’t begun to dismantle groups like Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC, and other negative groups like FDLR bent on destabilizing Rwanda. Yet it is another thing Uganda is obliged to do by the MoU.
Byanyima is violating terms of her employment. It is worse that she does so in a blatantly partisan manner, to peddle certain propaganda interests.