Rwandans should desist from travelling to Uganda because of safety concerns, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Government Spokesperson has said.
Dr Richard Sezibera was speaking Friday during an exclusive interview with The New Times at his office in Kimihurura, Kigali.
“We have advised Rwandans not to go to Uganda because we cannot guarantee their security in Uganda,” Sezibera said.
The issue of security of Rwandans in Uganda, he said, “has been longstanding and so we are strongly advising those who do not have necessary business in Uganda not to (go there) until we can sort out this problem.”
He added: “We’ve seen incidents in the past, even yesterday we were seeing people being arrested in Kisoro, in Mbarara (in southwest and western Uganda, respectively), we don’t understand what’s happening.”
Any sensible government would of course advise its citizens to be prudent about travelling there, the foreign minister said.
“Rwandans have been harassed there, they are imprisoned with no consular access, some have been deported,” he said, adding that Rwandan authorities have raised these concerns with their Ugandan counterparts in vain.
He outlined Kigali’s three main complaints with Kampala, including incidents of continued harassment and arrests of Rwandan nationals, Uganda offering safe haven to terrorist groups that have committed crimes in Rwanda and are still bent on destabilising the country, and seizure of Rwandan exports.
“The first, and most important, is that Rwandans are arrested, tortured, harassed in Uganda; this is an issue we have raised with Uganda many times at different levels, those that are not arrested, harassed, and detained are deported for reasons which we don’t understand,” Sezibera said.
Kigali says that Ugandan authorities have arrested over 40 Rwandan citizens, and deported or denied entry to more than 800 others since January 2018.
The second challenge also raised with the Government of Uganda, Sezibera said, “is that there are armed groups, individuals who head armed groups that are opposed to the Government of Rwanda, that have a violent agenda towards Rwanda who operate in Uganda”.
He named RNC and FDLR among these groups.
“These are groups that have carried out (criminal) acts here in Rwanda and are based in Uganda.”
The third problem, he said, is related to the free movement of Rwandan goods across Ugandan territory.
“Rwanda is landlocked, our access in through the port of Mombasa is through Uganda, but we’ve had cases”.
He cited an incident where Uganda seized, and held for months, containers of goods from Rwanda “for no good reason. They were eventually released but with difficulty.”
“We are asking the Ugandan government to explain what’s happening, the private sector are complaining and rightly so, we’ve raised those issues with Uganda and we’ll continue to raise them in all proper channels,” he added.
However, he denied reports that Rwanda had closed her borders with Uganda, saying that both Kagitumba and Cyanika border posts were operating normally, while travelers have experienced difficulties at Gatuna border as a result of ongoing works there.
‘Peace and security paramount’
“There is ongoing OSBP (One-Stop Border Post) works at Gatuna and that’s something specific to Gatuna, RRA (Rwanda Revenue Authority) has asked heavy trucks and transporters to use other border points,” he said.
“There is a jam at Gatuna because the trucks there cannot move, those who came yesterday are parked there partly because they didn’t heed the RRA advice.”
“It’s a very narrow road so there is a challenge, which is a temporary challenge I think.
He said that the challenges emanating from the Ugandan side amount to a breach of the common market and single customs territory protocols, signed under the East African Community.
“We’ve an agreement, we are in a common market, we are in a single customs territory, and the ideal situation is that we implement our agreement under those two protocols we’ve already signed on to,” he pointed out.
He emphasised that, for Rwanda, “peace and security for Rwandans is paramount with or without regional integration.”
“For the Government of Rwanda, the people and security of the country, its sovereignty, the peace and security of its people within Rwanda and outside of Rwanda is the primary responsibility and focus of the Government, this is true within East Africa, within Africa and across the world, with or without integration, for us peace and security is fundamental,” he added.
“East Africa Community is about agreements, in the field of peace and security, in the field of trade and business, in the field of climate, health, social sector, agriculture, sports, there are a series of agreements on many things.
‘The challenge is to implement those agreements, those agreements also have milestones that include peace and security, what is correct is that there is a gap between agreements and implementation of those agreements, which is where Rwanda always focuses.
“For Rwanda, it’s not enough to have an agreement, you must implement it.”
Valuable information from FDLR leaders
Sezibera, who also chairs the EAC Council of Ministers by virtue of Rwanda chairing the EAC bloc, called on East African partner states to respect the agreements under the EAC framework.
“The ambition of EAC is needed, it’s critical, that’s where we need to be, that’s where we need to go, it’s critical that East Africa is united; as to the gap between agreements and reality, that gap exists, but it’s our duty to narrow it.”
The Foreign affairs minister also said that Uganda’s complicity in acts designed to destabilise Rwanda have further been confirmed by two former FDLR officials – La Forge Fils Bazeye (spokesperson) and Lt. Col. Theophile Abega (head of intelligence) – who were earlier this year handed over to Rwanda by DR Congo authorities.
The two men have since provided valuable information on the involvement of Ugandan actors, Sezibera said yesterday.
In December last year, a report by UN Group of Experts named Uganda as one of the sources of recruits for a Rwanda rebel group based in eastern DR Congo that calls itself P5 (created by five groups opposed to Kigali, including RNC of wanted Rwandan dissident Kayumba Nyamwasa, and FDLR, an outfit that includes key architects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi).
Asked whether Uganda has ever presented any grievances to Rwanda, Sezibera said, “I am not aware of any.”
During the interview, the minister also addressed the upcoming 25th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, preparations for the 2020 Commonwealth Heads of State Summit to be held in Rwanda, Kigali’s perspective on EAC integration and AU reforms and initiatives, anti-poverty efforts, among other issues.
Read the full interview in our edition of Monday, March 4.