By Alex Muhumuza
At a recent meeting of bigwigs of Uganda’s ruling party, NRM, the country’s president Yoweri Museveni once again portrayed himself as the arch “Panafricanist”. He wrapped himself in the clothes of “the unifier” of East Africa. He said it with true characteristic bombast, as if no one else is a Panafricanist, or unifier.
The context in which he brought about the issue was designed to mislead. He was talking of “closed borders” – something that, as everyone knows the Ugandan ruler and his government have been accusing Rwanda of. He was accusing Rwanda of being the country that’s “closing borders”, while implying he is the one that is the true champion of open borders!
“These borders you see; how can we talk of them? They should not be there!” Museveni said. “We should have one Africa and one East Africa and there should be no sengenges!” (barbed wire fences). In fact, in terms of East Africa we should be talking about political union already!”
Museveni was manipulating the issue, like all his officials have been.
For the past ten months – ever since Rwanda issued a strong travel advisory against her citizens crossing to Uganda – the Kampala administration for their own political purposes have been drumming up the allegation day after day.
But of course any trip to the borders, Gatuna, Cyanika, Kagitumba and others will show that there is no such thing as “closed border”. Ugandans come, and go as they please. As do Kenyans, Sudanese, Europeans and any other nationality. The only people not crossing, to go to Uganda, are citizens of Rwanda. They have heeded the advisory of their government.
What President Museveni, and all his officials will never mention are these facts. That is because they have some strong political motives to distort the truth, and to twist the facts until they fit their narrative.
It was because Ugandan security agencies made it a habit to abduct Rwandans, and to harass at every turn any time they entered Uganda, that Kigali made the decision to advise her citizens to stop crossing any longer. Ugandan security organs – like the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), Internal Security Organ (ISO), UPDF Second Division Counterintelligence, Mbarara and others – made it a habit to hunt down Rwandans, arbitrarily arrest, and lock many up incommunicado.
They were doing these things with the obvious, full consent of their regime. They were detaining hundreds of Rwandans for long periods and never afforded them due process; never produced them in court to defend themselves against the accusations against them: “espionage”, “illegal entry”, “illegal weapons possession”, “kidnap” and so on. They were torturing these Rwandans all that time, but never produced a single proof against them.
“So how can Museveni talk of ‘open borders’ when his CMI goons and others are busy mistreating Banyarwanda like this?” some that saw his speech have been asking.
When he assumes the mantle of ‘Panafricanist’, Museveni is just like a wolf putting on sheep’s clothing!”
Rwandan officials did not just wake up in March 2019 and, for no reason, say: “we are advising people against travel to Uganda!”
Kigali had been protesting the mistreatment of Rwandan citizens to Uganda for a couple of years prior to that. Kigali, using diplomatic channels, with notes verbale had been showing the harassment and persecution Rwandan nationals were suffering. The Rwandan High Commission in Kampala mentioned names, incidents, and dates.
They raised the case of someone like Fidel Gatsinzi who in December 2017 was abducted in Kampala by CMI and RNC agents, on accusations of “spying” that he knew nothing about. After days of torturing him, they dumped the Rwandan at Gatuna, but he could no longer walk due to the horrendous physical abuse.
The Ugandan authorities just ignored Rwanda’s questions about why its security agencies did that to Gatsinzi.
There were very many others that suffered a fate like his; and just like his case the Rwandan embassy in Kampala raised their issues. Also, just like with all the others, the Ugandan authorities ignored them.
After Rwanda saw that the situation was never going to change it took steps to protect any more of its nationals falling into the hands of the likes of CMI, ISO and others.
The deception of Kampala on the issue has been relentless. It becomes doubly clear how far Uganda is taking it that Museveni is embellishing the falsehood to buttress his supposed Panafricanist credentials. Yet what could be less Panafricanist, or less “East Africanist” than locking hundreds upon hundreds of the citizens of a neighbor country?
Yet Uganda is in trouble with its people; trouble that stems from Kampala’s very activities. Rwanda has put an embargo on Ugandan commerce entering Rwanda. This is what Kampala misleadingly claims as Rwanda “closing the border”. Rwanda’s position is: you cannot harass and torture the citizens of a country, then expect to access its markets. In other words you cannot talk of free movement of goods, without free movement of people.
The embargo has taken a heavy toll on Ugandan businesses, with statistics indicating up to an 80 percent reduction in its exports to Rwanda. Border communities in particular are incensed at Museveni for causing serious economic suffering to them.
“The incessant lying about a ‘closed border in fact is the Ugandan regime trying to deflect blame upon Rwanda, but whatever they say people are realizing it is a direct consequence of their anti-Rwanda hostility”, said a Kigali-based analyst.
Furthermore, others observe, when the same country (Uganda) is busy cavorting with negative forces – RNC, FDLR and others – whose goal is to destabilize Rwanda, it is clear where problems emanate from.
President Museveni makes a speech to his NRM members and praises himself as a great champion of Panafricanism, or of East African unity even as he has failed to fulfill the conditions of the Angola MoU that he himself signed.
Museveni would be advised to walk his talk. To in other words release all the hundred of Rwandans still languishing in his country’s prisons and dungeons; and to dismantle RNC, FDLR and other networks of negative forces.