Citizen newspaper ignores plight of hundreds; makes headline of one

By James Gitera

Dear Editor,

On Thursday, 30 January, your newspaper reported that Uganda had petitioned the Rwandan government over a missing Ugandan national it says disappeared in Rwanda in last December. Fortunately, this is a subject I have been following closely otherwise I could have been misled as I’m sure many of you readers were after reading the story.

Uganda says it believes Mr Ivan Peter Egesa, said to be missing since December 8, 2019 is in detention in Kigali. Mr Okello Oryem, Uganda’s minister of state for foreign affairs is reported to have told The Daily Monitor (the Citizen’s Ugandan NMG stable-mate) on Tuesday that his ministry had made a formal inquiry over Mr Egesa.

Oryem is further quoted as saying his ministry had written to Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry through Uganda’s own envoy in Kigali, requesting them to help in identifying where Egesa, “who is believed to have disappeared in their country, could be.” Okello Oryem added that they “continue to remind Rwanda to help find the Ugandan so that he is united with his family.”

While we have no information about this case about the Ugandan national, his government’s efforts to trace his whereabouts and their approach to Rwanda to help on this effort are ironic in many aspects.

Rwanda has through its high commission in Kampala sent numerous notes verbale (diplomatic letters between, and among governments) regarding hundreds of its nationals abducted by Ugandan intelligence agencies, detained, and held incommunicado. The diplomatic notes have provided ample evidence pinning Uganda’s security agencies in these abductions and disappearances – the most notable of them being the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).

A Rwandan High Commission note dated 29 March 2018 to Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for instance brings to its attention, “concerns with the continued arrest and illegal detention of Rwandans travelling to, or staying in Uganda, under unclear circumstances.

Rwanda’s diplomatic mission in the Ugandan capital then informs the Ugandan authorities that it has “received complaints from the families of Rwandans who were arrested in different parts of Uganda and detained incommunicado, as indicated in the attached following list.” The document then provides the names of 15 Rwandans listed in a table.

It shows the places where they were picked up, and remarks detailing reports to the High Commission by families of the detained Rwandans; the dates on which they were detained, and the worrying circumstances in which they were taken away. The Rwandan High Commission then requests the ministry to “intervene in the matter and establish the circumstances surrounding the arrests”, and that officials of the diplomatic mission be allowed to make consular visits to the detainees.

What a simple online search reveals

The Rwandan nationals on this particular list (there are many such lists that have been submitted to the Ugandan authorities via numerous other notes verbale) were picked up from three places: Mbarara, Kampala Volcano Bus Terminal, and Isingiro in western Uganda.

According to the many news articles that have quoted such notes verbale, none is ever answered or even acknowledged as having been received by the Ugandan Foreign Ministry – a clear breach of diplomatic practice. Media reports have quoted Rwandan officials again and again saying they have raised the issue of harassed, illegally detained and tortured Rwandans to the Ugandan government, “but they never acknowledge”.

The Rwandan authorities have raised this matter of Rwandans who have been made to disappear in Uganda, including at the highest level.

President Paul Kagame has himself devoted a lot of time to address the matter, including most recently at this week’s traditional annual diplomatic lunch he and the First Lady host for members of Kigali’s diplomatic corps. The President has explained on several occasions: “We have many times talked to Uganda about these arrests, or imprisonments of Rwandans, but gotten no responses.”

The Rwandan head of state adds that it is such treatment of Rwandans that had prompted his government to advise Rwandans against travel to Uganda.

The Rwandan High Commission in its notes verbale uses diplomatic language when it says the detained Rwandans were “arrested”. The more accurate description of how the hundreds of Rwandans have been picked up by the likes of CMI and their auxiliaries; their associates in Rwanda’s negative forces that have found a welcoming red carpet in Uganda is: “abducted” or “kidnapped”.

Rwandans that have fallen victim to kidnap or illegal arrest while on buses travelling to or from Kampala; as well as those in Kampala and many other Ugandan towns and locations – in addition to several that live, work, or do business in Uganda – are too many to list.

But the example of a Rwandan couple, Darius Kayobera, his wife Uwineza Claudine and their employee Mucyo Jean Claude suffice to illustrate the standard modus operandi. A note verbale from the Rwandan high commission to the Ugandan foreign ministry notified Uganda of these Rwandans illegal detention on 29 January 2019.

At midnight of the day they were taken away, CMI operatives simply ordered Kayobera and Uwineza – parents of little children aged 9, 6 and 3 – as well as Mucyo to get into their dark-tinted vehicle. Eyewitnesses reported these abductees were not advised about what they had done, neither were they read any charges.

They were just ordered to “get into the car!”, and their abductors drove away with them. The abductors did not care that two of these people were parents of little children that would be left alone. Friends and family frantically moved to all the offices of known security agencies looking for information to no avail.

It was later found out they had been taken to CMI headquarters in Mbuya – a notorious place of torture of which Rwandan survivors have described terrible things.

It is well and good that the Ugandan authorities are concerned about their apparently missing national, and are doing everything they can to trace him. It is equally commendable that Uganda’s Daily Monitor, echoed by its Tanzanian stable-mate The Citizen, is covering this one case.

How one wishes the Ugandan authorities and their media could be similarly sensitive to the plight of so many Rwandans in the hands of Kampala’s security agencies! These Rwandans too have families that are anxious to be reunited with their missing fathers, brothers, sons, mothers, sisters, nephews and nieces, but who have been disappeared – some of then for over the last three years.

Hopefully, the plight of Mr Egesa’s family will awaken the Ugandan authorities to that of the hundreds of Rwandans whose family members that have remained in illegal Ugandan detention for months, and years.

We wish Mr Egesa’s family all the best in finding their missing son.

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