A Rwandan man who was detained in Uganda for nearly two years on Monday told reporters in Kigali how Ugandan security operatives have turned the arrests of hundreds of Rwandans there into a lucrative side hustle by extorting money.
The Ugandan establishment, the man said, was also gaining a lot from the hundreds of Rwandans subjected to forced labour in agriculture production. Others before him decried the widespread human rights abuses in Uganda.
Jean Baptiste Muhire, 32, was arrested when he was traveling to Kampala in 2017 through Cyanika border.
For long, Muhire tried to make ends meet in the neighbouring country without much trouble.
By the time of his ill-fated arrest, life was fairly good. He was looking to expand his entrepreneurial skills having enrolled for training as a technician in a garage in Kampala
So, before heading to Kampala he decided to first check on his barber shop business in Kisoro, south western Uganda—a town he frequented. After checking on his business he headed to the capital city.
A few weeks later, on a return trip, his bus was stopped and all Rwandans on board were arrested by plain clothed people, whom Muhire thinks were security operatives.
In no time about 40 Rwandans, including others arrested at different times, were aligned before a court in Kisoro District and each handed a 23-month sentence.
They were then taken to a transit prison facility in Kisoro before being relocated to other prisons in in different parts of the country.
He was deported last weekend, with a message to fellow Rwandans who have no idea what is going on in Uganda lately.
“I want to warn Rwandans; especially the youths fond of Uganda to mind this; what is happening is that people are being arrested in numbers and their travel documents confiscated,” Muhire said.
The neighboring country is no longer safe for Rwandans, he said. Muhire’s warning has been raised by several other Rwandans deported in the past.
But the ones deported also count themselves lucky considering that many Rwandans remain in detention facilities there under horrible conditions.
Others have died ever since relations between the two countries worsened with Kampala now reportedly supporting anti-Kigali armed groups, including RNC and FDLR.
Up to now, Kigali does not know, for example, the fate of the more than 40 Rwandans rounded up and arrested in Kampala in July.
Muhire explained that the moment Rwandans, especially the ones travelling to Uganda on their national IDs that their temporary movement permits are taken and ripped by security operatives before they are thrown in jail.
The charge is the same for all Rwandans in these circumstances; illegal entry into the country.
But there is a sinister plot behind all this, the father of one said.
“Once your jeton is taken and ripped you have no evidence to show you entered legally. They have turned this into a business because once someone is arrested they demand for sums of money between UgShs500, 000 and UgShs1, 000, 000. If you have money and immediately give it to a police officer you get released but if you don’t have money you are sent to prison.
“But even in the prison were you end up, you are going for hard labour. You will be a slave for many months and they make sure to gain a lot from your labour.”
In March this year, Rwanda issued a travel advisory against Rwandan nationals travelling to Uganda, following series of abductions of Rwandans in different parts of Uganda that saw hundreds thrown into detention facilities without due process.
An agreement recently signed in Angola’s capital, Luanda, between President Paul Kagame and his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, with the two leaders committing to work to relations has yielded nothing so far.