On the night of August 8, 2017, plain-clothed men forcefully dragged out Rwandan Rene Rutagungira from Bahamas Bar & Accommodation, a spot in Kampala, as he enjoyed with friends. Today, in a surprise move, the Uganda military court withdrew all charges against him.
Ugandan military prosecutors have withdrawn espionage charges against Rutagungira and 6 other men, and have been released, according to reports from Uganda. Rutagungira was first Rwandan to be arrested in wave that affected many others.
Since Rutagungira’s arrest, hundreds of other Rwandans followed. Despite a vigorous media campaign involving Rutagungira’s wife Hyacinthe Dusengeyezu, Uganda did not budge.
On February 28, 2019, Rwanda government closed its border, in what led to a gaping hole in the Ugandan economy of nearly $700m as exports to Rwanda dried up.
Rutagungira’s case was of particular interest to President Paul Kagame and he is the only one whose name Kagame has mentioned in public among all those Rwandans arrested and deported.
At at the annual government retreat in March last year Kagame spoke about Rutagungira.
Kagame said the genesis of Rutagungira’s troubles begun after he refused advances by Rwanda National Congress (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,” said Kagame.
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 at the retreat, who indicated that all the people whom RNC has contacted and have refused joining them, are targeted.
Rutagungira is former soldier, and had been living in Uganda doing his own businesses. Uganda alleges he and other Ugandan police officers connived to kidnap Rwandan “refugees” in Uganda and sending them to Rwanda. One particular case is that of Lt Joel Mutabazi, an Israeli-trained commando currently in jail in Rwanda.
Rutagungira was actually charged along with former Uganda police chief Gen Kale Kayihura, who was freed after a few months last year.
Despite talks in Angola and DR Congo between President Kagame and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, no settlement came. A ministerial Ad Hoc committee also made no progress.
Rwanda accuses Uganda of funding RNC and other dissidents, confiscating Rwandan exports transiting via Kampala and arresting Rwandans. For Uganda, it has not made its accusations against Rwanda public until recently. Kampala has instead been using obscure websites which reported of alleged Rwandan spying in Uganda.
A breakthrough may have come two weeks ago when President Museveni sent an envoy to who met Kagame in Kigali. It seems the private message delivered to Kagame broke the ice.