Today, March 5, Rwanda detailed what it said were “three outstanding issues” it has against Uganda – in the latest battle for hearts and minds of ordinary citizens in both countries and the broader public.
Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Minister and Government Spokesman Dr Richard Sezibera explained the concerns at a press conference conducted in a format that has never been used before.
Unlike in the past, this time, the public was also allowed to ask questions via social media and phone calls.
The session was billed as a “quarterly press conference” by the Government Spokesman to update the nation on a range of issues within his docket.
Sezibera begun by giving chronological order of international engagements by President Kagame that have taken place in the past months and outlined the international events scheduled to take place this year including the Transform Africa Summit which he said will be attended by “over 4,000” people.
After the introductory remarks, the first question was about the ongoing Rwanda-Uganda fallout. This dominated the session.
The Minister said “Intense efforts are underway to restore good relations with Uganda” and that until all the issues that have been pending for the past two years are solved, relations will not normalize.
In detail, he said: “There are three outstanding issues we have put to Uganda to resolve for the tension to calm down and these includes Uganda providing room for dissidents with intent to harm Rwanda including RNC, P5 and FDLR”.
“Two, abduction, illegal detention and torture of Rwandans without due process on the Ugandan territory. Three, sabotaging the free movements of Rwandan goods to Uganda and exports through Uganda.”
He said President Kagame had been assured by his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni at bilateral summits in Ethiopia and Entebbe as well through other channels that all would be resolved.
“It has been two years and nothing has been done despite the many letters and phone calls. Some of these diplomatic notes never got responses,” he said.
Dr Sezibera also gave 986 as the definitive number of the individuals that have been arrested and deported or dumped at border after being tortured to near-death.
He also put on record that at least 190 Rwandans are currently in cells manned by the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) in Uganda.
However, a list of 20 names was made public by Rwanda in January. It is the one shared widely on social media.
“There are international conventions followed when deporting someone, not blindfolding someone torture him or her when you reach at the borders you just dumps them to us in such a terrible state. Actually, high figure increases the suspicions,” Sezibera said.
“When Ugandans are arrested here, we inform the embassy immediately before we take them to court. The embassy follows every stage of the process.”
Sezibera also confirmed for the first time that DR Congo handed over FDLR commanders arrested on DRC border coming from Uganda.
The extradited FDLR senior commanders include its spokesman Ignace Nkaka alias LaForge Bazeye Fils and deputy intelligence chief Lt Col Nsekenabo Jean Pierre alias Abega Kamala.
The Minister stated that on their visit, these FDLR fighters met Ugandan officials, but declined to name names.
“They are very fine and have divulged a lot of information. The most important issue here is that they are back home,” said the minister, but did not mention when or whether they would be prosecuted.
The minister also dismissed concerns─expressed even in other countries about the flood of Chinese brought here to do work that could be done by locals.
“There nothing wrong with Chinese coming to work here. Why can’t Rwandans develop themselves to even be hired to work in China. The problem is us Rwandans,” said Sezibera, who added that they [Rwandans] are lazy.
“Chinese work day and night. For Rwandans when it reaches 6pm they start to complain that they [are] being overworked. Let’s change our attitude to work,” he said in Kinyarwanda.
The Uganda government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said over the weekend that Rwanda had failed to present its issues at the East African Community, which incidentally is chaired by President Kagame.
Today, Sezibera said some issues have already been reported to the EAC and that Rwanda will continue to use EAC structures, but emphasised: “We preferred [the] bilateral approach.”
Sezibera however accused the media of unnecessarily sticking with the word “closure” of the border, clarifying that “Rwanda has not closed its border”.
Falling short of saying Uganda had declared an economic blockade on Rwanda, the minister said Uganda was confiscating Rwandan exports which enter its territory and blocking others at border.
He cited the case of milk. Rwanda has been sending more than 100,000 liters of milk daily to Uganda – which has since stopped.
Uganda also confiscated a container of Gold for many months last year. It was eventually released. Sezibera did not name other good that have been refused access to the Ugandan market.
On the impact the Rwandan dissidents could have on Rwanda, Sezibera said the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) led by Kayumba Nyamwasa based in South Africa is “on the way to disappear….it has no sensible agenda, no ideology, no leadership…RNC was on [the] way to disappearing but its being propped up by Uganda.”
He said Rwanda has no problem with South Africa. “It is individuals transacting RNC business between Uganda and South Africa which makes it seem like they are being backed by South Africa,” Sezibera said, noting that relations were difficult but on the mends.
Rwanda’s top diplomat also addressed recent social media posts claiming that three military Generals had been arrested. Those named are the Secretary-General of the National Intelligence and Security Service, Maj. Gen Joseph Nzabamwita, former Commander of Reserve Forces Gen Fred Ibingira, and Maj Gen Emmanuel Ruvusha.
“Those are rumours…I had a meeting with Gen Nzabamwita late last night” said Sezibera.
The minister also argued that despite the impasse with Uganda, it would have no impact at all on Rwanda, saying: “We have [been] tested for long. We Rwandans always and will continue finding solutions to our problems, some people think we can’t survive without them, that’s impossible we are ready and able to survive without those who feel that we live because they are there. That was long time ago, not anymore.”
The Foreign Minister said that until all the “three outstanding issues” are solved, Rwandans are “advised” not to travel to Uganda.
He however added that Ugandans and all East Africans are most welcome to Rwanda.
At the borders, The Chronicles has observed that Rwandans are removed from all vehicles and told to return back home as everybody else is waved through.
Reporting by Fred Mwasa and Samuel Baker BYANSI