On April 16, 2019, Uganda’s Daily Monitor published an article with the title “We are using diplomatic means to resolve Rwanda row,” that was a quote from a response by that Uganda’s State Minister for International Affairs, Okello Oryem, to a question that was raised to him during a hearing by the parliamentary committee on international relations and asked by Mbale Municipality MP Jack Wamai Wamanga who, on behalf of the committee, wanted to know why the problems between Uganda and Rwanda are not being solved leading to the “suffering of the business community from both sides.”
Minister Oryem must be good at his job. He immediately turned to the diversionary tactics of his boss, President Museveni on matters to do with Rwanda.
When a reporter asked him in March 2018 during a press conference in Entebbe, Museveni said that “there is no fundamental problem between Rwanda and Uganda.”
He said this just moments after admitting, in the same press conference, that his security forces, particularly CMI, was facilitating the recruitment and movement of rebel forces of Kayumba Nyamwasa’s Rwanda National Congress (RNC).
This was a mere three months after the rebels had been intercepted at the Kikagati border (with Tanzania) as CMI tried to sneak them across the border on their way to the RNC training centre in South Kivu, DR Congo, via its Bujumbura reception centre.
How a country facilitates activities of a rebel group that aims to destabilize another country can be characterized in those terms as “there is no fundamental problem” is nothing short of being pretentious and disingenuous.
So, here’s Oryem playing by the same playbook. “We have an issue with the government of Rwanda and it’s not a major issue. We believe that this is an issue that can be addressed using normal processes,” he is reported to have told the parliamentary committee. “We are trying to use a diplomatic approach to resolve the matter.”
This is a small matter, “as far as we are concerned,” according to Oryem and his boss. Without even going into further details, the reason why the problem between Uganda and Rwanda persists and why it is likely to continue, becomes obvious.
If one side of the conflict considers the problems to be egregious while the other ignores this concern and treats it as a minor issue, then a standoff is the expected outcome. Or even worse.
The lies continue, however. “Our borders remain open to all Rwandans who come here for trade and even visit their relatives. They are free to come and trade and even visit their relatives. But whoever comes here must respect the laws of Uganda. No one will be spared if he or she violates the laws of this country,” Oryem told parliament in a chest-thumping manner devoid of any sense of reality of what transpires when the same Rwandans do exactly what he is proposing they do.
Hundreds who have taken the risk to travel to Uganda have been harassed, abducted and blindfolded, guns planted on them, and tortured in un-gazetted “safe houses” across Uganda.
The lucky ones have been deported after undergoing torture and being injected with unknown substances that doctors have had a hard time to treat.
Others are unable to walk again even after undergoing rounds of physiotherapy.
These are people who are identified by the RNC and FDLR agents as deserving harassment simply for refusal to join forces with them to destabilize their country.
The choice for Rwandans in Uganda is to join or contribute money to “the cause” or else you are dealt with as a lesson to others who may be reluctant.
Immediately, RNC and FDLR agents pinpoint you for refusal you become a Rwandan spy!
Yet, Oryem is luring even more Rwandans to visit his country. As if it were prophetic, Rwandans are beginning to receive their loved ones in caskets from Uganda just months after their government warned them against traveling to that country.
A country that claims to be governed by the respect for human rights has remained silent on the abuses and when it decides to say something, like the case of Minister Oryem, it only justifies the abuse.
Those they call suspects are never brought to courts as if to concede that it is a country that does not run on the rule of law, one without a functioning justice system.
As a result, innocent people end up languishing in torture chambers for months, some like Rene Rutagungira for years, without trial.
One wonders what laws Minister Oryem is referring to when he talks about the need to “respect the laws of Uganda.”
The laws he is referring to require that those held for suspicion of committing crimes are charged in courts of law. Neither do these laws suggest that suspects should be tortured or shot dead and then deport the dead body.
As Oryem and his boss show total disregard for the law and for the security of Rwandans in Uganda and continue to escalate tensions as a result, not a single Ugandan has faced any form of retaliation in Rwanda.
Oryem needs to learn from this restraint what it means for a country to run on the rule of law.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.