At long last, the Rwandan government has laid bare its major issues with Uganda – arrest and deportation of Rwandan citizens, harbouring dissidents with intent to destabilize Rwanda and sabotaging trade.
Foreign Minister Dr Richard Sezibera, who had his secondary education at St Mary’s College, Kisubi and later Makerere University where he graduated as a medical doctor, spoke at today’s unusual press conference in Kigali.
Sezibera, who previously served as the Secretary General of the East African Community (EAC) before taking over as government spokesperson and Foreign Minister from Louise Mushikiwabo, sought to make a case for Rwanda among the escalating tension with Uganda.
The press conference, which was graced by local, regional and international journalists, followed mounting pressure from Ugandan authorities and the media over the closure of Gatuna border post.
The Kigali government said it needed to expedite construction works on the One Stop Border Post on its side hence the decision to keep away trucks.
The development triggered a backlash from Ugandans who wondered why Kigali never communicated early enough about the construction works.
In Kigali today, Sezibera tried to draw a line between the closure of Gatuna border and Rwanda’s differences with Uganda.
“It is important to separate border issues from other issues. As far as the border is concerned, there is a challenge with Gatuna because there is an ongoing construction,” said Sezibera.
URA Commissioner Customs Services Dicksons Kateshumbwa said letter dated March 2, 2019 that whereas the rationale and spirit behind the decision is appreciated, it would have been more appropriate to undertake the measures as a joint decision considering the fact that the affected borders are OSPBS where either side is interdependent on the other.
Kateshumbwa further said a decision of this nature would “ideally give ample time to the stakeholders to enable adjustments to be done so as to comply, and in the case of customs to rationalize manpower so that we facilitate trade smoothly. In this particular case the implementation of the decision was done on the very day of notification.”
Sezibera, apart from saying Gatuna would possibly be reopened by May 2019, did not respond to Uganda’s request to release the cleared goods worth billions of shillings stuck at Gatuna border post especially perishables and fuel which had earlier been cleared for the Rwandan market.
Katuna border post is clogged with 10 Rwandan registered trucks; 49 Ugandan registered trucks; 37 Kenyan registered trucks and 9 Burundian registered trucks all carrying mixed goods.
Some of the goods are perishables such as mangoes, cassava among others. Many expected Rwanda to construct an alternative route for trucks. But Sezibera said Gatuna terrain is “complicated” and that the design of the border post itself was “very complicated.”
Sezibera observed that while Rwanda remained “champions of regional integration”, they were keen on “practical things.”
He said Rwanda prefers to “put safety of our people before trade,” adding, goods should move around the region as well as its people.
Sezibera said over 900 Rwandans have been deported from Uganda. He did not mention names.
“Much as deporting is Uganda’s sovereign right, we have an issue with due process. You don’t blindfold people, torture them along the way and dump them at the border. That is not how deportations take place as we know,” he said.
Uganda has in last few months deported Rwandans and other foreigners for engaging in acts police said “threatened national security”.
These, according to officials, included espionage, propping up opposition groups and other destabilization activities.
Interestingly, apart from a few remarks from the government spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo, the Ugandan top leadership remains silent on the matter.
This silence appears to have infuriated the Kigali establishment. Both Sezibera and Rwandan envoy to Uganda Amb Frank Mugambage say they’ve written dozens of diplomatic notes on arrests of Rwandans in Uganda but were yet to receive responses.
“We have also written to them (Uganda) severally through diplomatic channels,” said Sezibera at today’s press briefing.
Opondo last week said the list released by Rwanda showing identities of arrested Rwandans had names of Congolese nationals; suspected criminals who were being tried in courts of law and even refugees.
But Sezibera said Rwanda has “not received any satisfactory answer to the questions we have put to our Ugandan counterparts at various fora including during a meeting between the two heads of state.”
Sezibera further addressed the alleged support of Ugandan authorities to Rwanda National Congress (RNC), a political movement led by dissident Kayumba Nyamwasa who lives in South Africa.
The Minister said RNC, which is said to have military bases in South Kivu, Eastern Congo was already “on the way to disaster” due to lack of a “sensible agenda and ideology” only to be salvaged and propped by Uganda.
He didn’t explain whether it were Ugandan officials providing support in their individual capacities or a policy of President Museveni’s government.
Sezibera’s remarks come against the backdrop of Rwanda’s State Minister for Regional Cooperation, Olivier Nduhungirehe in Zanzibar on Monday that Uganda was hosting RNC rebels.
“We have information that RNC led by Kayumba Nyamwasa has traveled to Uganda and even met with some Ugandan authorities and that is where our concern is because this is unacceptable,” said Nduhungirehe.
Using several blogs, Rwandan authorities recently claimed that RNC operatives continued to roam Kampala streets and even mislead security on Rwanda.
However, in an article sent to ChimpReports on Monday, Theogene Rudasingwa, the former chief of staff in President Kagame’s office, said the latter’s allegation that he is fighting General Nyamwasa’s Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and its so-called P5 supported by Uganda, and FDLR (both allegedly supported by Burundi) is an “absurdity, like flogging dead horses.”
Rudasingwa, who also served as Rwanda’s Ambassador to United States, added: “I co-created and led RNC from 2010, and later the P5, until I abandoned them in 2016 due to irreconcilable ideological differences.”
He said Kagame knows that RNC, P5, and FDLR “do not pose any serious threat to his rule; they all are a lose amalgam of extremist individuals or groups full of militaristic wishful thinking, lacking ideological depth and coherence, with no operational capability even to remove him from power and replace him with another brutal dictatorship like his. General Kagame needs FDLR, RNC, and P5 as scapegoats to justify his aggression as he continues to keep Rwandan citizens as hostages under fear.”
Nevertheless, during today’s press conference, Sezibera confirmed reports that DRC handed over rebel FDLR commanders who were arrested as they returned from Uganda.
They are FDLR spokesman Ignace Nkaka alias LaForge Bazeye Fils and deputy intelligence chief Lt Col Jean Pierre Nsekenabo alias Abega Kamala.
Sezibera said the FDLR figures were “very fine” and had “divulged a lot of information.”
Little is known about the two rebels’ activities in Uganda. What we know is they were picked by DRC’s intelligence as they crossed a border point in Kisoro.
FDLR’s leadership comprises members of Juvenal Habyarimana’s forces who executed the 1994 genocide.
During the 1990-94 war, Uganda provided immense logistics especially artillery, food and medicine to Kagame’s RPF guerrillas to fight and defeat Habyariman’s government.
Sezibera sought to draw a link between Uganda and FDLR. Rwandan blogs recently alleged that FDLR leaders were in touch with Regional Affairs State Minister Philemon Mateke, a claim officials dismissed as “ridiculous”.
Mateke, a powerful and influential power broker from Kisoro, is said to have been friends with the late Habyarimana.
But a close associate of Mateke dismissed claim of helping FDLR as “absurd”, “baseless” and “just fiction.”
Arrest of generals
Sezibera today rubbished as “rumors” claims that three top Rwandan military Generals were late last week arrested on orders of President Kagame.
They include Intelligence chief Maj Gen Joseph Nzabamwita; Major General Emmanuel Ruvusha and Chief of Staff Reserve Force, Lt Gen. Fred Ibingira
To prove that Nzabamwita was not under house arrest as alleged, Sezibera told local and regional media: “I had a meeting with Gen Nzabamwita late last night.”
This followed claims that RDF generals were arrested to thwart a planned mass defection of soldiers to Uganda.
On the deployment of Rwandan soldiers on hills overlooking Uganda, Sezibera responded: “This is not true much as I find no issue in Rwanda deploying troops anywhere on her territory.”
The troops have been stationed in many Rwandan sub-counties along the border for the last one year, according to locals and administration officials.
In his conclusive remarks, Sezibera said the relationship between Rwanda and Uganda is “important”, adding Kigali would continue to seek solutions through diplomatic means.