November 19, 2021

Uganda: The Anatomy of a Mass Kidnap

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We went searching for Rwandans who lost everything in Uganda. Where are they? And how did we end up here?

Left-Right; Dr Fassil Hahom, minister and legal advisor of Ethiopia, Eng. Michael Kamau, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for transport and infrastructure, and Presidents Salva Kiir of South Sudan, Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, launch the regional standard guage railway in Kampala (Photo by Village Urugwiro)

At a gathering of Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda held in June 2013 in Entebbe, Uganda, the Inaugural Summit of Northern Corridor nations was held. It included the three. It would later famously gain the appellation ‘Coalition of the willing’.

One of the flagship projects the leaders endorsed at that summit was a Standard Gauge Railway from Mombassa-Kenya to Kampala, on to Kigali-Rwanda, and another heading north to South Sudan. It was to cover 2,935 kilometres, with costs planned to be in the billions of dollars.

Things were moving so fast. In early October 2014, President Kagame again travelled to Uganda for launch of ‘Uganda section’ of the SGR that would connect Kenya-Uganda Malaba border to Kampala. The fanfare event was attended by South Sudan President Salva Kiir as well as ministers from Kenya and Ethiopia.

The iconic photo from that day shows Kagame-Musevni-Kiir and the two 2 ministers smiling as they unveiled the project using a dummy railway line.

But as it has turned out 8-years down the road, the ceremonies on that day marked the end of the project. Uganda’s Museveni stopped talking about the Kampala-Kigali SGR route, instead publicising the route to South Sudan.

In the subsequent summits, the language of the final summit communiques changed drastically. Between June 2013-June 2015, Rwanda-Kenya-Uganda held 10 Summits.

What were the “Summit of the Heads of State of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects”, turned to “Northern Corridor Summit to expedite the implementation of infrastructure projects”.

In Kigali, unease was growing as Kampala appeared uninterested in completing the Malaba-Kampala route. It meant that there would be no route from Kampala to Kagitumba, the Rwanda-Uganda border.

The cost to transport a container by road from Dar es salaam to Kigali was US$4,990, the highest in the region, which impacts heavily on cost of items in Rwanda.

Manoeuvres continued behind closed doors, to try to salvage the SGR. On the streets of Kampala and Kigali, ordinary Ugandans and Rwandans had no idea what was going on, until at least mid-2017.

In October 2017, the first signs of trouble between Rwanda and Uganda spilled out into the public. Rwanda’s Defence Minister at the time Gen James Kabarebe conducted top secret meetings with senior members of the Rwanda Patriotic Party (RPF) and top business leaders in which he briefed them on Uganda.

Summarized portions of the briefing unintentionally ended up in a WhatsApp group posted by a low-level official working in Rwanda’s embassy in Senegal. The official was off social media for more than two years. The Chronicles prefers not to name the official.

Gen Kabarebe’s briefings said Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni was mobilizing Rwandan dissidents to attack Kigali. Exiled Rwandan Tycoon Tribert Rujugiro was working with Museveni’s brother Gen Salim Saleh to bankrol the project.

The briefings also showed that Kigali was worried by other “decisions Uganda had taken, which are hostile to Rwanda”─such as the dropping of the Naivasha-Malaba-Kampala SGR line, for a route to South Sudan. Rwanda considered the shift as “economic sabotage”.

ALSO READ: Confirmed: Kampala-Kigali Railway Line Put Off Until Further Notice

Now The Chronicles, based on interviews conducted over two weeks with deportees from Uganda, we can confirm that around the same time as Gen Kabarebe was holding these briefings, President Museveni had also ordered a crackdown on Rwandans living in there.

The first Rwandans to be kidnapped included:

  • Rene Rutagungira – August 8, 2017 (Kampala)
  • Nelson Mugabo – August 17, 2017 (Kampala)
  • Fidel Gatsinzi – December 9, 2017 (Kampala)
  • Muhongerwa Jessica – December 14, 2017 (Mbarara)
  • Kamikazi Dina – December 14, 2017 (Mbarara)

As of this Thursday November 18, The Chronicles has obtained exclusive access to government data that shows 2,567 Rwandans have so far been deported including the above, often having been tortured and left for dead. They endured hanging, waterboarding, electrocution, hooded throughout, and plucking-out nails.

We have breakdown for you of what has transpired.

Based on the evidence we have gathered, the chronology of some events that show Rwanda and Uganda are in a state of war rediness to date, have been as follows:

  • Mid December 2017: Tanzanian border security stop a yellow-green color bus number UAQ374B at the Kikagati border with Uganda, that had 40 young men. It turns out, they were Rwandans travelling on Ugandan passports. Latter details show they were headed to training camp for Rwandan rebels in Burundi and DRC.
  • August 2, 2018: Uganda confiscates two trucks full of pricy minerals as they transited to Kenya’s Mombasa port for export. The Spedag trucks were carrying a combined 40 tonnes of tantalum and tin valued at about $750,000 (Rwf750 million)
  • December 14 and 15, 2018: Uganda govermnet hosts FDLR and RNC emisaries. They were Ignace Nkaka aka LaForge Bazeye Fils, the spokesman of FDLR and Lt Col Jean Pierre Nsekanabo, the outfit’s head of intelligence. They were hosted by Uganda’s state minister for regional cooperation Philomen Mateke. Details in Rwandan media showed the men were together to RNC’s Frank Ntwali, who is also brother-in-law of exiled Rwandan Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa. The FDLR officers were arrested three days later as they crossed back to DRC. They are in Rwanda facing prosecution and have confessed to the many charges slammed on them.
  • February 28, 2019: Rwanda-Uganda border is closed. No goods are going either way ever since.
  • March 1, 2019: Rwandan intelligence uncovers meeting in which President Museveni hosted exiled ex-Rwandan UN envoy Eugene-Richards Gasana, wealthy business Tribert Rujugiro and Charlotte Mukankusi, the Head of Diplomacy of Rwanda National Congress (RNC) on March 1, 2019. Three weeks before, Mukankusi had been issued a Ugandan Passport No A00019997 to travel from United States to Kampala. After Rwanda leaked the information, Museveni’s letter to Kagame, in which he said he had met them “accidentally”, also appeared.
  • November 9, 2019: President Museveni hosts DRC counterpart Felix Tshisekedi to sign a road project into eastern DRC. The plan is to build 1,200km of roads. Uganda said it would invest $53.6 million projects for the project, a minute figure considering the needs. Rwanda has been only route for Ugandan goods going to Goma and Bukavu.
  • May 13, 2021: President Museveni and visiting Burundian counterpart Evariste Ndayishimiye sign deal to build road linking two nations through western Tanzania, to bypass Rwandan route. It was viewed as an addition to the Congo roads.

Other incidents have included Uganda blocking Rwandan carrier RwandaAir from flying through Entebbe on its UK route, sabotaging power transmission from Ethiopia, and banning of Rwandan milk entering Uganda.

While the Rwandan government has been releasing all these details to media, and at public fora like conferences – President Museveni’s government is not.

From descriptions of the Rwandan deportees went through, The Chronicles has generated graphic illustrations: plucking-out nails, hanging to leave suspect dangling, the controversial Waterboarding technique and solitary confinement

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