Had Jean-Claude Iyakaremye, 39 remained longer than he already had in Ugandan military intelligence facilities, his 7-year-old son would have developed permanent mental problems. Iyakaremye found the boy could not speak to anyone, always isolating himself.
The 5-year-old daughter was a toddler as he was kidnapped on March 25, 2018 in broad daylight in Kampala. When Dad and daughter met for the first time after over two years, the girl had no idea who he was.
These are just some of the impact that the family of Iyakaremye has had to deal with since he was deported to Rwanda on January 8 last year. The family had been separated; wife was in Kampala to follow up on his case, while their children were with maternal grandmother in Kigali. That distance is what may have affected the son’s mental state.
After about a month at the Kanombe military hospital in Kigali receiving treatment, Iyakaremye went to live with his sister. He received a financial package from government, like everyone else, which he used to rent a small house.
Iyakaremwe, for his part, had arrived in Uganda back in 2008 to work in a factory, a job he got with help of a relative.
The wife, Beatrice Nyirahabimana, with whom they had lived in Kireka, a residential suburb of Kampala since 2012, also returned to Rwanda. The family was starting life afresh. They had lost everything.
Using the government package, the wife opened a small restaurant. Iyakaremye invested some of the money into a business selling phones. But then as they were beginning to settle in, the first national COVID-19 lockdown came in.
“For the months of lockdowns that followed, we depended on that money and the restaurant business ended there,” said the wife.
As the economy began to open up, Iyakaremye says he approached the authorities to help him get a Rwandan driving permit, which he got within days. He managed to buy a used motorcycle, and started working as Taxi moto. To date, Iyakaremye still rides the moto, plus maintaining the small phones business.
Needs help to clear tax arrears
Two weeks ago, the family relocated to Rugalika sector, Kamonyi district – about 30km south of Kigali. Here, the family is facing a whole new list of social and economic challenges.
First, Iyakaremye’s land title has problems. He bought the large piece of land in 2016 as part of plans to start constructing a home where they intended to return once they came back to Rwanda. Following his kidnapping, the land has accumulated government tax arrears and fines estimated at about Rwf 1m.
In addition, while he was in Ugandan detention, Kamonyi district authorities in 2019 changed the status of the area where his land is located from a residential space, to that of agriculture. It means that no house can be constructed there.
The problem with this state of affairs is that Iyakaremye’s land title has been rendered invalid. For him to be able to change the status of his land and obtain the new land title, the process is long; he must pay pending tax arrears as well as fines, plus other charges.
“The tax arrears accumulated while I was in Ugandan detention. I don’t see how I will be able to get that money. If I lose this land, that will be the end of me,” said Iyakaremye.
Incidentally, when Iyakaremye was kidnapped in Kampala, a week earlier he had been in Kamonyi district to make final preparations to start building his house on that very land. The whole dream went up in smoke.
The wife’s press conference
Iyakaremye’s wife, Beatrice Nyirahabimana, 35, told The Chronicles that she found out about the husband’s kidnap in the evening on same day. She embarked on a search in different police stations to no avail. Nyirahabimana reported her ordeal to the Rwandan High Commission in Kampala, which immediately hired for her a Ugandan lawyer in April 2018.
The lawyer and wife held a widely reported press conference in mid-April that year. Beatrice is well-known in Uganda, thanks to the media campaign in which she appeared following husband’s disappearance. At that press conference, the lawyer and Beatrice said Iyakaremye had suffered prolonged illegal detention initially at CMI Headquarters in Mbuya and later at Makindye Military Barracks. The wife said that CMI had denied access to him until April 18, when he was transferred to Makindye.
On that same April 18, Ugandan High Court issued a habeas corpus order requiring the Director of CMI, the Chief of Defense Forces-UPDF and the Attorney General to produce Iyakaremye on April 26, 2018, and show cause why he should not be released. The order required the Ugandan government to produce him, dead or alive.
The military court martial instead remanded Iyakaremye to Luzira prison, a civilian facility. It is here that Iyakaremye saw more of the torture and starvation. Throughout that detention, Iyakaremye and other Rwandans continued to appear before the military court martial; each time, the military prosecution gave a different reason asking for the hearing to be extended.
The Ugandan army Spokesperson at the time Brigadier Richard Karemire confirmed that Iyakaremye was on trial before the General Court-martial, adding that the alleged human rights abuses raised by the family and lawyers “will be forwarded to the UPDF Human Rights Desk for further management”.
“The gun and bullets that I was accused to have been found with was a hoax. There was no case to charge me, so they had to find a way of delaying the case,” said Iyakaremye, during out interview at his home in Kamonyi.
Following the husband’s disappearance, neighbours and friends went with the wife to search. That didn’t last long. They were scared.
She tells us; “At the beginning, neighbours escorted me to search for him. Then one of them went missing for two weeks. All the others stopped associating with me because they were scared they’d be arrested too……I would hear some saying my husband spied for Rwanda. It was painful but I cannot blame them. There is no way I wouldn’t have known that my husband worked for the government for the many years we had been married. I know my husband better than anyone else.”
What is clear from Iyakaremye’s story is that had it not been for the Rwandan government’s immediate intervention and the ensuing media campaign, there would not have been any trace of him. The other positive aspect is that when Iyakaremye was kidnapped, he had just arrived at Volcano bus service office, which travelled the Kigali-Kampala route.
Many people saw him being pushed into a Noah Toyota car by armed men. He had a motorcycle and 3.5million Ugandan shillings which he was scheduled to pay a supplier for his business selling second-hand cloths in Owino market, in Kampala’s CBD.
Despite the challenges the family is facing today, they are happy to be back together. The wife, Beatrice, is all praises for the Rwandan government, especially the Kampala High Commission.
“I’m very thankful to my government,” said Beatrice, repeating it several times. “Without that intervention, I would be a widow today. The High Commission handled the case like it was their own. I will forever be thankful.”