In never-before-revealed details, President Paul Kagame explained this Saturday what he described as a “cycle of things” Uganda has been doing for the “last 20 years” which have eventually led to the latest standoff between the two capitals.
In his speech opening the 16th government retreat, Kagame told the gathering of more than 250 senior government officials and selected members from the private sector that Uganda aids Rwanda’s enemies and that he even once “begged” President Yoweri Museveni to help resolve the problem.
In one of the meetings with him, Kagame said he told Museveni: “Am begging you, deal with this matter. I don’t see how Uganda benefits. I don’t see how Rwanda benefit”
Kagame added: “I showed [President] Museveni the people being tortured and those who support them in the system”. Kagame told his Ugandan counterpart, “I leave this problem to you. Deal with it the way you want…He promised me to deal with it”
Since then, he said, Uganda has continued to arrest, torture and deport hundreds of Rwandans. “The only thing I can do is to advise them (Rwandans) not to go there (Uganda),” Kagame emphasized
He added that “You can only be sure [of your security] if you are against us (the government or Kagame)”.
The president also cited different cases to illustrate his government’s problem with Uganda and for which he says he also provided President Museveni with evidence in each case.
These particular cases include Rwandan businessman Rene Rutagungira who is languishing in Ugandan military jail, the support given to Rwandan National Congress (RNC) led by Kayumba Nyamwasa, a wealthy tycoon Tribert Rujugiro who is freely doing business in Uganda and funding subversive activities against Rwanda, a deceased former minister Seth Sendashonga and a French author Gerard Prunier.
Kagame said the genesis of Rutagungira’s troubles begun after he refused advances by RNC operatives in Uganda to join them. “When he refused, they said that they will not allow anybody to live in peace in Uganda unless they join RNC,” he explained.
It is then that RNC operatives in collaboration with Ugandan officials arrested Rutagungira on August 8. 2017. On the fateful night, he was dragged from a bar in Kampala at night.
Footage from the nightspot CCTV cameras at the bar where he was picked indeed showed Rene being whisked into a waiting vehicle. It was only three months after, following a media campaign by his wife that he appeared at a military court limping, with other Ugandan soldiers and policemen accused of various cases. The case is still going on till today.
“I spoke to President Museveni about Rene, he is still in prison,” said Kagame, who indicated that all the people whom RNC has contacted and have refused joining them, are targeted.
The President moved to another case. He said that back in 1998, a French author Gerard Prunier convened a meeting between Seth Sendashonga and “Ugandan Generals”.
Sendashonga was internal security minister in the first post 1994 genocide government but resigned and fled to Nairobi, Kenya in 1997. He was gunned down and his case simply died away.
Kagame said today that Prunier has himself published details about the Sendashonga meeting in a book “Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe” released in 2008.
In the book, Prunier writes on page 366-367 that Sendashonga met Gen Salim Saleh on Sunday May 3, 1998 in Nairobi.
In the meeting, the Ugandan delegation apparently asked Sendashonga to mobilize Rwandan exiles for rebellion against the Kigali government.
“Sendashonga told them he had a few hundreds,” said Kagame today.
Prunier is one of Kagame’s loudest and virulent critics, who has written several books, appeared at conferences and had media interviews – all of which he has called Kagame all sorts of names.
The president also said he had raised with President Museveni the case of Tribert Rujugiro, a wealthy Rwandan tycoon living in South Africa, but with business interests all across this region.
Rujugiro is said to be implementing a huge tobacco factory in Northern Uganda in collaboration with Gen Salim Saleh, the brother of President Museveni.
“Initially, he said he did not know [Rujugiro], then I proved to him that he knew him,” said Kagame of Museveni denying knowledge of Rujugiro.
When evidence was shown to Museveni proving that he knows Rujugiro, Museveni apparently told Kagame: “You see the problem with you Rwandese, you need to differentiate between business and politics.”
Rwanda accuses Rujugiro of being the financier of RNC and other subversive activities against the government of Rwanda.
The Head of State said Uganda was falsely using the border issue as “excuse” to ignore the main issues that have been discussed between the two leaders.
As he spoke, Kagame asked Foreign Minister Dr Richard Sezibera whether the border was closed as it is being told by Uganda, to which he responded that Gatuna had not been closed, but instead large trucks had been diverted to allow construction of a one stop border post.
“Do whatever you can quickly to have that border opened,” directed Kagame so that according to him, Uganda has no other “excuse” instead of solving the real issues.
Kagame said it had reached a point where Rwanda decided to “advice” Rwandans not to go to Uganda for their own safety.
“Our people here whose family members are held in Uganda petition me all the time. But I tell them there is nothing I can do apart from raising it with the other side. It has come to [the] stage where to be safe in Uganda, you have to claim to be our enemy,” added Kagame amidst slighter laughter from the dead-quiet audience.
Kagame said Uganda has responded that they are “illegal immigrants” for all Rwandans who have been dumped at the border after horrific torture in the Ugandan military custody.
The President called Uganda’s actions as “provocations” which he said were similar to what Burundi has been engaged in since 2015.
Burundi “wanted validation” for its internal problems, said Kagame, because if they had managed to make Rwanda intervene despite repeated cross border attacks, it would have given leverage to the Bujumbura government’s cause.
In explaining the current conflict with Uganda, Kagame said it shows the urgency with which officials and institutions here need to work to ensure Rwanda can provide for itself such that it is never be held hostage.
In the retreat, which has for years been for only senior government officials, has for the first time invited top business executives and youth leaders.
Kagame said it was only a “fair deal” that if Uganda needs no foreign interference in its internal affairs, it should also not do the same anywhere.
The head of state spent more than 1-hour on the Uganda fallout from the 2hrs and 2 minutes unscripted speech. He said a written speech had been prepared for him which he had not read, and would not use it.
The retreat is held at the RDF Combat Training Centre in Gabiro, Gatsibo District, eastern Rwanda.
The President did also speak about internal issues, at some point the Ministers of Health and Agriculture coming under the spotlight.
Kagame noted that “nobody anywhere can bring me to my knees,” telling officials that he was “surprised” they were working at a pace that proves they have no problem being dictated to from elsewhere.
Kagame’s speech and that of the Prime Minister are the only sessions that were relayed live on state television. The entirety of the four-day session will be in closed session.
The media only covers the opening and closing speeches of the President, and the PM’s annual report.