The tone of stories coming from Uganda strongly suggests the current crisis involving the two countries is far from over. Since the beginning of the year, Uganda’s mainstream media such as The New Vision, The Daily Monitor, The Independent have all persisted in a distortion campaign that make it difficult to differentiate them from the Kampala regime’s army of propaganda blogs, most prominently Sarah Kagingo’s SoftPower, Giles Mahame’s ChimpReports, and dozens of others dedicated to brazen misinformation. Altogether, this signals the preparedness of that country’s authorities to remain in its anti-Rwanda logic and the patent lack of minimum political will to resolve the crisis that has engulfed the two countries over the last three years.
The Ugandan media has obsessively ratcheted on to the Gatuna border as the bone of contention between Kampala and Kigali. No matter how often it is clarified to them that the border situation is a but a mere consequence of factors that led to the escalation of the crisis rather than its cause, that country’s media ignores anything that does not conform to Uganda’s narrative that it is all about the Gatuna border and everything else is either peripheral or even maintained its untrue. There is such a single-minded fixation on a mythical border that borders on the farcical; the willful ignorance is total one is left wondering what has become of Uganda’s journalism.
On February 8, Uganda’s The Daily Monitor wrote a story titled “Ministers meet ahead of Museveni, Kagame border meeting” in which it gives the impression that the aim of the meeting is to open the Gatuna border. “It is our prayer that the February 21 meeting results into the reopening of the border to revive cross border trade,” The Monitor quotes the Katuna Town Council Mayor, Nelson Nshangabasheija, without informing readers that the problem is not the border.
This is dishonesty by omission by The Monitor, just the latest in a long series of such misinformation by the paper and its mainstream counterparts. But even when the paper attempts to bring balance and objectivity to the story, it quotes the recent Angola communique out of context noting how it “resolved to release prisoners and promises by the two administrations not to support ‘destabilizers.”
They recite, as if in a chorus, that “Rwanda Refuses to Reciprocate Goodwill to Normalise Relations,” SoftPower wrote on January 20, concluding, “Rwanda has since last year shunned and deliberately frustrated avenues aimed at addressing their concerns including refusing to implement resolutions of the Luanda Memorandum of Understanding signed between President Museveni and Paul Kagame that needed immediate action.”
When they are not telling outright lies, they are deliberately misleading readers. On February 2, Giles Mahame’s ChimpReports wrote, “Museveni, Kagame Agreed to Release Detainees, Meet at Katuna border”; and Andrew Mwenda’s The Independent had chimed days earlier, that “Rwanda Not Yet ready to reciprocate Ugandan gesture,” in reference to the release by Uganda in early January of nine Rwandans from illegal detention.
It is completely dishonest to claim that the MoU is not being implemented because Rwanda is not reciprocating. Since the advent of the crisis, Rwanda has been intentionally scrupulous in refraining from harassing Ugandans in Rwanda, as a matter of policy. There has not been a single case of retaliation against Ugandans. Otherwise, had it been equally criminally inclined, Rwanda would not have failed to find a thousand Ugandans in Kigali alone to detain and torture to reciprocate what Uganda is doing to Rwandan nationals in that country.
If Uganda is waiting to implement the Angola agreement only after Ugandans are harassed, detained, tortured in Rwanda, and then handed over to Ugandan authorities as reciprocity, then this crisis will not end. “Rwanda will be very happy to release all Ugandan citizens illegally detained in Rwanda. And this will be extremely easy because there is none,” Rwanda’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, wrote on Twitter on February 2, in an effort to give Ugandans more genuine information that their media has chosen to hide from them.
A similarly bizarre stunt was pulled in Uganda’s parliament. A Rukungiri MP, Roland Mugume, said that in his constituency “trade has been affected as a result of the continued closure of the border by Rwanda.” His colleague, Kabale Municipality MP, Ajar Baryayanga, was quoted saying that schools in his constituency that borders Rwanda “had lost about 2,000 students as a result of the closure of the Uganda-Rwanda border.” The MPs are right to complain that their Government “was taking too long to ensure the de-escalation of the tension between the two countries.”
However, like the Ugandan media, (perhaps because they are reading from the same propagandistic script), the MPs think the solution is to “reciprocate.” The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, urged her government to “come out and advise on whether they [Ugandans] should continue to go there [to Rwanda] or not.” Other MPs also have “asked the Government to issue a travel ban on Ugandans intending to travel to Rwanda until the tensions between the two countries have eased.”
Since Rwanda advised its nationals against travelling to Uganda for well-founded fears that their safety could not be guaranteed but assuring Ugandans that, unlike Rwandans in Uganda, their own safety in Rwanda would continue to be assured like that of its own nationals and all residents, then for what purpose would the Ugandan travel ban be? Again, if the Ugandan parliament is not urging its government to implement the Angola MoU but is instead urging reciprocation of urging its nationals not to travel to Rwanda, then how is it possible to think the crisis between the two countries can end?
Early this month President Kagame revealed that the Ugandan government is asking him to tell Rwandans it is safe to travel to Uganda. Kagame said, “What I am being asked to do is to say Rwandans can now start comfortably going to Uganda. That’s what I am being asked. And I am holding on to that because I am not yet comfortable that I can tell Rwandans to start doing that.”
As this article was going to press, news emerged that a Rwandan national, Emmanuel Magezi, who was in illegal custody in Uganda had succumbed to his death after torture so severe he had gone mad. The Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) had then transported him to Butabika Mental Hospital where he died on January 21 at 9am, without any effort ever being made to inform the government of Rwanda either through the foreign affairs ministry or Rwanda’s high commission in Uganda. If Uganda’s intention is to conceal the deaths of those it tortures to death, then one must ask how many Rwandans have suffered a fate similar to Magezi’s? If President Kagame was already uncomfortable regarding the safety of Rwandans in Uganda, this death cannot make him any more comfortable.
This is why the Gatuna meeting is not about opening the border as Uganda’s media persists in misinforming Ugandans. It is to take stock of progress on “the release of Rwandan citizens illegally detained in Uganda”, an accounting for those whose torture or any other mistreatment at the hands of Ugandan security agents may have led to their death or complete physical and/or mental breakdown, as well as a review of any steps so far taken by Uganda to “end of any and all support to anti-Rwanda armed groups,” Minister Nduhungirehe labored to inform Ugandans on Twitter in spite of their media’s efforts to keep them in the dark.
However, Nduhungirehe is also being too optimistic. There’s nothing coming from Uganda that suggests this crisis is coming to an end any time soon. What Uganda is asking Rwanda to do in order for Kampala to fulfil its part of the MoU is something Rwanda has refrained from: harassing and torturing Ugandans, forming and facilitating dissidence against Uganda. And since Ugandan insists that there won’t be implementation without reciprocation, it seems more plausible to assume that we are in a permanent crisis.