Nduhungirehe speaks out on impasse in Rwanda, Uganda talks

Amb. Nduhungirehe speaks during a past news conference. Photo: S. Ngendahimana.

Peace talks between Rwanda and Uganda suffered a major setback last Friday with high-powered delegations of both countries failing to reach a breakthrough during the second meeting in Kampala of the Ad hoc Commission on the implementation of the Luanda Memorandum of Understanding.

The differences were so glaring they even failed to agree on a joint communique. The New Times’ James Munyaneza spoke with Rwanda’s chief negotiator in the bilateral talks Amb. Olivier Nduhungirehe, State Minister for East African Community in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, on Monday.

Excerpts:  

Let’s take stock of your meeting in Kampala. There is a sense that things have hardly improved, if not worsened. Is this a fair observation?

As you are aware, we signed the Luanda MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) almost four months ago and we had that first meeting of the Ad Hoc Commission on the implementation of Luanda MoU in Kigali three months ago. This was enough time to show good faith.

We had a seven- or eight-hour meeting and what we confirmed is that there is still lack of good faith on the part of Uganda. Instead, there has been an escalation on the concerns that Rwanda has repeatedly raised with Uganda since the signing of the Luanda MoU and the Kigali Communique – mainly the support to armed terrorist groups that are facilitated by and operate in Uganda.

In Kampala, we gave the example of the attack on Kinigi on the night of 3rd October leading to 4th (by RUD-Urunana) just two weeks after the Kigali meeting. People were killed with machetes, with hammers, 14 people were killed and 16 wounded.

There are two facts that implicate Uganda in this attack;

First, the evidence gathered from the crime scene, including phone handsets, from the assailants which showed that they were in coordination with Uganda’s state minister for regional affairs, Philemon Mateke.

The Ugandan minister was particularly in contact with one Nshimiye, alias Governor, the head of special forces of RUD-Urunana, who lives in Kisoro District (south-western Uganda) with his family, protected, and is in close contact with Mateke.

He travels regularly in North Kivu (DR Congo) for his operations.

Second, the assailants who escaped after the attack fled to Uganda (including Nshimiye), first to Kisoro District, then to Makenke Barracks in Mbarara District and were then moved to CMI (Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence) headquarters at Mbuya Barracks in the capital Kampala.

We wrote a Note Verbale to Uganda on October 14 and received no feedback. This was after the Kigali meeting and it was really an extreme sign of escalation.

L-R: Security minister Gen Patrick Nyamvumba, Uganda’s Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana, Amb. Nduhungirehe, Kutesa, Angolan Minister for External Relations Manuel Domingos Augusto, Local Government minister Prof. Anastase Shyaka, and Justice minister and Attorney General Johnston Busingye in a group photo after the latest round of talks in Kampala on Friday last week. Photo: File.

When you have a cabinet minister directly involved in a terrorist attack that killed civilians, families and those who escaped fled to Uganda and are protected by the Ugandan army, what more do you want to see to understand that they lack good faith?

Not to mention that the arbitrary arrest of Rwandans in Uganda continues, including when there was a roundup of Rwandans in Kisoro District on the 25th of October, I think more than 150 of them, 33 were expelled and dumped at the border and there are plenty of these examples.

The thing is that Uganda has not only done anything to resolve the two main concerns that are the origin of this crisis, but we’ve instead seen escalation as if for them agreements are just a piece of paper.

But why would a cabinet minister of Uganda get involved with a terrorist group that’s killing innocent people with machetes?

I don’t know, many things have been said about him but I am not going to speculate about his motivations. But this was not his first action against Rwanda because you remember that when FDLR’s La Forges Fils Bazeyi (spokesperson) and Theophille Abega (intelligence head) were arrested in December last year in eastern DR Congo, they were coming from Uganda, they had been meeting in Serena Hotel for two days with, guess who, Philemon Mateke!

Do you think he has personal reasons?

There is this involvement of Hon Mateke but this should not be limited to him. He’s not a rogue cabinet minister who’s doing things on his own. The RUD-Urunana people who escaped after the attack in Kinigi fled to Uganda and were received in a military barracks, they were moved to CMI in Mbuya, I don’t think Philemon Mateke is running CMI, it would be a mistake to limit Uganda’s involvement to Philemon Mateke.

You are State Minister for East African Community. In a way, Mr Mateke is your counterpart since he’s state minister for regional affairs. Have you reached out to him about these issues?

We have actually rarely met, because my counterparts are the Minister for EAC and the Minister of State for EAC. He rarely attends EAC meetings, I saw him once at an EAC Council meeting but he left earlier.

What we saw after the closed-door meeting suggests that maybe there is not enough reason to be too optimistic, you even failed to agree on a joint communiqué…

During the meeting on Friday, we raised all of our concerns with Uganda. But during those seven hours we didn’t get a sense that Uganda was understanding our concerns because they were denying everything, denial was their strategy and they were requesting evidence even though we were actually giving them evidence like the Rwandan who was recently dumped at the border who had been beaten badly, you must have seen the pictures, he was beaten up by his employer and by local authorities.

I think it was in Kisoro District, we gave them that example, we gave the name of the employer, gave them the name of the locality, the village where this happened.

But they still said that they didn’t have evidence that this happened and said that, ‘assuming this is true still the employer is a private individual’, but we said ‘yes, but he did it with the authorities.

But even if it was a private individual doing it on his own, what did you do after’. But as we have seen it’s a pattern, it’s not an isolated case, it happens every day.

Remember the case of the lady whose baby was taken away from her, she was told that her baby had died, she was given a death certificate but the description of the child on the supposed death certificate was not of her child.

The Rwandan Attorney General wrote to his Ugandan counterpart and nothing was done. There is also this recent case of a Ugandan who was mistaken to be Rwandan and was severely beaten by security people then he fled to Rwanda, he was treated in hospital after which I think he was handed over to Uganda.

It keeps happening. But they kept denying all these facts.

Uganda’s foreign minister Sam Kutesa, who led his country’s delegation, said they had committed to ensure due process in the case of people who have been arrested, do you believe him?

He said the same in Kigali, but what has been done since? People are still being arrested and are being held incommunicado in ungazetted detention centres and ‘safe houses’, it’s something that’s said for the press but we don’t believe it.

Uganda has accused Rwanda of infiltrating its security organs…

Do you think that the people being arrested, the small traders, are infiltrating Uganda’s security organs? Have you seen the profiles of the people that are being arrested, many picked up from areas close to the border?

And, since they claim that Rwanda has infiltrated their security services, why don’t they charge these people and provide evidence in courts of law? Why are they arresting people illegally, incarcerate them in ‘safe houses’, beat them up, torture them and then dump them at the border without pressing charges?

This is a serious accusation. When someone is infiltrating security organs of a country you charge them. Another thing that we have said in our meetings is that some of those Rwandans were in fact arrested by RNC operatives, including Rugema Kayumba, who illegally arrested Fidel Gatsinzi.

It’s Rugema, and one Mukombozi, who took Gatsinzi to CMI headquarters in person. It’s not me saying it, Fidel said this. Others were asked to join RNC, it’s only when they refused that they were arrested, that’s when they became ‘infiltrators’.

Others had charges changing, first its illegal entry, then its illegal possession of arms, etc…they are basically looking for excuses to justify why they are arresting Rwandans en masse.

And then why the systematic torture? How do you explain that? Why beat up people and dump them at the border.

Is the Ugandan government probably so keen on hiding something so much they end up easily arresting people for what they are feared to have seen or may end up seeing?

Well, people have said that, wondering what Uganda is hiding that every Rwandan who’s not involved in subversive activities against Rwanda is considered to be a spy. Maybe their involvement with armed groups?

Is it true that during the closed session Uganda accused Rwanda of training young Rwandans, especially students – through Itorero programme – with view to overthrowing the Government of President Museveni?

Yes, they made this ridiculous allegation, isn’t it laughable? But it was not the first time they were accusing us of that. This accusation had come up before and it first came from the President of the Republic of Uganda himself.

When it first came up, President Kagame was surprised and suggested that we should invite Minister Sam Kutesa to the next Itorero and he was invited to Gabiro to come and to talk some of those young people. He didn’t come through.

They said that they have pictures and we told them that we actually even have videos of the students, those are young Rwandans from Rwanda and Diaspora in different countries across the world, including Uganda.

We told them that among participants in this programme there are many Rwandan students from the US, China, Belgium and other countries, does it mean that we are training them to attack China, to attack Belgium, or to attack the US?

Itorero is just a national programme designed to foster unity, patriotism and culture among Rwandans. These young people study the history of Rwanda, the culture, values, but they also get basic military training. Many countries have compulsory national service, a form of conscription, which runs for up to two years.

In Rwanda, Itorero just lasts a few weeks and it includes physical exercise and basic military training. And all students are trained together regardless of where they came from.

And Uganda says that some of these students are Ugandan citizens…

That’s true, they said that. But for us, as long as one is Rwandan, we really don’t care about which other nationality they might be holding. (Rwandan constitution allows for dual citizenship).

In one of your most recent tweets, you quoted former French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, thus “If you want to bury an issue, create a committee”. This was in reference to Uganda’s proposal that the two countries should set up a joint verification team to look into these issues. Why is Rwanda against this idea?

Because we already have one. This has been a long process already. First, we dealt with our Ugandan counterparts bilaterally for over a year, if not a year and a half. We provided evidence even at the highest level, they promised to do something about it, and nothing was done. Then we had that the Quadripartite Summit (Rwanda, Uganda, Angola and DR Congo) where issues were discussed and again President Kagame said that we have evidence of the involvement of Uganda.

Subsequently, a technical team of the facilitators – DR Congo and Angola – was put in place, they came to Rwanda, they got material evidence but they also met the people who were arrested, then they went to Uganda afterwards.

After this, the technical team reported to the principals (Heads of State) who came up with the Luanda MoU that was signed on August 21, 2019.

In the MoU, there is a provision that establishes an Ad Hoc Commission at the ministerial level, it is composed of ministers of foreign affairs, who are the heads of delegation, ministers of local administration, internal security, it also includes the heads of intelligence…the Heads of State established this framework with this composition with a purpose.

It’s because they expected that the commission would consider all the issues, including evidence, because the intelligence people have evidence, the ministers in charge of internal security and local administration have information about movement of people, actually we even added the Attorneys General, so the commission is broad enough.

We have information that we need and we used the two meetings to provide the information – both in Kigali and Kampala. But in both meetings, they were singing the same tune, ‘oh provide evidence’ while we were actually providing it, they have said ‘create a joint verification committee of heads of intelligence’, but we told them ‘we ourselves we are a commission’, these were delaying tactics, evidence was provided at length, at all levels.

We said ‘now is time to implement what we’ve agreed on, please have political will and good faith and implement what we’ve agreed’.

Is it probably a case of looking for a little more time to possibly extract themselves from this situation?

But the people don’t have time – both Rwandans and Ugandans. So more time until when? They had four months to do that if you are starting from the Luanda meeting.

As I said, Rwandans living at our borders want to live in peace without fear of being threatened or attacked by RUD-Urunana, RNC and other groups facilitated and supported by the Government of Uganda. And then Rwandan citizens want to be free to travel to Uganda to visit relatives, attend weddings of loved ones and friends, and to trade because we are both signatories to the East African Community’s Common Market Protocol.

And it’s the same for Ugandans as well. This crisis hit them as well. So we can’t just turn around, buy time, while people are suffering. This is why we don’t want any more delaying tactics, we don’t want endless meetings of the Ad Hoc Commission that doesn’t result in tangible progress.

You said in Kampala that, by Uganda continuing with the illegal arrests and detentions it had effectively closed the border. But the narrative in the Ugandan media is that Rwanda is the one to blame for the trade slump.

The fact is that it’s Uganda that closed the border because goods don’t move by themselves, they are carried by people. If Rwandan citizens, for the past two years, if not more, are being abducted, illegally arrested, tortured, detained in ‘safe houses’ over and over again, how do you turn around and say that you want trade to thrive?

Like the President said in Luanda, when you harass and arbitrarily arrest people who trade with you, you have effectively closed the border.

Critics have pointed out that Rwanda has had issues with all its immediate neighbours at one point or another…

If you’ve neighbours who keep throwing stones at your house from all sides, is that evidence that you are bad? This reminds me of something, during the Genocide against the Tutsi, a young man asked his uncle – who was one of the genocidaires – that ‘why are Tutsi being targeted and killed’ and he answered him, ‘my son, you should ask yourself if everybody is attacking the Tutsi, do you think those people are innocent?’

It’s not about the numbers, it’s not about having an issue with all your neighbours at one point or another, it’s about evidence, facts. We had issues with the previous administrations of DR Congo, the cause was known, the genocidaires – Interahamwe – crossed into Congo armed, started launching attacks on Rwanda, they benefited from support from former Heads of State.

Then Tanzania, you know the statement of former President (Jakaya Kikwete) asking us to negotiate with the same genocidaire group the FDLR, but then we know that he had contacts and links with some of them.

Then, we have Burundi and Uganda. This is about facts and evidence. It’s not even us alone. It’s also from the report of UN Group of Experts on DR Congo, which said the same thing in December 2018.

There is plenty of facts and evidence that Uganda is supporting these armed groups. Burundi, the same thing. You’ve followed the trials of those people who captured in eastern DR Congo, the RNC and others, how they were describing recruitment networks in Bujumbura. It’s not just a matter of saying these things without knowing the specifics, we take time to analyse each case, and critically analyse every piece of evidence.

From your observation, why would the Ugandan government support armed groups that have killed people?

Many things have been said about possible motivations of Uganda. Even the President said it during the last Umwiherero (National Leadership Retreat). This is not something that started yesterday, this started as far back as the 1990s.

I am not be in position to know with certainty the motivations of Uganda but in any case the issue didn’t start yesterday, we have had issues in the past, remember the Kisangani fighting?

Of course, there are those details in the book of Gérard Prunier about Seth Sendashonga and how he was plotting with Uganda against Rwanda immediately after 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. I really can’t venture further in that but what I know are facts behind the current crisis that link Uganda to Rwandan armed groups.

What does the ongoing successful operations of the Congolese army against armed groups – including those at the heart of the current crisis between Rwanda and Uganda – tell you?

First of all, I think we are living in interesting times. Since the election of President Felix Tshisekedi he has committed to eliminating all these groups, regardless of where they come from.

Things are changing. This is, of course, a blow for those groups and Rwandan political movements that organise and support them from other countries like South Africa, in European countries, and in North America.

We have tried with all those countries to do something about those people who are organising these terrorist groups and, so far, no significant progress. Now the solution is coming from the ground, from those operations by the Congolese forces.

It’s a blow for those political groups, like RNC of Kayumba Nyamwasa and his networks in Europe, North America etcetera, but it’s also a blow to the countries supporting those groups and we believe that, maybe, if this can convince them that they are betting on the wrong horse, then maybe that could contribute to the resolution of this crisis.

But, in any case, these operations are giving us hope for peace and security in eastern DR Congo, which would open a new era of cooperation with DR Congo but also with other countries in the region because we have many projects to work on together, such as infrastructure and energy.

So this is really, I would say, a turning point and we hope that Uganda and Burundi will understand that it is not in their interest and it’s not in the interest of their people to continue supporting those destabilising forces.

The Congolese government is no longer willing to let those groups operate freely on its territory and we hope these developments will convince the countries to return to the table of peace, good neighbourliness and regional cooperation.

Finally, your message to the people of Rwanda…

My message is that, of course, we care about their security, the two main issues we are having with Uganda are about their security – the armed groups that threaten their security, and the security of Rwandans in Uganda. This is why we are telling Rwandans that the travel advisory we issued still holds, the reasons at the origin of it are still there.

Rwandans are not safe in Uganda and we urge Rwandans not to travel to Uganda.

For their security here, we are telling them that we are ready to defend them. We’d have preferred, of course, solving the issues diplomatically with our Ugandan counterparts but since the signing of the Luanda MoU almost four months ago, since we signed the Kigali Communique three months ago, it is clear that there is no good faith and no political will on the part of Uganda to resolve this crisis, but of course we’ll continue to engage our counterparts to see if they can change their mind.

In the meantime, we’ll protect our territory, we’ll protect our citizens within our territory, this is why we tell Rwandans that you are safe in Rwanda, but you are not safe in Uganda and that’s why we request you not to travel to Uganda until this issue is resolved.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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