Special Reports

INVESTIGATION: Inside Rwandan Dissident Ben Rutabana Disappearance

High Court judge, Esta Nambayo, has dismissed an application compelling security services to produce missing Rwandan dissident Benjamin Rutabana.

This was after Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and Uganda Police Force (UPF) said they were not holding Rutabana in their custody.

“I have looked at the application and the reports that have been filed in court by the State Attorney. I have also listened to the submission of both counsel that the file be closed.  I’m left with no option but to close the file,” said Nambayo in recent ruling seen by ChimpReports on Thursday morning.

“Accordingly, this court file is hereby closed the applicant having been not found in the custody of any of the respondents. Each party will bear its own costs,” ruled the judge.

Rutabana, an exiled Rwandan opposition figure, who also obtained French citizenship, went missing in September 2019.

Rutabana, using passport number 16DA52086, left Brussels, Belgium on September 4, 2019, at 21:45 in an Emirates Airlines flight.

He had a stopover at Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates, before proceeding and landed at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda on September 5, 2019 at 13:50.

He stayed in regular telephone contact with Diane Rutabana, his spouse, between September 5 and 8, 2019, but never again since then.

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Rutabana’s return ticket displays September 19, 2019, at 21:30 Kampala time using the same Emirates Airlines and would be in Brussels on September 20, 2019 at 13:25.

Unfortunately for some unexplained reasons, Rutabana never boarded that flight, and contrary to his usual practice, he failed to contact his spouse informing her of any delays or change of programme, and all calls to his telephone went unanswered.

Rutabana family’s lawyer Kenneth Munungu later filed an application alleging that the Rwandan dissident was arrested from Kampala in the morning on the 8 September, 2019 by plain-clothed men who identified themselves as security operatives from CMI and ISO.

Upon arrest, claimed Munungu, Rutabana was taken to Mbuya Chieftaincy of Military Intelligent (CMI) headquarters and then transferred to the Internal Security Organization and back to CMI and thereafter his whereabouts became unknown.

The family members wrote letters to the French Embassy and to the Ministry of foreign Affairs in Uganda on the 28 October 2019, but to no avail.

ChimpReports has learned that Director General of Internal Security Organization, Brig Kaka Bagyenda, UPDF’s Joint Chief of Staff (JCOS) General Joseph Musanyufu and Paul Kato Ag. Deputy Director CID-Police told court that they have never arrested or detained Rutabana.

This compelled the judge to kick out the case.

This investigative website understands that before Rutabana’s departure to Uganda, he had met several Rwandan dissidents under the umbrella organisation, Rwanda National Congress (RNC).

Internal divisions

During a series of meetings with RNC members in United States, Rutabana was reportedly informed he could buy guns from former M23 military commander, Brig Sultan Makenga.

Jean Paul Turayishimiye is said to have persuaded and linked Rutabana to Makenga who continues to operate from Eastern DRC.

Both Turayishimiye and Makenga attended the same school in DRC.

In an interview with ChimpReports, Turayishimiye admitted having studied with Makenga in DRC but denied linking him to Rutabana.

Turayishimiye claimed that Rutabana could have fallen victim to the internal wars in RNC.

Led by dissident Rwandan general, Kayumba Nyamwasa, the main opposition party has in recent years suffered major setbacks including internal divisions and resignation of founding members.

“When Rutabana went missing, we asked Kayumba to explain what happened but nothing was forthcoming. There was an effort to disassociate RNC from Rutabana’s actions. Yet, Rutabana was always traveling to many parts of the world for family or RNC business,” recalled Turayishimiye.

“Some of us argued that Rutabana was one of us. That we should do everything to look for him and help him but the party leadership under Kayumba seemed disinterested. That’s when we suspected that they knew where he was and never wanted us to know.”

However, some RNC opposition figures say Turayishimiye is trying to divert attention from the role he played in Rutabana’s disappearance.

“We actually told Rutabana that he could not trust Makenga since M23 was linked to Rwanda. It was suicidal but somehow, Turayishimiye convinced Rutabana to go and meet Makenga,” said a source in RNC.

Turayishimiye was a military intelligence officer under Kayumba when both were still serving in the Rwanda Defence Force.

What really happened?

Multiple sources in Uganda and Diaspora told ChimpReports that on arrival at Entebbe Airport, Rutabana was picked by a relative of Leah Karegeya, the wife of deceased Rwandan dissident, Col Patrick Karegeya.

Contacted a few months ago, Leah dismissed the claims as “untrue,” adding, “The person you are talking about was here in United States. She was in U.S. for a marriage function and there is evidence to this effect.”

Nevertheless, Rutabana proceeded to Mbarara where he met Pastor Deo Nyirigira at the latter’s home.

Pastor Nyirigira is accused by Rwanda of supporting RNC’s alleged recruitment of fighters in Uganda.

However, some Rwandan dissidents say he doesn’t belong to opposition and that his loyalty lies somewhere else.

They cite Nyirigira’s attempt to form a ‘Ugandan Chapter’ for RNC, something that the mainstream opposition party was unaware of.

ChimpReports understands that after meeting Nyirigira, Rutabana traveled with the Pastor’s son, Felix Nyirigira, to Kisoro in Southwestern Uganda, where they used an illegal route to cross to DRC.

This was the last time Ben Rutabana was seen or communicated to his family or colleagues including Jean Paul Turayishimiye.

Rutabana, who was serving as RNC’s Commissioner of Capacity Building, was reportedly working hand in hand with Pastor Nyirigira to take over the entire political organisation.

Rutabana would become the new leader. It is alleged Rutabana was captured as soon as he crossed the border.

Rutabana’s wife, Diane, hinted on this development in a letter to RNC’s General Coordinator, Jérôme Nayigiziki, dated October 2, 2019.

She said the day (19 September, 2019) Rutabana was due back in Belgium, she received information about her husband’s “illegal detention by elements of RUD Urunana in connection with Major Faustin Ntilikina; General Jean Michel Afurika; Mr. Rachidi and Mr. Frank Ntwali.”

It is said he even directed some of the fighters to move from South Kivu to North Kivu where he would meet them and provide the needed logistics.

He also was expected to issue new orders possibly to attack Rwanda.

However, the P5 fighters were ambushed by DRC and Rwandan Special Forces, snipers and counter insurgency experts, which destroyed the core unit of the rebel force.

This was one of the signs that Rutabana, together with Pastor Nyirigira, Turayishimiye and others were determined to undermine Gen Kayumba while at the same time using his name and that of RNC to conduct fundraising activities in many places across the world.

It is said Rutabana’s group withheld funds for P5 fighters in DRC and denied RNC leadership access to any activities they were conducting.

Smokes and mirrors

Both the Rwandan opposition and Kigali have tried to push two narratives. Uganda has not officially addressed this matter.

The Rwandan government officials informally accuse Ugandan security services of arresting Rutabana, a claim Kampala denies.

The mainstream RNC says Kigali’s intelligence used Makenga to lure Rutabana into DRC where he was arrested together with his entire force.

The opposition further claims Rwandan Special Forces coordinated this operation together with M23, by providing fake pictures of these weapons which Rutabana believed he was buying from Makenga.

“All this was being done over the phone as there was no single opportunity for Rutabana and group to meet one on one to even verify the presence of these people selling weapons,” said a source who preferred anonymity to speak freely.

“It is yet to be established if at this point anyone knew if Rutabana, Pastor Nyirigira or Turayishimiye were knowingly being run by Kigali intelligence or not.”

However, the narrative supported by Kigali is that RNC and some of the top security officials in Uganda connived to arrest Rutabana for trying to split Rwanda’s main opposition party.

Kigali believes Ugandan security services support RNC, a suggestion Kampala has vehemently denied.

Kandiho speaks out

An American human rights organisation, International Relief & Human Rights Initiative (IRHRI), which has been tracking Rutabana’s disappearance, recently interview CMI boss Maj. Gen. Abel Kandiho who denied any knowledge about Rutabana’s arrest and detention.

Kandiho said whoever gave such information to IRHRI was an enemy of the Ugandan government and was trying to divert the NGO.

“We have never arrested Rutabana as far as am concerned, even if am out of the country am always informed of any operation. We use a gazetted prison for all categories of prisoners apart from interviews in some cases. Why would Rutabana be of interest to the extent of isolation for that long when he’s not a terrorist? But even high profile terrorists are quickly interviewed and taken to court. I will make a follow-up on this matter ASAP,” Maj. Gen Abel Kandiho promised.

Gen. Kandiho was, however, suspicious that a section of people from a sister security agency might be behind the rumors and said that an ISO operative he only identified as Odong could be the mastermind of Rutabana’s disappearance.

“When you get to know the truth, that’s when you will be hurt. I have a name to protect I have no reason to tell lies at my age. Why should I get involved in dirty games when I handle more important assignments at a strategic level? Suppose you were the one being accused or your organisation of kidnapping someone falsely how would you feel? I have created time to explain to you that there’s no any reason or interest why we should keep that man. Above all we don’t even have power to do it. Try to engage any other official who will respond like me and revert to me if you will ever get one. I know they’ve been trying to destroy one of my hardworking and trusted officer Col. CK. Asiimwe. I hope it’s not someone called Odong (Simon) from ISO who gave you the information if I am not mistaken?” Gen Kandiho told IRHRI.

“Yes, I am aware, it’s good you got information. I am sure you know that Uganda had no hand in this case. Like you stated earlier, there are people trying to tarnish the image of our country. In this case, I think Rutabana was tricked or betrayed,” he added.

Efforts to get a comment from Pastor Nyirigira did not bear fruit as he switched off his phone after hearing our questions.

Neither did he respond to our messages. Nyirigira has not spoken about his son who went missing with Rutabana.

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