By Patience Kirabo
When Stephen Umugwaneza, 34, set out to invest in Uganda a couple of years ago, he says, he could not have imagined that one day that country’s authorities, CMI, would abduct, detain and torture him in its dungeons.
Umugwaneza is one of the six Rwandan nationals most recently to escape the jaws of CMI alive, following arbitrary arrests, illegal detention, and torture. He, together with the five others, Olivier Bikino, Ronald Rutayisire, Jean Claude Nkurikiyimana, Francois Ntamuturano and Claude Mugwaneza were last Friday dumped at Kagitumba Border Post by Ugandan authorities.
The men are in despair after leaving all they had worked for back in Uganda. “It is so inhuman what Uganda has done to us. I don’t understand how these people can decide to take away one’s life! They torture you physically, emotionally, and financially,” said an exhausted-looking Umugwaneza. “Everything has been taken away from me, and I am on the verge of losing my mind!”
Umugwaneza went to Uganda at the end of 2017 to pursue a business partnership with a Chinese in a sports betting venture. He invested 30 percent in the enterprise (worth 40 million Ugandan shillings cash), and things were going smoothly. “We had started with three locations, and were opening up several branches in Kampala. Things were going great because I would at a minimum bank one and a half million shillings a day after all expenses and overhead, ”Stephen says. “I wasn’t complaining at all!”
Then in the wee hours of the 2nd last month Umugwaneza was ambushed by Ugandan soldiers who handcuffed him. “They arrested me, but I wasn’t told why,” he says. The 14 soldiers, according to the victim, turned his house upside down. “I don’t know what they were looking for!”
After the long search without finding whatever it was they were looking for, they dragged Umugwaneza away, to Mityana Police Station, handcuffed and blindfolded.
He left all his betting branches unattended to following his brutal arrest. He, like hundreds of Rwandans before him arrested in this manner, was detained incommunicado, with no access to family, or friends, or business partners. They did not produce him in court to charge him with anything.
From Mityana they transferred him to Mbuya Military Barracks and all that time, according to him, he never saw the light of day. Until his release and subsequent dumping at Kagitumba Border Post with only the clothes in which he was when he was arrested.
Umugwaneza had bought properties including plots of land, a house, and had invested his savings and business profits into opening more branches to grow and boost the business.
He fears he will never see his property again.
Umugwaneza’s fate – and that of others like Bikino who too lost a job and property in Uganda – closely mirrors what has happened to victims of Ugandan security agencies in the past three to four years. That is when Kampala’s policy of anti-Rwandan hostility broke out into the open, and they began abducting Rwandan nationals.
Ugandan Military Intelligence (CMI) in particular has been working hand in hand with Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC, facilitating the terrorist organization in recruitment activities.
According to many testimonies by Rwandan victims of CMI, torture has been one of the strategies by which they attempt to recruit, especially able bodied Rwandans. Other Rwandans, mostly businesspeople resident in Uganda, have suffered arbitrary arrests after they refused CMI and RNC extortion to contribute funds to RNC.
“It reached the extent that to refuse to give monetary contributions to RNC was to be declared an enemy in Uganda!” a former CMI victim of illegal detention said.
Over time, however, senior CMI operatives have been using Kampala’s anti-Rwanda hostility to rob Rwandans of their money and property. It happened to businessmen Emmanuel Rwamucyo and Augustine Rutayisire who in May 2018 were robbed of US$ 40,000 while in the custody of Maj. Mushambo, head of UPDF 2nd Division Counterintelligence in Mbarara. That followed arbitrary arrest by Mukama Moses Kandiho, younger brother to CMI head Maj. Gen. Abel Kandiho. The men would suffer torture while in custody that almost killed them.
Many Rwandans that suffered similar fates wonder if they will ever get justice.