When Rutayisire Augustin, 40, arrived home, he found his three children (girl 11, girl 10 and boy 8) had prepared a welcome surprise in his bedroom; a letter put in a Bible, plus decorations on the bed.
The family was living in Kagarama, Kicukiro district, in Kigali even before Rutayisire went missing. The landlord kept the wife and children without paying rent for all the time he was away. The wife, Mutamba Betty, was working in a cleaning company where pay could only afford food and other basics.
The last-born boy didn’t go to school for the 2019 academic year because the mother couldn’t afford school fees. In addition to the lost year of COVID-19, Rutayisire’s son has fallen behind in his education for more than three years. The sisters were also separated with the younger one taken to a cheaper school.
In late March 2020, Rutayisire was asked by the authorities to give his bank account where he was granted Rwf 2m ($2,000). Rutayisire narrates: “That money came like a gift from God. It was a huge amount of money and it would have been my capital to start a small business. However, three days later we went into the first national COVID-19 lockdown. We depended on that until later, including paying rent, arrears and all needs.”
Since he arrived home, Rutayisire has not been able to find a permanent job. The wife is the sole breadwinner. “That is why you even found me home,” he tells us. “As a result of the pandemic, nobody is hiring. I have a driving permit for which I could have found a driving job, but nothing!”
Today, the first-born daughter is in P5, the next is in P4 as the lastborn is in P3 after missing out on a whole year.
How have the children handled the kidnap situation?
The mother kept telling them that Dad had gone to Kampala and will be back. She repeated that for weeks. But then one day, as they watched TV, the name “Rutayisire Augustin” and picture appeared on screen. The children had “a million questions” for their mother. She sat them down and told them everything; that their Dad had been taken away by bad people. Since that evening, the children introduced daily prayer session to “pray for Daddy” before going to bed, until the day he came home.
Rutayisire says he has noticed that the children never ask for anything from him. “Sometimes, the youngest asks for something, and the sisters tell him ‘Dad doesn’t have money, be patient it will come.’….,” he said. Their academic performance has also gone down caused by regularly being chased from school due to school fees and absence of the Dad.
As tears rolled down her eyes, the wife narrated the impact on the children with an example: “The second-born daughter would very often lock herself in the room holding the Dad’s photo as she cried.”
The traumatic impact still goes on to date as narrated by Rutayisire: “I have noticed that when any of them comes home due to unpaid tuition, they look very miserable, and that goes on for days. I suspect in their mind they know Dad doesn’t have money to pay the fees. So, their reaction is sadness. Before my kidnapping, if they had a request or a problem, they said it with a very happy mood. Today, I see the sadness on their faces as they speak.”
The Chronicles spent over 70 percent of our time at Rutayisire’s home speaking about what has happened since he returned home. We believe the reader out there was as curious as we were about how Rutayisire and others are doing since their ordeal in Uganda.
We then moved into the actual kidnapping. Rutayisire was picked from a restaurant located on a petrol station where buses from Rwanda stop in Mbarara town on May 23, 2018 at around 8pm. Earlier that day, he had arrived from Rwanda, but made stopover in Mbarara to meet a friend. Rutayisire says he was born in Uganda, and had since 2009 been a regular traveler there.
He was working for a Rwandan businessman, who regularly sent him to Uganda to supervise his businesses and make deliveries of merchandise. On that fateful evening in Mbarara, several soldiers and plain-cloth people blocked entrance of the coffee shop. They asked Rutayisire and his friend for their documents, which they presented; a Rwandan passport, Rwandan ID and other documents like driving licences.
“The tea we had ordered for had not yet been served,” he said. They were covered with hoods, taken to Makenke military barracks, a short distance away, but put in separate cells for 3 days without anyone interrogating him. For the following 7 days, they tortured him while asking if he was a Republican Guard, policeman, soldier or retired from either force – which he wasn’t. They asked what he was doing in Uganda during all the travels as seen by the many stamps in his passport.
From there, he and the other colleague were taken blindfolded to CMI facility in Mbuya, Kampala. Again, Rutayisire was in his cell alone for 3 days without any interrogations. Then it started all over again. The ordeals are indescribable. For about four months, neither of them knew where the other was.
“They had answers, such as, that I was a spy and all they wanted was me to admit. One of them would come yelling at me ‘I have been in intelligence for 20 years, I know who you are. Just tell me and everything will stop.’…. I had no other answer because I have never been a policeman or soldier.”
“For those 4 months, I was asked same questions; who sent you, to whom and what message did you bring. The beatings couldn’t stop.”
Suddenly, were taken to Makindye military court martial, which sent me to Luzira prison on remand because he was a civilian. On the day they were being moved to Luzira with others, his captors gave him back his two phones, watch and passport. They didn’t return his Rwandan ID, shoes, Rwf 7,000 and 150,000 Ug shillings.
However, in the few seconds before setting off to Makindye, he checked his phones and they were working, and fully charged. He checked airtime balance and it was all there. So, he dialed his wife’s number, but made sure nobody noticed.
The wife narrates: “I was at work and couldn’t believe what I was seeing on my phone screen as…. Amid groans of pain, he said ‘Its Rutayisire am alive and hung up.’… I didn’t know how to act. It was too much to take in.”
All the time that Rutayisire was missing, his phones were on throughout, perhaps a tactic by Ugandan intelligence to see who called him. It was his wife, family, friends and his employer who called. The interrogations involved questions about who had called.
Surviving ground glass in food
When he started appearing in court martial from Luzira prison, his wife attended all the sessions. For countless times, she went to Rwandan offices, High Commission in Kampala and Ugandan offices. At one time, a Ugandan official told her; “Your husband is imprisoned by Museveni, and will never leave until he personally decides so.”
She always came with letters from the children. The letters and cards kept Rutayisire going. He left all those items in Luzira because he was transported to Rwandan border with 8 others without warning on January 8, 2020, arriving 1am at Gatuna border.
From there, they spent about week in hospital in Kigali undergoing extensive checkups and treatment. He went to his family in Kicukiro. He found a multitude of problems. But in a gesture of goodwill, the landlord had allowed his family not to pay rent for all the time he was away. They moved to a smaller two-roomed house in another neighborhood about five months ago.
One incident Rutayisire remembers during his time in Luzira prison; as he ate the dark-brown posh/beans meal, it had ground glass. “As I scooped the watery beans soup with the spoon, I heard some crunching sounds. On further probe, it was particles of glass. I had eaten some of the food,” Rutayisire told us.
He survived but cannot be sure it didn’t leave him permanent complications. He is still on medication to deal with the body pain from the torture.