Rwanda President Paul Kagame has once again blasted the Ugandan government, saying it continues to arrest and illegally detain Rwandans and also cautioned against an armed conflict which he said would be costly for both countries.
Tensions between Rwanda and Uganda have escalated in recent years, with Kigali accusing Kampala of harassing Rwandans and supporting armed movements seeking to topple President Kagame.
Uganda denies the accusations and maintains Kigali runs rings of sleeper cells and spies with the sole aim of destabilising Uganda.
Kampala further accuses Rwanda of slapping a trade embargo on Ugandan goods which is against the spirit of regional integration and Pan Africanism.
Kagame speaks out
In a recent media interview in Brussels, Kagame ruled out the possibility of an armed conflict.
“People fear fighting between us. I don’t see it coming because I think Uganda understands the cost of it,” said Kagame, adding, “We don’t want to go down that road because everyone will lose something.”
Rwanda maintains security forces along its border with Uganda. These forces recently shot dead a Rwandan smuggler after crossing into Uganda, sparking a diplomatic crisis.
Asked to explain what he meant by saying, “if you mess up, we will mess up big time” at an event in April 2019, Kagame responded: “Yes, (meaning) if you cross the border. You can do whatever you want on your territory, like arresting people. But if they crossed our border and wanted to do things in our territory – that’s what I meant.”
Insiders say Museveni has since urged the military to prepare adequately to counter any external threats including Rwanda but has no appetite for war as such would drain the country’s meager resources as he grapples with youth unemployment, low pay for public servants and poverty in the countryside.
Rwanda, which also lacks strategic depth in terms of territory and whose military has not participated in any intense battles in recent years as is the case with UPDF in Somalia, South Sudan and DRC, would be glad to avoid a confrontation. .
As tempers continue to flare in Kampala and Kigali, diplomats say little has been achieved in deescalating the situation.
In Brussels, Kagame agreed that any tension will “necessarily affect the stability of the economy, of trade, of all kinds of things. There is no question about it. That’s why we don’t need tension at all.”
He, however, added: “But with politics (smile), we always see these things in any part of the world! We have had an easy relationship during many years. Tension comes and goes. We hope one day we can get rid of it forever. This time around is part of this history.”
Kagame also accused Uganda of “getting involved in supporting (armed) groups against us because they (in Kampala) think we don’t stand for the interests of Uganda. They just don’t appreciate that Rwanda has a different government and would wish Rwanda to pay allegiance to them, something like that.”
Kigali says Uganda supports exiled Rwandan dissident General Kayumba Nyamwasa and his alleged rebels operating in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Nyamwasa denies claims of receiving support from the Ugandan government, saying if it were the case, the current Rwandan government would have been ousted long ago.
“If Uganda was supporting me, they would not be in power,” says Nyamwasa, adding, “They know very well what happened when Uganda supported them although they deny it now.”
President Museveni recently wrote to president Kagame saying Nyamwasa’s movement had approached him for support which the Ugandan leader refused to provide.
Nyamwasa and Kagame were among the RPF leaders whom president Museveni supported to fight the regime of Juvenal Habyarimana and also stop the genocide before taking power in 1994.
Asked if he had approached Uganda for support to fight Kagame, Nyamwasa said RNC had already written to “Kagame seeking a dialogue,” adding, “We have approached many governments to assist in resolving the Rwandan political impasse, including Uganda. That can hardly be interpreted as seeking support to fight.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa said, “It is false that Uganda hosts any elements fighting Rwanda.”
Kutesa said Uganda and Rwanda have always, at the highest level, made confidential engagements and that Kigali is fully aware that Kampala cannot allow subversive elements targeting a neighbor to operate from her territory.
“Rwanda knows this very well as it has been a matter of confidential communication at the highest level of the two countries. Uganda does not and cannot allow anyone to operate from its territory that threatens a neighbor as alleged,” said Kutesa in a recent statement.
On his part, Kagame said his people are being arrested in Uganda.
“We have Rwandese in their hundreds, actually in prison in Uganda. Uganda keeps telling all kinds of stories, they say these people are there illegally, that these are spies … And we have raised this because we have collected information about it and then they say: how do you know these details? It is because you (Rwandan government officials) have people here (in Uganda) and in fact they (the Ugandan officials) say they are against us,” said Kagame in the interview.
Kagame said the arrests have been “indiscriminate: they arrest women, men, young people, they even picked some pupils from schools. The last time I met with (Ugandan president) Museveni I said these accusations have no credibility.”
The Rwandan leader said Rwanda “cannot tell Uganda what to do. We have asked them, we have begged them, we have even told them it is ok, if you have people in custody who committed offences, bring them to the courts of law, don’t keep them in prison. People come and tell us they have been in prison for nine months or a year, for nothing. But we have kept calm.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Kutesa said it was “well known that Uganda welcomes and maintains an open door policy for citizens of all nationalities including Rwandans wishing to visit the country.”
Uganda, which is the third largest refugee hosting nation in the world after Turkey and Pakistan, told Rwanda that the status did not come by a mistake.
“It is not by mistake that Uganda continues to be largest refugee host nation in the continent,” said Kutesa.
He added: “Two hundred people were arrested, they failed to charge even one. That shows the magnitude of the problem. That resulted in fact in us telling people not to go to Uganda.”
Some of the Rwandans arrested by security services have been deported or charged in courts of law.
Rene Rutagungira, a Rwandan national was accused of facilitating kidnap and illegal repatriation of Rwandan refugees to their home country – charges he denied at the Military Court in Kampala.