By Jackson Mutabazi
The truly astonishing thing, following Rwanda’s decision to divert all heavy trucks from Uganda to Kagitumba via Mirama Hills, is how the government of Uganda; and how so many Ugandans, have showed a lot of concern about the business or commercial interests of their country. It is as if the issues that Rwanda talked about when it warned its citizens against travel to Uganda don’t exist.
“It is so surprising that to Ugandans the whole problem has been reduced to their trade or commercial interests,” an analyst in Kigali noted. Some Ugandans like journalist Daniel Kalinaki of Daily Monitor have gone as far as insulting Rwandan womanhood by suggesting that a major concern of Kampala’s elite, or even none-elite is if “night buses” were to be stopped from coming to Uganda.
“Rwanda has diverted heavy commercial trucks from Gatuna Border (above) to Kagitumba, however Ugandans complaining about the slight inconvenience to their commercial interests ignore the terrible mistreatment innocent Rwandans have suffered at the hands of Ugandan security agencies”.
The insult is rooted in the grotesque lie that the buses carry women or girls that engage in prostitution (as if Ugandan nationals don’t have more than enough prostitutes of their own!)
That so many Ugandans have chosen to focus on the inconveniences of the closure of Gatuna (not all Rwanda’s borders are closed; Kagitumba is open and Gatuna is closed to heavy trucks) either shows “how uninformed the average Ugandan public is about the persecution by the Museveni government security agencies against Rwandans, or they just don’t care about innocent Rwandans!” concluded the analyst.
There other side to the coin – one that has been totally created by Museveni, and which Ugandans need to see more clearly – is the persecution of Rwandan nationals that has been growing at an alarming rate in Uganda. This persecution has been mentioned enough times in the local and regional media, but it seems the sad story has been drowned out by Museveni government propaganda.
Many factual reports, of real Rwandans that have been brutalized by Ugandan intelligence agencies have appeared in media. Very many stories of Rwandans that were only going about their business in Uganda only to be abducted or kidnapped by Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and others have been told.
CMI, ISO, or ESO – but most notoriously CMI – illegally arrest, kidnap, or abduct Rwandans and holds them incommunicado. That is in full violation of international legal and human rights norms like informing the diplomatic mission of any arrested foreign national, or producing them in court to hear the charges against them.
Uganda Police especially in Kisoro and other border areas with Rwanda have become very dangerous places for ordinary Rwandan citizens travelling to Uganda. Numerous victims describe how the police stop buses and other passenger vehicles, specifically looking for Rwandans.
They arrest Rwandans on accusations of “illegal entry”, however much these people may have their travel documents in order. “In Kisoro there is a roadblock just to hunt Rwandans,” recent Banyarwanda deportees have narrated. At that roadblock, even when you show a passport, they just snatch it from you and tear it up, then arrest you for illegal entry!
Failure to pay someone a “fine” of 800,000 Ugandan shillings can mean up to two years in the prisons of Kisoro, Kiburara, Kabale or elsewhere. In these prisons torture like beatings, carrying heavy loads, hard labor on farms of maize, cotton and other crops is the order of the day.
It has been repeated again and again that imprisoning Rwandans for “illegal entry” is in utter contravention of EAC Common Market laws. Ugandan officials don’t care. They seemingly are happy to be in contempt of laws.
But the moment there is a slight inconvenience to their interests Ugandans are crying that Rwanda has done something unfair; that it have inconvenienced trade!
The tendency to see the so-called “closure of the border” purely in terms of how it has inconvenienced Ugandans or their businesses began the very day Rwanda closed off Gatuna to heavy trucks. New Vision TV on 1 March 2019 said: “the ‘closure of the border’ has led to costly losses for Ugandan businesses.” It did not once mention the Rwandans suffering criminal persecution at the hands of CMI.
Kabale District Council Chairman Patrick Besigye Keihwa was quoted in the Daily Monitor newspaper three days later saying, “The closure of Rwanda border point at Katuna has paralyzed movement of cargo and people across either side. Economically Uganda has lost the market for its locally produced goods.” The mayor said nothing, zero, about the hundreds of Rwandans in Kabale, illegally jailed for “illegal entry”, or “illegal stay” in Uganda.
A group of Rwandans the Ugandan authorities recently dumped at Gatuna (they had finished their time in the prison) said they had left over 300 Rwandans in Kabale Prison.
It needs to be re-emphasized, again and again, what a criminal thing it is for Ugandan authorities to lock up citizens of a partner EAC state on “illegal entry charges”. The laws are clear that no national of a partner state should be prosecuted, let alone locked up for that.
But Ugandan officials apparently think their business interests are far more important than the rights of citizens of Rwanda. Here is Kisoro District Local Council Chairman Abel Bizimana quoted in The Observer newspaper recently: “Days for open markets in Kisoro on Mondays and Thursdays are now dull since Rwanda closed its border to Ugandan cargo and restricted her nationals from entering Uganda.
“Rwandan nationals have been providing ready market for Ugandan manufactured goods and agricultural products.”
This is an important official of Kisoro District – a local government that has done its best to show Rwandans aren’t welcome by unjustly arresting or abducting over three dozen of them in the past one month alone.
Making the same complaints of suffering Ugandan businesses, the mayor of Katuna Border Town Council Nelson Nshangabasheija said: “Locally manufactured goods exported to Rwanda through the closed border include oil products, cement, iron bars, domestic items and agricultural products.”
Nshangabasheija added, “The fact that Katuna Border is a major exit for about 400 vehicles every day, with occupants of those vehicles providing ready market for goods in the hotels at the border post is a real issue. The markets in Katuna have been greatly affected by the border restriction because Rwandans have been providing market for local agricultural products.”
This gentleman too says absolutely nothing about the hundreds of wrongly imprisoned Rwandans languishing, say, in Kiburara Prison in Ibanda District.
The same applies to the chairman of the business community at Kyanika Border Post Geoffrey Barore Nombe. He noted that industrial goods such as cement, fertilizers, soft drinks and agricultural products like potatoes are the main goods exported to Rwanda through Kyanika, but the business is suffering now!
Why can’t this gentleman, and all the others like him for a moment think of hundreds upon hundreds of Rwandans that are being victimized in the most criminal ways by CMI? Or ISO, or the Kisoro Border Police, and the militarized Uganda Immigration Department?