Rwanda, Uganda move to end strained relations

Saturday January 13 2018

A Rwanda-Uganda border at Kagitumba.

The Rwanda-Uganda border at Kagitumba. Arrests of “dissidents” have strained relations. PHOTO | NMG 

By EDMUND KAGIRE
More by this Author

Relations between Rwanda and Uganda remain fragile despite the two countries holding talks last week, with Kigali remaining concerned about ‘hostile activities’ across the border.

Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa last week visited Kigali where he held discussions with President Paul Kagame on a number of issues.

According to Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, the talks focused on bilateral relations between the two countries as well as matters of regional integration.

Ms Mushikiwabo said her Ugandan counterpart carried a message from President Museveni and held “a good discussion” with President Kagame, mainly on integration.

President Kagame told Mr Kutesa that “for integration to be successful, there has to be something for everybody and all partners must win.”

“Also discussed, and linked to regional integration, was the state of bilateral relations, including continuing arrests and disappearances of Rwandans in Uganda,” Ms Mushikiwabo said.

The meeting came as accusations between the two neighbours intensified, with Kigali particularly expressing concerns that Uganda harbours opposition elements keen on destabilising Rwanda.

Arrests

Despite the meeting, reports of more arrests of Rwandan citizens inside Uganda emerged. Local media reported that a Rwandan businessman identified as Emmanuel Cyamayire was arrested in Mbarara last week.

Several people were also reportedly arrested in the Uganda-Rwanda border district of Kisoro.

A security source who spoke to The EastAfrican said that Uganda has done little to deal with members of Rwanda National Congress (RNC), an opposition group led by former allies of President Kagame, conducting their activities in Uganda.

Several Rwandans have claimed that they were arrested and tortured inside Uganda by security agents, with some accusing RNC members of instigating the arrests.

At least six Rwandans repatriated from Uganda say they were subjected to physical and psychological torture after being kidnapped by armed men in civilian wear linked to the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).

The six — Fidel Gatsinzi, a businessman, Jessica Muhongerwa, Hubert Mugwaneza, Fred Turatsinze, Dinah Kamikazi and Vanessa Agasaro — who were all in Uganda at different times, say they were arrested and held under inhuman conditions before they were dumped at the border.

The “multiple and unjustified” arrests have been a point of contention between the two countries with Rwanda accusing Uganda of being hostile towards its citizens.

“They [RNC] are present in Uganda. They work with security organs to harass Rwandans,” said Gatsinzi, a businessman who said he had travelled to Uganda to check on his son and relatives.

Many of the said arrests have happened in the southwestern district of Mbarara, where Rwanda says RNC members are concentrated.

“We have evidence that they [RNC] have bases in the western Uganda where they recruit people and harass those who don’t support them. They are facilitated by the army and intelligence,” a source in security said.

RNC has denied the allegations, in turn accusing Kigali of sending operatives across the border to harass refugees.

Upon repatriation, the returning citizens claim to have been tortured for days and subjected to lengthy interrogations by Ugandan security agencies with an aim of forcing them to admit that they are operatives working with Rwandan security agencies or linked to government.

An intelligence officer who works with CMI in Mbarara told The East African that “they only arrest those they have leads on.”

“We only arrest those we have information about and their intentions in Uganda. They are those we know who hide under the guise of business but they are actually security operatives targeting refugees,” the officer said.

The deported Rwandans, however, deny working with security organs or targeting Rwandan refugees. They also say they have lost businesses and properties which they left in Uganda following their arrests and deportation.

Ugandan maintains that security organs are conducting a clean-up exercise, aimed at identifying elements working with opposition and rebel groups in the region operating illegally inside Uganda, as well as “spies’ from neighbouring countries ‘destabilising” the country.

Last month, Kigali wrote a protest note to the Ugandan government condemning what it called ‘multiple unjustified arrests” of its citizens in Uganda without informing its High Commission in Kampala.

There are reports that Uganda will not implement the cessation clause by maintaining refugee status on Rwandans in Uganda.

Last week, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces Chief of Defence Forces Gen David Rubakuba Muhoozi told NTV Uganda that allegations Uganda is planning to destabilise Rwanda are far-fetched.

‘’We don’t harbour any hostile intentions against any of our neighbours and we can’t provide sanctuary to any that may want to destabilise any of our neighbours including Rwanda,’’ he said.