RNC’s Ben Rutabana in Uganda, investigation reveals

L-R: Ben Rutabana, Uganda's CMI boss Brig. Abel Kandiho and RNC's Kayumba Nyamwasa

Reliable sources have confirmed the presence of Ben Rutabana in Uganda. Rutabana is the RNC official who reportedly went missing in the country over a month ago, something that prompted his panicked family to publicize a letter asking the RNC leadership to either produce him, or set him free. 

News reaching our investigative desk confirms that Ben Rutabana, the RNC’s Commissioner for Capacity Development, is in Uganda ever since he travelled there on September 5, 2019. 

Rutabana’s presence in Uganda was first revealed by his family’s panicked publication of a letter asking the RNC leadership to either produce him or set him free. This was followed by his wife’s appearance on the BBC confirming the contents of the family letter and elaborating on it. 

Reliable information is that he was received by one Dr. Sam Ruvuma, a prominent RNC operative in Uganda, as well as with some officers of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).

But around September 8, 2019 his family members have disclosed, Rutabana went out of contact with them, according to his wife. 

In a BBC Radio interview, Diane Rutabana confirmed everything she and her family members had written in their letter. She specifically mentioned Kayumba  Nyamwasa’s brother in law Frank Ntwari, the RNC “Head of Youth Commission”, as someone that’s been very threatening to her husband.   

“Ben told me he had serious problems with Ntwari, and that he was worried about him,” Diane said in the BBC interview, aired earlier this month on October 7, 2019. 

The Rutabana family letter – addressed to Jerome Nayigiziki, “General Coordinator” of RNC, describes Ben Rutabana’s movements from Europe. It says he left Brussels on Wednesday, September 4, 2019 on an Emirates flight to Entebbe Airport in Uganda and arrived on September 5, 2019 after a brief stopover in Dubai.

Further, "before his departure Mr. Rutabana revealed to his spouse, family and close friends about his fears concerning his safety based on strong disagreements" with Kayumba Nyamwasa and Frank Ntwali, his brother in law, according to the family letter. Moreover, the family insists that Rutabana's visit "coincided" with the presence of Ntwali in Uganda. Our sources confirm that indeed Frank Ntwali was in Kampala between August 24 and September 10.

His wife maintains she was in phone contact with him when he landed at Entebbe, and that they still were in touch from that date (September 5) until September 8, 2019, when he could no longer be reached. 

Rutabana’s visit to Uganda in itself was not unusual. It wasn’t the first time Rutabana, whose title in RNC is “Head of Capacity Development”, was visiting Uganda; or being received by fellow RNC officials and Uganda’s intelligence operatives. 

When they left Entebbe, they travelled the same day to Mbarara where, our investigation has confirmed, they met with other RNC officials, Pastor Deo Nyirigira and his son Felix Mwizerwa, in the company of Ruvuma and the CMI officers with whom they had received Rutabana at Entebbe Airport. Also there was Maj. Fred Kasimoni Mushambo, the Counterintelligence Officer, Second Division, Mbarara.

Pastor Nyirigira and his son Mwizerwa have been very active in recruitment for RNC rebels in the western Uganda region, and are very close to the RNC terrorist chief Kayumba Nyamwasa.    

The New Times investigations have revealed that when Rutabana spoke to his wife he in fact was using Sam Ruvuma’s phone while in Mbarara. That is around the time when Rutabana went out of contact. It induced panic in his family when weeks passed and they didn’t hear from him.    

Information from different sources converges on the fact that there have been fierce wrangles within RNC, pitting “Nyamwasa’s clique”, made up of him, his brother in law Ntwari, and one Sande Mugisha, against Rutabana. 

Different sources disclose the “real reasons” why Nyamwasa and his clique within RNC would be at loggerheads with Rutabana.

First of all, Rutabana had been questioning why Nyamwasa was turning RNC leadership into a “family affair” and why he was “centralizing decisions too much around himself.” Rutabana also had been persistently questioning why Nyamwasa put Ntwari and Sande Mugisha in charge of “all RNC important operations” – yet these, in Rutabana’s view, were “mere juniors,” our sources disclosed. 

“Nyamwasa and ‘his boys’ really hated Rutabana, especially for his persistent questions about Nyamwasa’s alleged misuse of funds meant for the RNC as a group,” continued our source.

For some time now, Kayumba Nyamwasa has been suspected, and accused on RNC Internet forums, of diverting the group’s funds. It is said he has been investing RNC money into his personal businesses in Pretoria, and Maputo, Mozambique.   

Things got so bad between Rutabana, and Nyamwasa’s clique. The latter threatened Rutabana that “he would be arrested the next time he stepped into Uganda,” according to the family letter. 

Rutabana’s wife mentions that particular threat in her BBC interview, as well as in the letter. “They were not keeping their threat a secret! They said it loudly and clearly,” Diane said. Despite these signs of danger for Rutabana, however, he still decided to travel to Uganda.

Sources say he must have retained some confidence that since he had been in Uganda a number of times before, and had been treated well by the government and security agencies, things would still be alright. Kampala, it is no secret, maintains wide-ranging support for RNC. This includes recruitment operations for the group, carried out with the support and facilitation of CMI or ISO (Internal Security Organization); as well as red carpet welcomes for every visiting high-ranking RNC official, such as Charlotte Mukankusi, Eugene Gasana, and even Tribert Rujugiro. 

Rutabana had also been in Uganda in September last year, as a “special visitor” to ISO head Col. (Rtd) Kaka Bagyenda. Rutabana too was accorded treatment worthy of a visiting state dignitary – reports detailed. Second Lieutenant Jack Erasmus Nsangiranabo, an ISO officer was attached to him for protocol duties. 

According to sources familiar with the visit, Rutabana was in Uganda to get first hand appraisal of the terrorist group’s recruitment activities. None other than Maj. Fred Kasimoni Mushambo, the UPDF Second Division Counterintelligence Officer, based in Mbarara personally took him on the field visit, to meet RNC fresh recruits, and to encourage further mobilization and recruitment.

In Ugandan intelligence circles, RNC has considerable influence, as shown in the incident in December 2017, when Uganda Police at Kikagati – on the border with Tanzania – apprehended a group of 46 Rwandans that were traveling on forged Ugandan temporary travel passes.

Immigration officials grew suspicious when this large group of young people, traveling in a single group in one bus, presented Ugandan papers claiming they were going to Burundi for a bible fellowship, but upon closer questioning they disclosed they were headed to RNC training camps in Minembwe, South Kivu, DRC. All hell broke loose! Police at that time still retained its integrity and hadn’t been co-opted into the regime’s anti-Rwanda hostility, security sources analyzed at the time. Police decided to arrest the RNC recruits. 

According to immigration officials, a huge scuffle followed. Police were insisting on arresting all of them while one fellow, who later turned out to be Capt. Charles Byaruhanga of CMI, got into a hot quarrel with the law enforcers. He was insisting they should let the recruits proceed.

“Orders from above are that these people should be allowed through!” he shouted.

Eventually the Police prevailed and arrested the recruits, as well as Dr. Ruvuma who had earlier escaped from the scene. It turned out that Ruvuma and Felix Mwizerwa had, with the facilitation of CMI, carried out the recruitment operation – complete with the forged papers. Police would lock up the recruits and charge them with terrorism. Ruvuma ended up at Nalufenya detention facility.

But even as the cops were doing their work, others high up were busy undermining them. 

CMI chief Brig. Abel Kandiho, who had been the one “giving orders from above” to let the guys proceed (forged papers notwithstanding), was working around the clock to get the recruits released. In Ruvuma’s case, it came to light that “an order from above” got the man released. Shortly after, the recruits were released as well and proceeded to Minembwe. 

And so, there is no doubt that Rutabana is in Uganda: his frequent visits there, his wife's testimony and contact with him while there, his reception by RNC official Sam Ruvuma with CMI officers at the airport and in Mbarara. 

Even the attempts of some RNC officials to obfuscate, such as Gervais Condo, the group’s “Secretary General”, only confirm his presence in Uganda.

Condo could only stammer, and bluster with no answers when the BBC Radio interviewer asked him. “You claim you don’t know where he is, yet RNC received him in Uganda, with Ugandans?” asked the interviewer. Condo couldn’t deny that. He only kept repeating “he was seen in the region."

Rutabana’s presence in Uganda is yet further evidence of how that country persists in the violation of the Angola MoU that urges both parties to "refrain from actions conducive to destabilization or subversion of the territory of the other," among other provisions.

In other words, the actions that led to the MoU continue unabated, raising questions regarding how committed Uganda is to the resolution of the conflict between the two countries.

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