Museveni incited smugglers and can't undo it by a stunt

Last week, a statement from the office of the president of Uganda began circulating among social media groups, but was roundly dismissed as a hoax assoon as it appeared.

The skepticism was generated by the vile and provocative language directed at Rwanda, as contained in the instructions the President was conveying to "all Resident District Commissioners and Deputy Resident District Commissioners".


The fact that fake news and similar counterfeit content have often turned up on these social media platforms made it easier for the users to disregard the letter from Uganda's state house.


Then, later in the day, Uganda's Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI)'s mouthpiece, Chimpreports publication confirmed the story, with a stunningly bellicose headline;


"Museveni Orders Action Against Rwanda Soldiers Crossing to Kidnap Ugandans.”

The last time the people of this region heard orders being issued was in February this year, at the Gatuna Summit, on the border between Rwanda and Uganda, attended by Presidents Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni.

The mediators, President Joao Laurenco of Angola and Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as they worked to help bring an end to the dispute, asked President Museveni to cease his government' support and funding to terrorist organisations.

These include the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and Forces Démocratiques De Libération Du Rwanda (FDLR), which have been working to launch military attacks against Rwanda.                                                                             

Six months down the road, the terrorist groups are operating and recruiting new members from the territory of Uganda with support from that country's security agencies.

Arresting, kidnapping, torturing and killing of innocent Rwandan nationals by Uganda government security agents in the last three years is a matter of public record.

Rwandans in their hundreds have been rounded up by soldiers of the Uganda army, as they attended church services and have ended up in Kampala's torture chambers, otherwise known as "safe houses".

Businessmen and businesswomen in transit from Kigali to other destinations in the East African region have been profiled, violently hauled off the buses and driven to CMI jails where they are locked up, some never to be seen again.

Indeed, there are multiple cases where Rwandan nationals were intercepted by the CMI and their bodies later turned up at the gates of Butabika Hospital, Uganda's mental health asylum.

Security agents in Kampala have targeted unsuspecting Rwandans for extortion and many of them have lost vast amounts of money, after enduring months of incarceration and torture, as Ugandan intelligence operatives shook them down to the last shilling.

In spite of the proven multiple crimes committed by the Uganda government against the people and the state of Rwanda, President Museveni, in his letter to the district administrators claims that the government of Rwanda has adopted a "criminal policy" with regard to Ugandan nationals crossing illegally into Rwanda on smuggling adventures.

After Kigali exhausted all possible diplomatic channels, having appealed to the regime in Kampala to end the targeting and killing of Rwandans to no avail, the ministry of foreign and East African community affairs, in February 2019, issued an advisory asking the Rwandan people to not travel to Uganda, as it was no longer safe.

Kigali subsequently closed the border at Gatuna entry, leaving the other common border points open. However, Ugandan nationals were not affected by the advisory, and have continued to travel freely to Rwanda.

Gatuna is a historically lucrative trading center for the inhabitants and when it was closed, traders understandably lost their source of income.

People in Kabale district whose livelihood depended on cross-border trade loudly agitated, accusing President Museveni of ruining their lives, since the crimes committed by his government against Rwandan travellers had necessitated the closure of the border.

As pressure mounted, President Museveni told his people that trade at the border will continue after all.

"Even if the border is closed trade will go on...through smuggling. You can't stop trade through border administration"; Museveni counselled on May 15, 2019.

Clearly, the president of Uganda was publicly calling on his people to start smuggling as an alternative to legitimate trade. When he encouraged Ugandans to use ungazetted routes to smuggle goods into Rwanda, President Museveni knew it was not only risky but also criminal.

As expected, Ugandans heeded their leader's call and were prepared to do whatever it took, including physically taking on Rwanda National Police personnel enforcing the law along the border.

In its May 23, 2019 Uganda's Daily Monitor quoted a smuggler at the border saying that "smuggling is risky but highly rewarding with abnormal profits if one beats Rwandan security forces at the game".

Following their president's pronouncement, the smugglers were emboldened with a feeling of invincibility, since they had their government's support and encouragement.

Indeed, a number of them, with the false sense of state protection, chose to fight Rwandan law enforcement officers and later came to learn that their president had pushed them into crime. Now they know the whole enterprise was a bad idea in the first place.

In a face-saving move, President Museveni, on August 4, 2020 issued new instructions telling Ugandans that they "should stop going into Rwanda or those who go should do so at their own risk".

Clearly this message isn't meant for the regular travellers who use legal entry points; President Museveni knows all borders have been closed as a measure against the spread of COVID - 19.

He is communicating to the people he encouraged to go into the business of smuggling, now that it's turning ugly and Ugandans are denouncing him.

President Museveni's letter to his district administrators, therefore, is nothing but a stunt and an attempt to walk back his reckless advice. He made the call and he needs to take responsibility.

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