(A Rwandan man and his mother tell harrowing tale of the suffering they encountered when they went to search for a missing family member in Uganda)
By Rutore Samugabo
When Muhawenimana Damascene, 37, boarded a late evening Jaguar Company bus to Uganda together with his mother mid December last year, little did they know that they would end up caught in a crosscurrents between two defining traits of Uganda today – namely the Kampala regime’s not-so-secret support of groups that have openly declared war on the legitimate government of Rwanda, and the out-of-control criminality in the country.
Muhawenimana, a welder and construction site technician, and his mother Mukanyarwaya Marguerite, a pastor in the ADEPR Church – both living in Nyamasheke District – went to inquire about the whereabouts of Kwizera Bernard, Damascene’s younger brother. He has been living in Kampala for the past couple of years, but he had been out of contact for a month, they say.
“We were anxious following a phone conversation I had with Bernard when he told me, ‘Damascene, I am in trouble!’ Then his phone went off,” Muhawenimana said as he recounted the story of the terrible, harrowing things that happened to them when they went to look for his brother.
Damascene is just back from Uganda where he spent two months enduring torture that included a brutal abduction in a “panda gari” vehicle – a specialty of Ugandan security forces – beatings with sticks and kicks, and eating the notorious Ugandan “torture diet” of kawunga maize gruel and weevil-infested beans. He says, “Only God intervened for me to escape the clutches of Ugandan CMI! Only God, nothing else, because there are very many Banyarwanda still in their hands!”
Muhawenimana and his mother recount that it was a month after that abrupt end to the phone call with his younger brother when they decided to go to Uganda. They say Bernard has been running a successful phone repair shop in the Ugandan capital.” But he was completely been of touch for a month, which was very unusual, says his mother who is 58. “We could not sit and do nothing any longer; we had to look for him.”
What began as a search for a missing family member instead ended up with Muhawenimana in the torture cells of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) in Kampala. He explains that he did not immediately know this was a facility of the notorious CMI, but learnt it after weeks of torture there.
One of the first things he noticed, he says, was that Banyarwanda men, people that speak Kinyarwanda as fluently as him, seemed to be completely in charge. He says that these men – who he has no doubt in his mind are Banyarwanda, because, he emphasizes, “no Ugandan can speak Kinyarwanda like that, or seem to know as much about Rwanda as they do” – were the main interrogators and torturers in the CMI detention facility.
Fortunately for his mother, she did not end up in the hands of Uganda Police or CMI. In that she was very lucky, since Uganda’s security agencies, in these days when Kampala has deliberately chose overt hostility against Kigali, do not discriminate when it comes to victimizing Rwandan nationals. Even old women and men in their sixties have been abducted and jailed in the neighboring country on accusations they are “spies”, or of “illegal entry”. When Damascene was arrested his mother was not with him. She was away where she had gone to look for a place to board for the night, while he had determinedly kept the search they began when they got off the bus.
The mother instead would fall victim to conmen and thugs that came with different stories how they would “find a lawyer for her”, or how they would “help bring the case to court”, and so on.
Beginning of troubles in the Ugandan capital
Muhawenimana narrates that their troubles began when they took a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to the lakeside neighborhood of Ggaba where Bernard lived and worked. Upon reaching Ggaba they began to inquire around. After the persistent inquiries, one of Bernard’s neighbors said, “Bernard is in jail!” The neighbor then telephoned a boda boda driver who happened to know where Bernard was – at Kajjansi Police Station. When Muhawenimana in his broken Luganda told the boda boda man to take them to the station, the man said never!, which showed how frightened most Ugandans these days are of their own security forces.
But finally they found someone who could take them to Kajjansi, for a fee of 10,000 shillings. When they reached there and got off the boda immediately sped away.
“It was already afternoon,” Muhawenimana recalls.” We asked some policemen whether Bernard was there, but no one gave an answer; they kept evading the question.
“But then one of them took us to the side and whispered, ‘we cannot show you Bernard when the DPC (the police commander) is still around, come back at 5!’”
It was then that the mother decided to go look for a place to board. It was very hard for her, having spent the entire previous night in a bus and all day up and down Ggaba and Kajjansi.
In the course of their inquiries, while still at Ggaba, Mother and Son had learnt from some people that Bernard had fallen the victim of crime. The Ugandan capital is notorious for unchecked crime, with several daily cases from petty theft of the pickpocket kind to violent robberies, to state-organized crime.
To cut a long story short, Muhawenimana and his mother learnt that one of Bernard’s friends, “someone that knew him well”, had “timed” when Bernard – who is single – was at home and come with two other thugs. They fell upon him and tied him up with ropes, and ransacked his house for all valuable properties, including the keys to his car – a Toyota Mark X registration number UBD 650 K that he bought at 80 million Ugandan shillings. According to local people that followed the story, the thugs that robbed Bernard are known to work hand in hand with members of security forces like soldiers and police.
The people that robbed Bernard, it seems, were so anxious to get away that in their speed – they had taken off in Bernard’s Mark X – they collided with another vehicle, so they ran away. However Bernard’s car ended up in the hands of “police”.
It is said this is where more of Bernard’s troubles started. Members of Uganda’s security forces “most times are worse than actual criminals”, according to several analyses of their behavior. Apparently they decided to take Bernard’s “mouth-watering car”, then went and arrested him. Another Rwandan had fallen victim to their machinations.
When Muhawenimana went back to Kajjansi Police – at 5 PM, as the policeman that had instructed him to – expecting help, he fell into a trap instead.
“When I got back to Kajjansi expecting to see Bernard, what happened was that as I was standing waiting I had the sound of a car drive up, but when I turned to look, someone clapped ‘a big hat over my head’, and I could not see!’”
Muhawenimana says this time he had gone with a Ugandan-Munyarwanda boda rider, one Agaba, whom he was paying to help him with interpretation, as well as a Ugandan lawyer. All of them were arrested on the spot and transported in a panda gari, to another police station that he came to learn was Lubowa where he says they spent three days.
In that time his mother grew frantic with worry. She says she had found some other Rwandans in Uganda, and they were helping her look, but now it was for her two children instead of one. She says it was around then that she came into contact with one Kavamahanga who, it would turn out, instead is an agent of Kayumba Nyamwasa in Kampala. “My God!” exclaims Marguerite almost in tears, “Nahuye n’igisambo wee! Kavamahanga n’igisambo pe!” (I met a real crook; Kavamahanga is a true crook!)
It seems RNC agents have a racket of fleecing and playing scams on innocent Rwandans in addition to their other doings on behalf of RNC.
“Kavamahanga told me to look for money for a lawyer,” says Marguerite. “I immediately called another of my sons, Ndekezi Emmanuel who lives in Ruhengeri, to run to Kampala with money. When he came, Kavamahanga and his friends asked him to give it to them; it was five hundred thousand (Rwandan francs). We were shocked when they just grabbed the money and ran away!”
But the RNC-affiliated thugs were not yet done with the lady. As the days went by with no news of either of her sons, she was beside herself with worry. Then someone she understands is called Moses Mugisha came and said, “Madam, you really have to understand that nothing can be done without money; I know lawyers and judges that will help you, just bring eight hundred thousand francs, everything will be solved!”
These people were preying on a mother almost crazed with worry. She again summoned someone to come with the money. Again they just disappeared with it. It was then that Mukanyarwaya decided to leave Uganda, and never go back there. “I didn’t know that that country is such a country of thieves, thugs, and torturers!”
She left with a heavy heart; only praying her sons would not die.
Kinyarwanda-speaking “CMI operatives”
Muhawenimana says that at Lubowa Police they were there some three days, then they were taken “to the CMI place”. He does not know where, since all the time they were blindfolded with “the big hats” which were never taken off.
Muhawenimana sounds an intelligent man, like someone that does not easily jump to conclusions. He says he follows the news and knows that people that have chosen to be enemies of Rwanda “the Kayumba Nyamwasas and RNC” (Rwanda National Congress) have the support of Uganda. But when he came to look for his brother, he never expected he would end up in jail, under their interrogation and torture.
“The men showed an interest in the situation within the security forces of Rwanda, its police and soldiers,” says Muhawenimana. “I realized these people were RNC agents, there was no other explanation.
“They asked about places in Rwanda in detail, and that showed me beyond doubt they are Banyarwanda.
“They would say, ‘Tell us what the salary of police and soldiers is!’”
“I don’t know; I am not a soldier or policeman!”
“But you must know! You are even a spy of Kagame!”
“I don’t know what you are talking about; I am no spy!”
Muhawenimana says they would strike him with sticks and kicks each time he answered no to anything – which was all the time.
He says he saw many other Rwandans undergoing the torture of the RNC operatives – their own countrymen! “Other people were suffering even worse torture than I!” Muhawenimana discloses. “There was an old man they had arrested from Mbarara; he was really badly off! Those times when they took off our ‘big hats’, which was during cleaning up time, I saw the old man, and the flesh was peeling off his buttocks. That is what RNC and CMI had done to him.”
Muhawenimana says the RNC operatives seemed to have an obsessive interest with the welfare of Rwandan security forces.
“Tell us, the police and soldiers must be very poor in Rwanda!” one of the interrogators would shout in Kinyarwanda.
“I don’t know their salaries, but what I can tell you is that they do not look poor! They look smart and are smartly dressed and even have good manners,” Muhawenimana would respond, upon which he got another beating.
“How can you say that when everyone knows they are badly off?” the questioner would yell.
“They really tortured me in that CMI place!” Muhawenimana says, the shock still showing in his eyes.
“They wanted me to say bad things about Rwanda, but how could I tell lies; I told the truth!”
Muhawenimana says it was obvious the only things they wanted to hear about Rwanda were “very bad things!
“They asked, ‘are Rwandans fleeing the country in big numbers? Are they hungry?’”
“I told them, ‘no’; where I live I have seen no people fleeing the country. People are going nowhere!”
Such an answer would be greeted with hefty kicks, and blows with kibooko canes.
It was around that time, “as if God had spoken”, that someone opened the door and said we (I and the two guys I was arrested with), could leave.
It turned out that relatives of one of the two people, probably the lawyer had connections in Uganda State House, Muhawenimana says. He reasons that they must have intervened to get their person released. “So they even released me, perhaps by mistake!”
Muhawenimana went to Rwanda’s High Commission in Kampala. They welcomed him, fed him, and gave him a document to facilitate his passage at the border since Ugandan security operatives had confiscated everything he had on him, including all his money. He says it was Frw 506,000.