On August 31, 2019, Ugandan government officials traveled to Kigali, for a meeting with their Rwandan counterparts on resolving the tensions between the two countries.
At the beginning of the meeting, Rwandan officials promised to provide a list of Rwandans detained in Uganda.
Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa said upon receiving the list, government would then “crosscheck” the information and revert.
“We waited for the list but didn’t get anything during the deliberations,” recalled an official who attended the meeting but chose to speak on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter.
“The meeting ended without us receiving the list. We thought perhaps they were still making some amendments to it. Nothing came through till the end of the session.”
To the Ugandan team, this was surprising considering that Kigali was accusing Uganda of “mass arrests and persecution” of Rwandans in Uganda.
The joint communique issued later said, “Rwanda provided a list of Rwandans detained in Uganda and the Republic of Uganda committed to verify the information for the purpose of processing those named through judicial process and releasing those against whom no evidence of criminal conduct will have been found.”
However, during last week’s meeting in Kigali, Kutesa said it was “regrettable” that Rwanda didn’t honour its commitment.
“Since the Luanda process began last year, we have consistently demonstrated our best intentions by the practical steps we have taken and proposals we have made to implement what has been agreed. These steps, however, have not always been reciprocated,” said Kutesa.
“On the Rwandans allegedly detained in Uganda, you will recall that at our first meeting in Kigali, Rwanda was to provide the list for verification but regrettably this was never done,” he added.
It remains unclear why Rwandans reneged on its commitment but officials say Kigali was not sure about the nationalities of the so-called detainees in Uganda much as they had to use cameras at the event to make their case against Uganda.
Last week, Rwanda made new demands from Kampala which included dismissal of top security chiefs in Uganda.
The Rwandan Minister of State for Regional Cooperation, Olivier Nduhungirehe, told the Ugandan delegation that Kigali “demands” action be taken by Uganda including “disbanding” RNC (Rwanda National Congress), RUD-Uranana and “arrest and extradite all its members to face justice in Rwanda.”
RNC is led by exiled former Rwandan army chief, Gen Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa while RUD-Urunana is a splinter group of FDLR, a militia whose leadership is accused of committing the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Both movements have since denied conducting any operations in Uganda. RNC says it has no intentions of toppling Kagame by use of arms.
The fire-spitting Nduhungirehe, who was reading from a prepared statement, further said Uganda must “refrain from all actions intended to destabilize Rwanda; eliminate all factors that create such perception; withdraw the passport issued by Ugandan government to RNC’s head of diplomacy, Charlotte Mukankusi and prevent her from traveling to Uganda.”
He referred to an alleged meeting of Rwandan rebels in Mbarara, western Uganda and purported recruitment of fighters in refugee camps as evidence of Uganda’s complicity to destabilize Rwanda.
Nduhungirehe, also demanded that Uganda holds “accountable facilitators of RNC network” such as State Minister for Regional Cooperation, Philemon Mateke, Military Intelligence boss Brigadier Abel Kandiho, Internal Security Organisation (ISO) boss Col Kaka Bagyenda, Mbarara-based 2nd Division Deputy Commander Brig Fred Karara, CMI Deputy Director in charge of Counter Terrorism Col Charles Asiimwe and Maj Fred Mushambo.
Nduhungirehe also said Rwanda demanded “unconditional release of all its citizens detained in Uganda.”
The new demands including firing of Ugandan security chiefs caught many by surprise.
“Even the Angolan representatives were stunned by this new ultimatum,” recounted a diplomat who spoke to us on Wednesday morning.
In Uganda, the call for removal of Kaka, Kandiho and Mateke left many baffled.
In 2011, President Museveni, in a bid to make peace with Rwanda, decided to remove his top intelligence boys, Mugira, Kandiho and Karara from their positions.
Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda had mediated the peace talks that saw Museveni fly to Kigali to start a new chapter with Rwanda.
Kagame had accused the aforementioned army officers of plotting against Rwanda. Their removal gave rise to Gen Kale Kayihura as police chief. The better part of intelligence work and security operations fell under police.
During Kayihura’s reign, the Rwandan operatives infiltrated the police and other security organs, leading to a massive illegal repatriation of Rwandan refugees including Kagame’s former bodyguard, Lt Joel Mutabazi.
However, these repatriations angered the international community especially Refugee protection non-governmental organisations in Europe.
While Museveni was on a trip to Europe to mobilise support for refugees in Uganda, international NGOs sought a special meeting with him.
They told him that while he was showing concern for refugees, his own security services were illegally repatriating refugees back to Rwanda and many could not be traced upon returning home.
Museveni was astounded. “I will handle this,” Museveni promised.
A few months later, Museveni decided to act. He reshuffled heads of security services, returning Kandiho to head military intelligence and later dropped Gen Kayihura.
Because police officers were hugely involved in the repatriation of refugees, Kayihura was even arrested alongside his close associates and charged before courts of law.
This, to Museveni, was partly to show his commitment to protecting refugees.
It also marked the beginning of a clandestine campaign aimed at countering Rwandan cells in different parts of Uganda’s security services.
They started with the arrest of Lt Rene Rutagungira who is suspected of killing exiled Rwandan journalist Charles Ingabire in 2011 in Kampala.
It is said Rutagungira would travel to Rwanda to pick large sums of money to finance the refugee repatriation programme in Uganda.
In detention, Rutagungira reportedly revealed his network which corroborated what Museveni had been told in Europe.
Many police officers were implicated in this illegal activity.
According to a human rights activist, in Europe, Museveni was handed all contacts, residences and names of the members of this racket; transit routes of refugees and amounts spent by Rutagungira on the forceful repatriation exercise.
The NGOs even confronted Museveni with recorded telephone conversations of Rwandan agents and police officers planning the repatriations.
This compelled the likes of Kandiho, Kaka and Asiimwe were brought to clean-up the system.
A free hand in Uganda allowed Rwanda to counter threats posed by exiled dissidents. When the likes of Kandiho came on board, the Rwandans’ activities in Uganda were brought to a halt.
This, to a very big extent, left Kigali wounded and seething with rage.
It is said Rwanda was sending large numbers of agents in the cattle corridor of Sembabule, Rakai, Mpigi, Masaka and Kampala.
Their motive remained unclear to us.
But officials said during this period, Uganda witnessed a spike in crimes, hence the mass arrests and deportations.
The security chiefs whom Rwanda wants sacked are said to have also foiled plans against President Museveni’s life.
“Most of the cells were dismantled,” said a senior government, adding, “Uganda is securer than in the recent past. We will change our officers when they change the officers in their military that have been terrorizing Rwandans and the region forever”
It remains to be seen if Museveni will remove the army officials from their positions.
During the recent Kigali meeting, Kutesa said Uganda remained determined to “work on practical steps to resolve our differences. Uganda remains positive that discussions will lead to results. Uganda’s commitment to implementation of the MoU has remained firm as before. Our approach is comprehensive.”
He said in line with the Luanda MoU and context of normalization of relations between the two countries and as a gesture of goodwill, Kampala withdrew charges of several offences including unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition against Rwandans.
On January 8, according to Kutesa, nine individuals were handed to immigration officials in presence of the Rwandan High Commissioner, Rtd Maj Gen Frank Mugambage for repatriation.
“I urge Rwanda to demonstrate the same spirit and address the same concerns of over 50 Ugandans who are held in Rwanda. The list of people known to be in jail has been handed to the Rwanda government,” he said.
Kutesa also spoke about the alleged deportation of Rwandans, saying the activity was being done “in compliance with the law,” adding, “We are to share evidence of deportees who were fully received.”
Kutesa said Uganda has since made a concrete proposal for the formation of a joint verification team to establish facts, build trust and confidence on both sides.
He said absence of Joint verification mechanism to verify allegations renders falsehoods persist and makes follow up difficult.
The Minister further said that Uganda knows the role of media in playing a conducive atmosphere for good relations and had since restrained media and its officials from propagating hostile stories against Rwanda.
However, said Kutesa, Rwanda continues to remain “relentless” in orchestrating a “hostile campaign against government and its officials.”
He also said the Ugandan border “has remained open to goods and services” in compliance with regional and international frameworks.
Yet, said Kutesa, “the Rwandan border remains closed and a trade embargo on Ugandan goods remains in place to date.”
During the presentations, Nduhungirehe said Rwandans were still being subjected to harassment by Ugandan officials,
In response, Kutesa said “the human rights of Rwandans are protected just like any other nationals in Uganda. By Rwandans continuing to travel to Uganda by air is evidence that they feel secure being in Uganda. Even those who get shot by Rwanda authorities, feel safe to take refuge in Uganda.”
Kutesa wondered why Rwandan security personnel “continue to shoot Ugandans along the border, denying them right of life and hurting the spirit of integration.”
Nevertheless, there is considerable optimism that when President Museveni meets with Kagame at Katuna this Friday, February 21, the border will be reopened and Rwandans allowed to move freely to Uganda.