Rwanda’s powerful Defence Minister Gen James Kabarebe has urged his countrymen to stop “scavenging” in Uganda, the Rwandan media reports.
Addressing about 3,000 graduates of a political programme known as Ingando in Nyagatare on Wednesday, Kabarebe expressed disappointment that Rwandans continue to “Guhunahuna” (scavenging) in Uganda.
‘Guhunahuna’ is a Kinyarwanda term used to describe dogs searching for leftovers.
Kabarebe, according to Rwandan news website Ukwezi, told participants drawn from different parts of the country that the neighboring countries of DRC, Burundi and Uganda don’t wish Rwanda well.
“They are always jealous of Rwanda’s future and how well our people are progressing,” he said.
The Defence Minister, who hails from Ibanda, Western Uganda, gave an example of Rwandans, who were arrested and reportedly tortured in Uganda, to claim that was evidence of “envy.”
He asked his countrymen to “build your country instead of scavenging in Uganda because they are not better off than us.”
The website has pictures of Gen Kabarebe addressing the crowd but did not post the audio or video recording of his speech. The Rwandan government is yet to distance itself from Kabarebe’s speech.
A former combatant in the NRA, Kabarebe participated in the RPF war that ushered President Kagame into power in 1994.
He would later take part in Rwanda’s military operations in DRC that toppled President Mobutu and helped Laurent Kabila Sr to take power.
Rwanda’s Ambassador to Uganda, Maj Gen Frank Mugambage did not respond to our communication seeking clarification on Gen Kabarebe’s controversial speech.
Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Amb Mugoya could not comment on the development as he was reportedly busy with preparations for the Northern Corridor Summit in Nairobi, Kenya this week.
But Mugoya recently said, “Uganda’s relations with Uganda are okay”, irrespective of a myriad of bilateral challenges.
This is not the first time the Minister was being accused of making disparaging remarks against Uganda.
Since September 2007, Kabarebe has upped his rhetoric against Uganda in his addresses to several groups of youth, women, traders and RPF cadres.
During these meetings, Kabarebe reportedly describes Uganda as an ‘enemy country.’
He is said to have added that while President Museveni outwardly supports Rwanda, his actions don’t support his statements.
At one of the meetings held at the new RPF headquarters in Gasabo, Kabarebe was quoted as saying Uganda supports Burundi which is home to Rwandan dissidents.
Ugandan observers have since expressed fears the Defence minister is executing part of a wider plan to mobilise the population against Uganda.
Rwandan officials informally denied the charge, saying they were determined to strengthen ties with Uganda.
But this week marked a continuation of Kabarebe’s rhetoric as he insisted that there was nothing good to write home about Uganda.
“See how Uganda is and every day you continue going there; you are arrested, detained and harassed all the time but why don’t you listen? Our embassy in Uganda is no longer doing anything other than spending all the time looking for Rwandans who have been arrested and beaten,” he observed.
“You keep scavenging in Uganda looking for what? Why don’t you build your country instead of going to Uganda to be beaten? What do you want there? We lived in Uganda as refugees, left Uganda and shed our blood liberating your country. Let them also come here.”
He wondered why everything that happens in Uganda such as kidnaps and murders are attributed to Rwandans or Rwanda.
“Whatever happens in Uganda, it is Rwanda,” said Kabarebe, adding, “If any Ugandan is murdered for their reasons or by their government, they say its Rwandans. Whatever happens, I think they will reach a point where a Ugandan gets flu or Malaria, and they will say it’s Rwanda.”
Kabarebe said, “This is because they (Uganda) are not happy with our good leadership and level of development. That’s envy; nothing else. But what do we even want there? Why don’t we build our country for others also to come here? If Ugandans also want to come, let them come, we shall not stop them.”
Ugandans security services have previously arrested and detained Rwandans suspected of espionage, kidnaps, illegal repatriation of refugees and also threatening national security.
Uganda and Rwanda are close neighbours interlinked by trade, inter-marriages and blood relations among their people.
Rwandans usually travel to Uganda to visit friends, relatives and also search for business opportunities and jobs.
Born in 1959, Kabarebe had his education in Uganda and graduated in Economics and Political Science at Makerere University.
He was commissioned in the Ugandan army in 1989.
Kabarebe was the private secretary and aide-de-camp (ADC) of Maj.-Gen. Paul Kagame. During the liberation war, he became Commander of the High Command Unit at Mulindi. Later, this unit became the Republican Guard under Kagame’s leadership.
Kabarebe served as Chief of Staff in President Laurent Kabila’s government before being dismissed at the height of intense tensions between Rwanda and DRC.
After commanding operations in DRC, Kabarebe was appointed Chief of Defence staff in 2002 before being elevated to Defence Minister.
During a bilateral meeting at State House Entebbe, President Museveni said, “On security matters, there is no fundamental problem between Rwanda and Uganda. A number of incidents that are being commented about in the media, many would be properly addressed if only there was better communication. We have phones, we should talk more.”
On his part, Rwanda President Paul Kagame said if there were “any issues that need resolving, the respective agencies in the two countries have been urged to talk to each other, find out the facts, and agree on action to be taken…”
He added: “I can say with great satisfaction that we were able to agree on a number of important things for the benefit of our countries and region. Better communication, working together more deeply and sharing facts regularly will allow us to take better decisions,” visiting President Paul Kagame said.