It was on a sunny day in October 2010 and it had been a fruitful and laborious day, locked up in a meeting with some UPDF senior officers at the Senior Command and Staff College-Kimaka, when I first sensed that something was wrong in Rwanda-Uganda relations.
We were organising a high-level conference that was to bring together all Commandants of African Senior Command and Staff Colleges, AU and NATO officials, as well as other partners who support the AU peace operations to devise a common and continental approach to peacekeeping to be included in military courses curricula.
As we decided to break for a day and have some refreshments at Jinja Nile Resort; and having gone through the archives of the College, I curiously asked the Deputy Commandant, then Col. Apollo Kasiita Gowa (now a Brigadier and Head of Immigration Department), if that was the same college attended by a handful of Rwandan senior military officials who participated in the liberation of Uganda.
He replied with reservation, stressing that indeed the college was very dear to the Rwandan military officials, but pointed to a nearby hill that used to house the Cadet Officer School, and stressed that many officers from Rwanda were commissioned from there.
Quickly, his colleague, Col. Stephen Oluka (who was the college coordinator at the time), lamented that he was pissed off with the attitude of Rwanda, elaborating that despite Uganda’s assistance in making us who we were, we were disappointing them...
Much as I respect uniformed personnel, and more so, senior officers, I asked to know who were these that were a disappointment to our Ugandan brothers; before angrily being told that we were not listening to Ugandan advice in dealing with Kayumba and Karegeya.
At the time, I knew little to nothing about how their cases impacted Rwanda-Uganda relations, so I asked for the kind of advice Uganda was providing to Rwanda to better solve the matter.
Col. George Igumba (Chief Instructor at the time) intervened to tell me that I was just a small boy, and should therefore not be stressed about a big brothers’ fight but rather keep in mind that Uganda groomed the entire leadership of Rwanda and that there were ways of correcting mistakes within rank and file other than killing; and that he believed Kayumba and Karegeya will eventually be killed...and that would create problems both for Rwandans and Rwanda-Uganda relations.
Without thinking too much, I replied that the best advice from Uganda, if they wished peace to Rwanda, was to ask Kayumba and Karegeya to stop harboring ill intentions against their homeland, including coordinating grenade attacks that had hit Kigali in the previous months, before being mocked by Col Appollo Kasiita "we thought you were not working for Kagame".
The College Commandant (Maj Gen Andrew Gutti) who kept silent during the entire discussion laughed and said “you should expect a Kagame guy in every strategic institution…”
While I didn’t take the utterances seriously at the time, it was going to impact my relationship with my supervisors going forward.
At the evening reception on the day of the conference, Col. Apollo Kasiita introduced me to Gen. Katumba Wamala (then Commandant of the UPDF Land Forces), and Lt. Gen Ivan Koreta (Deputy CDF) who was our guest of honor.
In his introduction to Lt. Gen. Koreta, Col Kasiita jokingly told the General that “This is the man behind the conference… and he is a Kagame guy”.
General Koreta thanked me for a job well done before jokingly adding “I hope you are smart like your boss…” I thanked him and returned to my table to avoid a controversial discussion.
On our way back to South Africa, my direct supervisors, Col Stephen Van Neel and the late Col Henri Boshoff had caught the ire of the Ugandan officers and in a small conversation before we boarded the plane, they told me they were surprised to notice Ugandan officers knew I was working for Kagame while they believe I was “Muruti” or priest due to my background in a catholic seminary.
I told them I saw nothing wrong in working for him, since doing so would be working for Rwanda; and reminding them my stay in South Africa was temporary and that I would eventually seek to work in my home country.
Col. Van Neel went further to predict part of what is happening today: If Ugandan military officials perceived Rwanda in that way, and were very sympathetic to Kayumba and Karegeya, there will be a marriage of convenience between the Kayumba-Karegeya group and the FDLR, while Uganda will provide required assistance to destabilize Rwanda, and we will be in trouble, he added.
Having left Rwanda at the time when Kayumba was in government, I downplayed such forecasting and assured them that the fugitive officers will eventually relent and return home peacefully.
While I am confident that Rwanda is not and will not be in trouble, the predicted marriage of convenience has been thoroughly uncovered by the recent report of the UN Group of Experts on DRC.
It didn’t stop there. Back in Pretoria, we found out that the Institute for Security Studies had received a request for an interview from the E-News Channel to comment on the so called “UN Mapping Report” that was just released; and the TV station had specifically requested to speak to me in a live broadcast, as someone who not only followed the situation in the Great Lakes, but also who comes from there.
Arrangements with the TV station were made and while doing make-up a few minutes before the broadcast, we received a call that there was disagreements with my bosses, the then Director of Research at ISS, arguing that if I am pro-Kagame, then my interventions will be biased in favour of Rwanda; and if I am not; my passport was to be cancelled by Rwanda and I won’t be able to travel for further assignments.
The author (left) being presented a gift of appreciation by Gen Guti, assisted by Col. Kasiita, at the end of the conference at Uganda’s Senior Command and Staff College-Kimaka. / Courtesy
After several discussions, we decided to call off my participation, and they proposed I participate in the morning bulletin via telephone call, which I declined.
To my surprise, the late Col. Patrick Karegeya, accompanied by the late Professor Rok Ajulu (husband to current South African Minister of Foreign Affairs) visited ISS the next day and requested to see me. Rok Ajulu had several Kenyan acquaintances who worked at the ISS.
Karegeya wanted to see me for two reasons: he had heard that there was an active young Rwandan working at the ISS and he wanted to meet and see how issues of mutual concern can be channeled through ISS work; and secondly they were preparing to launch a new political party, and were thinking of my active participation, including an elected role; all of which I declined to his chagrin.
To cut the story short, while the current mistreatment, harassment, arrests and deportation of Rwandans from Uganda is disheartening, it is not a surprise that it is happening at a time when Brig Apollo Kasiita is the head of the Immigration and Citizenship Department, with other like-minded officials heading key security institutions.
One wouldn’t expect that their 2010 views would have changed much, as nothing has significantly changed in Uganda-Rwanda relations. Last time I spoke to Brig Kasiita was in late 2016 shortly after his appointment to Washington as defense attaché while I was serving as counselor to the Mission of Rwanda to the UN.
In our conversation, which I saw as a friendly welcome to diplomatic community, but he thought otherwise as repeated what he had told me six years back: that he knew I was always up to something and my position at the Rwanda Mission was proof.
While relations between two countries should obviously go beyond individuals, Uganda’s stance towards Rwanda is unlikely to improve without change in mindset of the top security advisers, suspicious of any Rwandan who might be well-off in Uganda, and sympathetic to those who are harboring ills of all sorts towards Rwanda.
The best way of ensuring a peaceful and friendly neighbourliness is if both countries exercise their respective responsibilities. This includes giving neighbours the same respect that you expect from them, and not allowing conflict borne of emotions and personal attachment to individuals that are working to destabilize one country.
The writer is currently the Secretary General of the National Human Rights Commission. He wrote this in his personal capacity.