Rwanda-Uganda Relations, Denying the Obvious in “Frank and Cordial” Talks

That the delegations from both sides were so high powered promised much. But, in the end, the resolutions of the unwieldy titled Ad Hoc Commission for the Implementation of the Luanda Memorandum of Understanding between Rwanda and Uganda, were little more than an aspiration to observe things such as the rule of law, which should be taken for granted.

The delegations almost mirrored each other. On either side senior ministers, including the minister of foreign affairs, Sam Kutesa, in the case of Uganda, heads of intelligence, Attorneys general and Ministers of justice.

In the Rwanda case, the two latter positions are entrusted in the able person of Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Johnston Busingye.

The commission is to oversee the implementation of agreements in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in August between Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, in Angola’s capital Luanda.

That MoU was to address Rwanda’s grievances against Uganda, which Rwanda says, include arbitrary arrest and torture of Rwandan citizens living in Uganda, supporting armed groups, whose objective is to destabilise Rwanda. The groups include the so-called P5, a new armed group under the leadership of former Rwandan General Kayumba Nyamwasa.

P5 which has been designated a terrorist group by the United Nations (UN), is seen as the armed wing of Nyamwasa’s Rwanda National Congress (RNC), a supposed political party formed in self-imposed exile in South Africa and other groups, which is in reality little more than a vehicle for Nyamwasa to attack his compatriots and former comrades in arms in Rwanda.

The media was informed that the meeting took place in a “frank and cordial atmosphere” but, responding to questions from journalists, Sam Kutesa repeated Uganda’s denials of Rwanda’s assertions.

“Uganda has never, and will never support armed groups to destabilise Rwanda…”

Pressed about the hundreds of Rwandans who are still being swept up by Uganda security forces, on vague, spurious charges of spying, detained in secret detention centres, allegedly tortured, Mr Kutesa could only say that “these things will be investigated”.

It was a response that doesn’t augur well for the success of negotiations between the two countries. The arbitrary arrest of hundreds of Rwandans, living normal lives in Uganda, is so widespread, that to talk of investigating it, is like talking of investigating the existence of fish in Lake Victoria. If even that cannot be publicly acknowledged, what chance of success for the negotiations?

Even as Minister Kutesa was making statements in the capital Kigali, a young Rwandan, 19-year-old, to be precise, was a few miles away speaking to journalists about the harrowing experiences in the Ugandan detention centres. He was dumped at the Rwanda-Uganda border after alleged torture.

The young man also narrated the death of his compatriot in the same detention centre, after he was fed steel wire until he breathed his last.

The Uganda government has assiduously avoided acknowledging the root causes of tensions between the two countries, choosing instead to focus on the effect that these tensions have had on bilateral trade. It is like declaring an intention to prevent Malaria, while determinably arguing that there is no existence of such a creature as a Mosquito.

The discussions may indeed have been “frank and cordial” behind closed doors, but, if that was true, then little of that frankness managed to make its way in the communique to the media.

The resolutions gave a good impression of an exercise in avoidance of real action. The seven points included an agreement for Rwanda to provide a list of arrested Rwandans, and for Uganda to release them if they were found to have committed no criminal offence.

This will undoubtedly mean a great deal to individuals being held in appalling conditions in darkened cells in Uganda, but, Uganda could simply release all of them, and refrain from the arbitrary arrests.

Until the start of what can now be called a crisis over two years ago, Rwandans and Ugandans crisscrossed their countries borders in their thousands on a daily basis. Thousands of Rwandans call Uganda home, as do many Ugandans in Rwanda. Rwanda had no reason to track movements of its citizens travelling to and within Uganda until they began to be persecuted by Ugandan security forces, as they have testified in the media.

It will require a mini census to produce the list of people that have been and are being detained.

The communique informed us that both sides agreed to “cease acts of destabilisation against each other…” the same acts of destabilisation we are told has never taken place.

And the agreement stipulated that due process will be observed in dealing with each other’s citizens.

We have come to that, having to mention that due process must be observed in any arrest. Since no Ugandan has been ill-treated in Rwanda, and they continue to come and go as they please, perhaps in due deference to all our intelligence, we might have been told that it was agreed that Uganda would stop illegally detaining Rwandans, since that is what is happening, on one, not both sides.

Perhaps of some importance is item four, “both parties agreed to finalise the extradition treaty in order to provide a framework for the future exchange of criminal fugitives”.

Although even then, most people will just be surprised that such an agreement between these two even now, close neighbours, still waits to be “finalised”.

As far as the rest of the communique goes, one can only hope it remains available only digitally. With the disaster of global warming hanging over all of humanity, it would be a shame to sacrifice even a single true to the printing of such a text.

It will, however, be intriguing to read the communique of the next meeting to be held in thirty days, in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.




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