Stop the false equivalence games, Ugandan elites – examine your consciences

The Executive Director of the British charity Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima, a citizen of Uganda has been adding her voice to the chorus of those seeking to maintain the impression that Rwanda shares blame with Uganda for deteriorated relations between the two countries.

At the beginning of this month, Rwanda took the extraordinary decision to strongly advise its citizens against traveling to Uganda.

For unrelated reasons, this was followed by closure of the Gatuna border for heavy trucks coming from the Ugandan side, with truck drivers advised to use the Kagitumba border, via Mirama Hills.

But then Ugandan officials began crying foul, some claiming Kigali was “economically sabotaging Uganda” even though Rwanda had made it clear the decision was to help expedite construction works at the Rwandan side of the Gatuna border.

In the wake of the loud complaints by the Ugandans, Byanyima tweeted a few things. “Why are people suffering like this when all they want to do is make some money, feed their families & visit relatives & friends? Our leaders owe us an explanation. How did things get to this point, what’s going on between them? This isn’t in our interests,” said the lady in a tweet dated 3 March 2019. She added: “closing borders and restricting movement of people & goods is hurting incomes and will kill jobs.”

She addressed both Presidents Museveni and Kagame by their Twitter handles, saying: “You have some explanations to make to us citizens. Are you accountable excellences?”

It is astonishing for Byanyima to try to establish a moral equivalence between the leader of Rwanda and his Ugandan counterpart where none exists. Her status allowed her to get access to the details of the problem between Uganda and Rwanda.

This means she is in a better position than most to comment on the subject in an informed manner. Yet, she feigns neutrality and asks for accountability while evading the responsibility that comes with being in the know.

However, since she had also previously tweeted proposing Museveni becomes President of the East African Community, it probably tells all one needs to know regarding her supposed neutrality in the matter.

Be that as it may, the Rwandan government has – in the face of every provocation from Kampala – scrupulously respected laws and international norms, ensuring full protection of every Ugandan on its own territory.

On the other hand, the intelligence agencies of the Museveni government, and in fact not only intelligence agencies but other organizations like Uganda Immigration, are perpetrating hideous crimes on Rwandan citizens.

The cases of Rwandans that Uganda’s intelligence agencies, most notoriously the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), have abducted, arbitrarily arrested, jailed without charge, and tortured, have become too many to enumerate.

Rwandan media have detailed story after story of Rwandans that have suffered torture; or have been abducted and not seen by their families.

Such is the case of Rene Rutagungira whom CMI operatives abducted from a bar in the Bakuli neighbourhood of Kampala during an evening out with friends on 8 August 2017.

He has since been illegally held at the Makindye Barracks, with reports that he has been tortured. There are, in addition, dozens upon dozens of illegal deportations, all well publicized.

The public has read of the case of Fidele Gatsinzi, who had gone to visit his son at Mukono Christian University when CMI abducted him from Ntinda on 22 December 2017.

The torture he suffered almost killed him, leaving him unable to walk and now forced to use a wheelchair.

Among the men that abducted Gatsinzi was one Rwandan that he would later identify as Kayumba Rugema (who is constantly on RNC social media abusing the Rwandan leadership).

In narrating his ordeal, Gatsinzi says Rugema insulted him, while scoffing: “this is Kampala, not Kigali”. That RNC can operate with such open impunity says everything one needs to know about the terror group’s relationship with Kampala.

To date the number of Rwandans deported from Uganda – “deported” is a misnomer in this case; the right word is dumped, as there usually are no legal procedures – since January 2018 exceeds 900.     

No one can point to a single case of a Ugandan whose rights have been similarly abused in Rwanda. Any Ugandan arrested on suspicion of a crime will be read the charges against him, and given the chance to defend themselves in a court of law, in addition to their Embassy being notified immediately on their arrest.

Winnie Byanyima, in her eagerness to apportion blame equally between Presidents Kagame and Museveni, mentions none of this.

She is suffering a strange case of denialism that has infected many of the Ugandan elite. With zero facts to inform it, they have adopted this strange view that “whatever Uganda is doing, Rwanda is doing.”

Analysts say the Ugandan media is partly to blame for its failure to tackle one of, arguably, the biggest stories in the world – how one state has gone completely berserk against the nationals of a neighbour.

Secondly, only Uganda is hosting, sponsoring, and fully facilitating terrorist groups – more specifically RNC and the FDLR – that have declared war on a neighbour.

Rwanda consorts with no anti-Uganda groups or individuals. Worse still, CMI and ISO have been terrorizing Rwandans in Uganda on behalf of Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC.

Rwandan victims of torture lucky to get out of Uganda alive describe how in CMI’s torture dungeons most of the times it is Kinyarwanda-speaking men – as in the case with Rugema and Gatsinzi – that seem in charge.

Damascene Muhawenimana of Nyamasheke District recounts how, in December 2018, people that he came to learn were CMI operatives abducted him at Nsambya Police and took him to a dungeon.

The 37-year old – who had gone to Uganda in November to look for a missing brother - was in a CMI torture house for a month.

He says he is certain his interrogators were fellow Banyarwanda, because, “only Rwandans can speak Kinyarwanda the way they did, and know so much about Rwanda.”

It is an open secret that RNC agents work hand in hand with Ugandan intelligence agencies. The latter facilitate them in their recruitment activities.

Everything has been reported in the regional media. A UN Group of Experts report, published on 31 December 2018, spelt out in clear terms Uganda’s role in anti-Rwanda terrorism activities.

Rwanda has written numerous notes verbale to Ugandan authorities to protest. The Rwandan leadership has moved from pillar to post, and laid out all the facts for their Kampala counterparts, all to no avail.

Yet people still insist Rwanda is equally to blame for current problems between the two states.

It cannot even be the lie that “Rwanda is spying on Uganda”, propagated by all the pro-Museveni media of misinformation.

How can some individuals that are 62 be spies? Or teenagers going to see parents? Or mothers nursing 5-months old babies?

Or ordinary people merely crossing the border to interact socially with neighbours on the Ugandan side? To believe the monstrous lie that these people are spies, one has to harbour deep-seated biases against Rwanda.

Most importantly, the question remains unanswered: What is so vital to Ugandan national security that it justifies such widespread heinous treatment of innocent Rwandans at the hands of Uganda's intelligence agencies?

People like Byanyima do not ask such questions, merely assuming that if the Museveni government asserts it, it must be so.

In failing to ask such obvious questions, they become like any other partisan participants, forfeiting any chance of being seen as impartial actors.

The writer is a political analyst specialising in the Great Lakes Region and a media expert