Emmanuel Nkurunziza, a resident Nyarubuye Sector, in Kirehe District, left home in May 2018 headed to Kampala, Uganda, in search of work as a bricklayer.
On August 20, this year, relatives back home phoned him with sad news. His grandmother in Musanze District had passed on. Nkurunziza hastened to return home for the burial ceremony.
He informed his employer about his loss and the employer permitted him to return home, as well as gave him his UgShs800,000 paycheck. The young man did some shopping for his family, and boarded a bus to Rwanda.
Later, miles away from Kampala, when the bus arrived in Kisoro District, he found himself in the midst of a weird security swoop targeting Rwandans.
“People were told to get out of the bus. I learnt that they were searching for Rwandans in the area. There were only three Rwandese onboard and we came off.”
Upon confirming their identities through their national identity cards, he narrated, the Ugandan security agents then asked for passports.
None of them, however, carried passports and they did not think it would be such a big issue anyway.
They had crossed using their IDs courtesy of an outstanding arrangement where citizens of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya can enter either country using their IDs through, an initiative launched in 2014.
“We actually thought it was some joke when they insisted that if we don’t have passports we would be arrested. But because I was filled with sorrow and was going home for burial I was quiet and didn’t talk much as they led us away to a place called Bunagana near the border with Congo.”
“When we go there they told us to take off our shoes and hand in all our belongings. The policemen handed us to military men who started beating us and demanding that we give them all the money we had.”
From then, Nkurunziza and his colleagues would go through rigorous torture.
In March, Kigali issued an advisory against travel to Uganda citing continued harassment, illegal arrests, torture and irregular deportations of Rwandan nationals in Uganda; Kampala’s active support to dissident and terrorist groups bent on destabilising Rwanda, and economic sabotage.
Afterwards, Nkurunziza recalls, they were taken to court.
“In court we were told that our crime was coming to Uganda without papers, but I raised my hand and told court that I have papers but they have been confiscated by a soldier. The judge ignored me and rebuked me for ‘playing games’ on Ugandan soil.”
Nkurunziza was then handed three months in jail.
One of his other Rwandan colleagues was more unfortunate as he got eight months.
From there, Nkurunziza was taken to Kisoro prison where he found 21 other Rwandan prisoners.
The torture, largely constant beating and verbal abuse, continued in prison.
Rwandans were used as slave labourers in vast farms.
“No one was allowed to put down a hoe for a second. You did so and got beaten up. We would work from early morning till late evening.”
Two months later, the chief prison warder asked if any of them wanted to be taken to a refugee camp but they refused.
He threatened that he would make them suffer for it.
Later, a lawyer was sent in next to talk to the Rwandans.
“He told us that he was going to register us as refugees. But we said we would not allow it because we are not refugees. We suspected it was our end and decided to stand up and pray but when they saw us get up, the soldiers circled and started beating us up and we got down again.”
Recruitment into Congolese militia
Kampala is also linked to anti-Kigali armed groups, including FDLR, the offshoot of forces and militia blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, RNC, a terrorist group formed by Rwandan dissidents in 2010, and FLN, which last year made incursions on Rwandan territory through Burundi, killing at least nine civilians and wounding several others.
In December last year, a UN Group of Experts’ report named Uganda as one of the main sources of recruits for a Rwandan rebel group based in eastern DR Congo that calls itself P5.
The latter comprises five groups including RNC, FDLR, FLN and others, which are opposed to Kigali.
While in prison, the Officer Commanding the facility, Nkurunziza recalls, suggested to the Rwandan young men to enlist for conscription “in Congo but we refused.”
He repeatedly told them that they had no chance for a better life in Rwanda and would be better off as soldiers in DR Congo, an incident that again shed some light on the RNC operation in Uganda.
“Then the OC (Officer in Charge) said, ‘you are refusing to come with me but you need to know that Kagame will kill you when you return to Rwanda because the situation is very bad there. You better come with me and I take you to Congo where you can join the military or you register as refugees.’
When they adamantly refused either of his proposals, he told the prison officers to continue oppressing them and then stormed off.
When Rwandan police officers shot dead two Ugandan nationals suspected to be smuggling goods to Rwanda through ungazetted points, last month, the news trickled into the prison and Nkurunziza and his colleagues faced it rough.
For two consecutive nights, they slept outside without food.
A few days later, more Rwandans were again rounded up and harassed in Kisoro District and imprisoned, he recalls.
End last month, fortunately, he was released.