By Alex Muhumuza
It was not long after Kampala made a big show of announcing that it was releasing 32 Rwandans from detention last week that the Rwandan public indicated it wasn’t deceived by “this political trickery.”
Rwandans on different social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook, personal blogs – were poking holes through this action by Kampala of releasing only a few people, much as that was very welcome to those particular victims!
More than anything else, the fact that Ugandan Military Intelligence, CMI, released the 32 in the run-up to today, Monday 16 September, high-level talks in Kigali on implementation of the Luanda Memorandum of Understanding, raises suspicion about Kampala’s motives.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of Rwandans languishing in different places of detention in Uganda: prisons, ungazetted places of detention, the dreaded “safe houses” mainly run by CMI or ISO, and an assortment of torture dungeons. Why has Uganda – which has always denied that there are illegally detained Rwandan nationals in Uganda – suddenly announced the freeing of those 32?, many asked.
Kigali analysts said Kampala again only revealed it’s duplicity and complete lack of trustworthiness with this act that was nothing more than a cynical ploy “to show the world it is serious about implementing terms of the MoU” when in actual sense it isn’t!
Moreover it was not even a proper deportation; it was a dumping.
It was dumping of people that had been detained in conditions of torture and all kinds of physical abuse, yet they had never been tried in court so the public gets to hear their side; and why they were abducted in the first place.
It was a dumping carried out without notification of the Rwanda High Commission in Kampala, as lawful procedure requires. “It was just a sneak dumping, as lawless as anything done by all security agencies of Museveni,” said a Rwandan Twitter commentator.
An intended goal – when the Ugandan delegation, led by Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa has come, met its Rwandan counterparts and gone back home – is to point to the 32 and say, “you see, we are implementing the Memorandum; we have been to Kigali and we are acting in good faith, so why isn’t Rwanda opening the border?!”
This is cynicism taken to the extreme, most Kigali commentators agree.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed in Angola last month by the Rwandan and Ugandan heads of state stipulates among other things that both countries protect and respect the rights and freedoms of the nationals of the other party.
Yet these are just diplomatic niceties by the mediators of the effort to normalize strained relations between the two states. The fact, which everyone knows, is that only Kampala is abusing the rights of the nationals of the other party, i.e. Rwanda. Not one Ugandan has been abducted, harassed, tortured or illegally detained in Rwanda.
After signing of the MoU, it followed that the only way for Uganda to show it was fully committed to the MoU was to begin either by releasing, en masse, the hundreds of illegally incarcerated Rwandan nationals or affording them proper court hearings without further delay. Instead when the Ugandan leader returned from Luanda, it was only for the Uganda Communications Commission to implement a cyber war against Rwandan media, blocking all Kigali news websites.
This showed the utmost bad faith on Kampala’s part, commentators both in Rwanda and Uganda agreed. “Obviously the Ugandan leadership intended to violate the terms of the MoU, but had no intention of letting the public see how Rwandan media would expose it,” said one observer that preferred anonymity.
The purpose of releasing (also known as dumping) the 32 Rwandans has much more to do with the aforementioned hoodwinking of outside observers, but also as much a gambit – to make demands that “Rwanda open the border”.
Observers will have seen how for two full years Kampala security agencies made it some kind of sport to persecute Rwandan citizens travelling to Uganda, or already resident there on different concocted charges. “Espionage”, “illegal entry”, “illegal stay”, “illegal weapons possession”, followed by abuses of the most egregious kinds.
Rwanda all the time protested this mistreatment of her nationals, through diplomatic channels – most often through notes verbale – to the Ugandan authorities, particularly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to our sources, the latter only ever chose to ignore Rwanda’s complaints.
Then one morning, at the beginning of March this year, Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera on his official Twitter account announced a strong advisory against Rwandans going to Uganda. The reasons, said Minister Sezibera, was that the safety, security and wellbeing of Rwandans once in Uganda couldn’t be guaranteed.
In other words Rwanda had said enough is enough!
“Rwandans risk getting arrested, held incommunicado, and not allowed consular visits in Uganda,” Sezibera concluded. People had to be warned strenuously against visiting such a place. The travel advisory coincided with Kigali restricting heavy Ugandan commercial trucks from crossing into Rwanda through the Gatuna Border Post. Works on the One Stop Border Post had to be completed first.
The resulting economic pain for Uganda was severe. According to economists such as Ramathan Ggoobi, Uganda exports US$ 178 million worth of goods annually. Within a short period, six months to be precise, it was realized Ugandan businesses had lost a third that much.
On the other hand, Rwanda which exported only about US$ 21 million to Uganda – meaning the former’s principle markets are elsewhere – could weather the changes much better. Suddenly Ugandans began complaining and lamenting that Kigali was “violating trade treaties” and the like. They huffed and puffed, and threatened to go to the East African Court.
That did not get them anywhere. Soon Kampala realized it had made a serious mistake in imagining it could mistreat Rwandans; and disrespect Rwanda any way it wanted, with no pushback. Kabale, Kisoro, and all small border towns became ghost communities as business after business failed and people left – most “to go dig”.
Soon the Ugandan leadership tried to turn the very problem they themselves had caused into the fault of Rwanda with the repeated claims that “Kigali had closed the border.”
Rwanda pointed out the absurdity of that position.
The issue isn’t border closure or that we are against trade; the issue is the Rwandan citizens you have mistreated, Kigali authorities said. “In any case how can you talk of free trade without free movement of people?!”
Rwandan observers, like prominent Twitter commentator Mwene Kalinda commented: “how can the Kampala regime expect to torture innocent Rwandans and deny them all their rights, while expecting Rwanda to open her market to it; pure madness!” Ever since Rwanda took her action, Museveni has come under a lot of pressure, mostly from his own citizens.
They want him to do the right thing; respect the rights of Rwandans and do his utmost to normalize ties.
Instead Kampala releases a few prisoners, impressing no one. That is before Kampala has shown even a tiny bit of commitment on dealing with the equally serious question of when they are to begin dismantling the RNC (Kayumba Nyamwasa’s anti-Rwanda group) networks in Uganda.
Some of the 32 dumped Rwandans have been describing how up to now Uganda remains a recruiting ground for RNC rebels – much as the latter have been disorganized by their recent clobbering in DRC.
Uganda trying to trick Rwanda into opening her markets while doing nothing tangible to fulfill her part of the agreement will be a none-starter, all logical analysis of the situation indicates.