Kigali, Rwanda – By E . K Benj
Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 14th September 2020 hosted a farewell luncheon in honour of the outgoing High Commissioner of Rwanda and the Dean of Diplomatic Corps, H.E Gen. (Rtd) Frank Mugambage.
The High Commissioner thanked the Government of Uganda for the excellent facilitation and cooperation he was given during his 11 years of tour of duty in Uganda. He promised to work tirelessly to promote the Spirit of East African integration even in his retirement from service. He expressed optimism to the normalisation of relations between Rwanda and Uganda.
In his farewell remarks, Honourable David Karubanga, Minister of State for Public Service who stood in for Hon Sam Kutesa, Minister of Foreign Affairs, hailed the High Commissioner for his achievements while in Uganda and hoped for an early normalization of relations between Rwanda and Uganda. He wished the High Commissioner a safe return home and success in his new assignments.
The farewell was attended by the incoming Dean of the Diplomatic Corps H.E Mohammed Suleiman Ahmed, Ambassador of Eritrea to Uganda, H.E. Simon Duku Michael, Ambassador of South Sudan to Uganda plus representatives from the High Commissions of the Republic of Kenya and of the United Republic of Tanzania.
Ambassador Patrick Mugoya, the Permanent Secretary and other senior officials, represented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Looking into H.E Rtd Gen Frank Mugambage legacy in Uganda.
Uganda’s relations with Rwanda has been tense in the last couple of years which culminated into Rwanda closing boarders with Uganda and act which took many by surprise.
There were however efforts last year to bring both countries on table to resolve grievances amounting to counter accusations and these dialogues took place in several places.
Munyonyo Closed door high level talks.
December, 13th 2019 Uganda & Rwanda Senior officials held tight meeting and after eight hours closed in a hall at Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo, Kampala delegations from both countries failed to reach an agreement and decided to refer the matters to President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni & Paul Kagame.
There was no communique after the representatives came out of the closed talks at 11:40 pm on Friday even when the day had started with hope that there could finally be something to write home. The talks started at 4 pm.
Earlier, Angola’s Minister for External Affairs Manuel Augusto Domingos had said ‘both countries showed the will to resolve the dispute peacefully”.
The Ugandan team was led by the Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa and Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana. Also present on the Uganda side was State Minister for Internal Affairs Obiga Kania, the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) boss Brig Abel Kandiho and deputy Chief of Defense Forces Lt general Wilson Mbadi.
On the Rwanda side sat Ambassador of Rwanda to Uganda Frank Mugambage and the Minister for East African Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe. There were also other delegates from Rwanda.
Present as witnesses were the Angolan Minister for External Affairs Manuel Augusto Domingos and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Deputy Prime Minister Gilbert Kankonde.
Inside the meeting room, where journalists were not allowed, Rwanda laid on table ‘evidence’ of Uganda’s support to the armed dissidents who want to overthrow the Kigali administration. But we have been told that Uganda rejected this flatly.
However, Rwanda presented evidence of constant contact, including phone calls, between some Ugandan officials and the people it accuses of rebelling against the government. Rwanda also said some of the people who attempted at attacking it had fled to Kisoro in Uganda.
Also, Rwanda told Uganda that it had continued to illegally detain Rwandans even after promising to stop in the first meeting in Kigali. Uganda said there was no merit in the accusations.
A few minutes to midnight, as they left the room, both Kutesa and Nduhungirehe smiled lazily, perhaps knowing that the dispute between Rwanda and Uganda is much deeper than had been anticipated.
They consequently referred the matter to the two principals – Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame – the comrades who understand its depth better than anyone else. Nduhungirehe described the talks as “deep, frank but cordial.”
Museveni and Kagame earlier in August 2019 had signed a pact in Angola aimed at ending months of tensions that saw the two neighbours accusing each other of espionage, political killings and attacks on trade.
In Jan 2018 Frank in an interview with a local reporter demanded explanations about illegal and unjust arrests of Rwandans in Uganda.
How would you describe the current relations between Uganda and Rwanda?
Bilateral relations (between states) usually look at a very broad range of issues and these take into consideration building of cooperative arrangements in diverse spheres. When you are doing that even with neighbouring states, you should give it the consideration that there are historical relations involving people and the conduct of these relations are done in a certain way. That is why we are here and that is why Uganda has an embassy in Kigali. For all those relations to be built and maintained, a lot of work has to be put in. One of the areas that have to be taken care of is the fact that we always point out what is working well and what is not; what is going right and what’s going wrong. There is no doubt that over the years, Rwanda and Uganda have developed those mechanisms to deal with those challenges. We have a memorandum of understanding in different sectors including; trade, security, education where our people work together. We even have a framework—the Joint Permanent Commission—which is headed by the two states’ ministries of foreign affairs. These are supposed to meet regularly and make sure the different sectors keep in touch and work for the mutual benefit of the people in the two countries. So (when) you raise issues that you say have been in the media; these are happening in Uganda, they didn’t happen in Rwanda. These are issues that involve the illegal and unjust arrests of Rwandans in this country. We have come to learn about the people who get arrested through very illegal processes, taken to places that even their families don’t know; and there is no communication between the two states. We only discover that those behind the arrests are agents of the Ugandan state because we find information from those arrested that they have been held by institutions of the Ugandan state—particularly the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI). People are held there and I am sure you have learnt that some of them have since been extradited with all sorts of stories talking about how they were harassed and tortured. But all this has been happening outside the formal arrangements that were put in place to deal with issues like this. And like I said earlier on, in our effort to build relations, we demand explanations so that these issues do not interfere with the positive things that we are doing together.
So, if I may ask again, what do you think about the current relations between the two countries?
I have told you that the conduct and the building of relations between states is something that is not built on a spark. I have told you that it is a broad reality. Rwanda and Uganda will be here; Rwanda and Uganda are going to be neighbours and Rwanda and Uganda have a long term relationship. Rwanda by the way is not talking about working towards building strong relations with Uganda alone—its immediate neighbour. I think Rwanda is fully committed to the whole idea of the East African Community integration or even African integration. But like I said, to be sure that that works, you also have to come out and talk about what might undermine those positive efforts of building relations.
As Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Uganda, how have you been dealing with these tensions?
We have been engaging the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is our direct collaborator in Uganda. But we have also engaged with people at different levels including the institutions that are mentioned in these cases, CMI and everybody. This information has been shared and we are trying to follow up.
There have been reports here that some Rwandans with refugee status have been involved in subversive activities back home. What is the truth about these reports?
Well, there are elements of dissidents who try to organise themselves with the intention of trying to do something against the government and people of Rwanda. We have learned that there are elements working with enemies of the government and people of Rwanda, especially those who work with the dissident groups, people who ran away from accountability and other wrong reasons; they formed terrorist organizations like the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) headed by somebody who used to be in the government of Rwanda. In fact, sometime back the same terrorist organization (RNC) threw grenades in Kigali and killed innocent people.That is not to say that these constitute (a threat) to Rwanda because Rwanda is a country that is sovereign and is capable of guaranteeing its national security. But that does not give leeway to people to have a haven where dissidents can come and recruit with the intention of training and conducting terrorism. This is something that must not be allowed to happen; certainly not by a friendly country, and not by a neighbour. I can assure you that Rwanda will never allow that kind of thing to happen.
Rwandan security officials, at least going by media reports, have been abducting some Rwandan nationals and forcefully repatriating them to Rwanda, acts which contravene international law. What explains this sort of action from the Rwandan government?
The question we have asked and we will continue to ask is, why wouldn’t anybody say, let’s find that person (arresting people)? Why wouldn’t people look for those so-called agents and bring them over and say look, this one is so and he has done this and that. It is one thing to claim something, and another to prove. I mean let’s be factual. I can tell you that there is no such a thing that has happened. Whoever is talking about it is may be creating a situation where they can now react by doing the kind of things they are doing. Can we name cases of who has been taken, by who and when? This is what should be happening. I know there is one case that has been mentioned; the case of a one (Joel) Mutabazi who came here as a dissident but had case files in Rwanda. His case was handled through the channels I talked about earlier on. His going back was something that was done under the understanding of the two countries with the involvement of the international legal framework because he had cases to answer. That happened in 2013. So why should it be coming back now to even allege that it was a kidnap? We have even shown it that, yes it was done but it was done through the legal channels and he went through the Rwandan channels and he answered his charges and the Rwandan courts handled him. So we cannot base on that to make a general claim that people are here. Look for them, get them and bring them over.
Since 2011, Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame have worked together to fast-track some of the East African Community’s flagship projects such as the Standard Gauge Railway, the East African Tourism Visa and the national ID for travel across the region. Do you think the current tensions between the two states might have a setback on some of these regional integration projects?
You are making reference to the initiative by our heads of state (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda) on what was referred to as the (northern corridor projects). This was an initiative out of the realisation that countries of this region needed to work on the infrastructure that would help us mutually benefit from the development process that we are all involved in. You did mention the free movement of people so that citizens of these countries can move without necessarily having passports—this has been accomplished. We have other achievements like removing barriers along the trade routes. Remember that, for example, goods used to take very many weeks from Mombasa to get to Kampala and Kigali. That was reduced to, I think, six days. They were talking about internet connectivity (optic fibre connectivity) and sharing some of the resources such as electricity. So some things have been accomplished while others are still on the way. There is always need to fast-track them; especially for those projects that greatly benefit all of us. But one cannot say that that initiative has stopped, no it hasn’t. And we need to continue to engage and see how it goes.
We recently saw Uganda’s Foreign Minister, Sam Kuteesa, travel to Kigali to meet the Rwandan president. Is this one of the signs of a return to normal relations between the two states?
I did not attend the meeting myself but the Rwandan Foreign Affairs minister stated that the president of the Republic of Rwandareceived Sam Kutesa, Uganda’s Foreign Affairs minister with a message from President Museveni and they had a good discussion mainly on integration. President Kagame stressed that for integration to be successful, there has to be something for everybody— all partners must win. They further had discussions linked to the state of bilateral relations, including the continuing arrests and disappearance of Rwandan citizens in Uganda which are causing tension and many Rwandan families to petition their government to intervene on behalf of their loved ones.
What’s your reaction to the issue of the Rwandan refugees currently living in Uganda who we are meant to understand will be repatriated to Rwanda very soon after Rwanda invoked the UNHCR’s cessation clause?
The cessation clause is under the UN system which means that people who have left their country to seek refuge (elsewhere) can return home once the conditions that made them flee are no longer there. In the case of the UNHCR, it stops extending assistance to these people because it has no basis and for the case of Rwanda, that process has been examined for those people who left between 1959 and 1998. It is the UNHCR that came to the conclusion that, yes, we think Rwandans should not have refugee status because the conditions that existed at the time no longer exist and there is no justification for them to continue being refugees. That is when the UNHCR set the date for the application of the cessation clause. That cessation clause came into effect on 1 January 2018. In other words, for the Rwandan refugees who left Rwanda in 1959 and 1998, there is no justification for them to be considered refugees anymore and the UNHCR will withdraw its support. But what happens is that the host country could consider it appropriate to give these people permanent residence or citizenship. Those are all considerations. But the bigger issue is that Rwanda accepts and Rwanda has always been open and we have had very many former refugees returning. So, the doors are open and the facilitation is there for those who might want to come back home.
Your last word?
It is extremely important to emphasize the fact that Rwanda is very committed to building and reinforcing mutually beneficial relations in the neighbourhood. You are aware that in fact His Excellency our president has been given the responsibility to head the African Reform Agenda and this year, Rwanda is also taking on the Chair of the African Union. We are all for unity and solidarity, not only here but beyond. So anything that undermines that is something we take seriously and should not be allowed to happen.
Mugambe’s loyalty to Kagame.
Frank has had strong loyalty including defending actions of the Kigali regime and this is witnessed in a couple interviews he has with the press including this one;
He states that Rwanda is now a story of development. “You have to capture two sides. One is that we Rwandese have refused to live in the past. Everyone remembers genocide but we have now lived out of that and created a future. We had to justify lives which were lost in the genocide and the RPF struggle,” he notes.
Explains why a good number of opposition politicians complain of lack of space to fully participate in the democratization process of the country. They accuse President Kagame of political intolerance and harassment.
He responds: “Rwandans feel and enjoy all freedoms. Rwanda has built institutions of governance in designing which course to take regarding social, political and economic issues. And Rwandans are enjoying this.”
Mugambage says other mechanisms that guarantee that space are in place.
He cites the annual December National Dialogue conferences held in Kigali.
“The people have a chance to put their grievances before the President face to face. It’s only Rwanda where leaders meet people in such a manner. How can you say there is no space when leaders are opening up? It’s common knowledge that people can reach out to the President via IT. He is on Twitter. It’s common knowledge that we are building IT structures connecting different places all these social networks are enhanced by such investments.”
He encourages Rwandans to engage in Dialogue. “So many political parties can participate freely. However, there are prophets of doom – those who have nothing to say. We have enabled Rwandese to talk and contribute new ideas,” Mugambage affirms.
How about opposition bigwig Victorie Ingabire who has been in detention for long?
Mugambage says Ingabire is under trial for crimes she committed. He says Ingabire financially supported the rebel FDLR in Congo to cause instability in Rwanda. He says there is ample evidence from international money transfer organisations to pin her in subversive actitivities.
“This is what we call building accountability and transparency. Even ministers and generals can be arrested. It’s not about who you are. When we talk about transparency you don’t categorise people. All are equal before the law. The Case against Ingabire is concrete. Former FDLR Colonels have confirmed she worked with them.”
Inquiry on why three generals (Chief of staff Reserve Forces Lt. Gen Fred Ibingira, Military Intelligence Director Gen. Richard Rutatina, Division Commander Brig. Gen Wilson Gumisiriza and the External Security Director Col. Dan Munyuza) were arrested. Was it because of their alleged links with renegade RDF officers Col. Patrick Karegeya and Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa?
“It’s about accountability. It goes against what their institutions stand for. They were put under house arrest for involving themselves in illegal Congo business deals. If it’s established that whatever actions they were engaged in were contrary to the code of conduct of the institutions they serve, courts will do their job. They are being investigated,” says Mugambage.
“When you take the position of leadership, you must live to expected standards of what it calls for. If you misuse power, you are held accountable. Whether you are minister or general, you must work for common good. This is a disciplinary measure which is part of effecting accountability,” he notes.
How about rumours that indeed the arrested officers had developed a relationship with the Kayumbas? Mugambage says he has no time for rumours.
“These are simple cases of holding people accountable for things done. Those are speculations. There is a whole institution of Defence so arresting three people is not a big deal. How do you measure an entire institution against three individuals?” he wonders.
Mugambage asked on whether the embassy had investigated the murder of Rwandese journalist Charles Ingabire in Kampala.
“I heard that journalist had conflicts with his own friends. People want to make him big. We regret the death but don’t make him a Mandela. If he was popular how come I didn’t I know him. He had mismanaged a microfinance and orphanage before fleeing to Uganda,” notes Mugambage.
“Why target him? Rwanda can’t do investigations in Uganda. We coordinate very well with security organs here in Uganda. We have an Interpol arrangement and also liaise with security here. That’s what President Kagame said the other day that if you are Rwandese living in Uganda, obey the law and promote interests of the country. It’s not true that people are being harassed.”
Several opposition leaders especially Rwanda People’s Party President John Karuranga say there is need for peace talks between Kagame and exiled politicians for the good of the country.
“That’s being outrageous. Kagame operates under the mandate of 11.5 million people. If somebody wants dialogue, they are exaggerating their own. What mandate does Karuranga have? He is free to come and dialogue like any other citizen during national dialogue forums. He can even join the system. Even Pierre Rwigyema returned from exile and mixed freely with Rwandese. I think Karuranga wants to walk to moon,” clarifies Mugambage.
UN report pinning a top leader of the Rwandese living in Uganda in illegal gold transactions.
“I haven’t read the report. I have been busy. But we take it very seriously. Our policy is very clear. Rwanda must be looked at in its outright vision. Our development process is not about minerals but human resource development. We intend to develop a knowledge-based economy,” stresses Mugambage.
If Rwanda had evidence that exiled army officers Kayumba and Karegeya have been planting grenades in Kigali.
He responds: “Do you have any doubts? They are witnesses. Those officers are behind grenade attacks in Kigali. For sure they were planned attacks. The Kayumbas, out of devilish thinking, are using misguided people. Rwanda is credited for being peaceful. But these are isolated incidents which one cannot base on to judge security standards. Kigali is very safe. Even in New York, these incidents happen. It’s wishful thinking for those who have hopes of causing instability because the security apparatus is supported by the people.”
Motive behind the renewed relationship between Kagame and President Yoweri Museveni.
“The relationship of the two countries is very old. It spans for many centuries. There have been so many intermarriages and cross border trade. Ugandans and Rwandans are the same people. Museveni and Kagame are free to move in and out of Rwanda. Though our relationship had some turbulence, I can say it’s now on the right track.”
More about Frank Mugambage
On 06th September 2006 Rwanda’s Cabinet reinstated recently then appointed Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to President Paul Kagame , Frank Mugambage to the army and promoted him to the rank of Major General. The promotion came a month after the former Police boss became President Paul Kagame’s PPS. According to a cabinet release, Mugambage’s new rank was valid since February 2, 2004. Before joining the police, Mugambage was an army colonel.
Mugambage fought alongside President Paul Kagame in the Rwanda Patriotic Front that captured power in 1994.
HICGI News Agency has contacted Rwanda’s Embassy in Kampala for further engagements but the Embassy says the Ambassador is now back home.
Analysts we have contacted also predict Paul Kagame will appoint a civilian envoy to replace Mugambage.
Additional reporting by RPP, URN, AJ & IM