Rwanda Would Welcome a Travel Advisory Against Ugandan Smugglers

23 January 2020

On Wednesday, Members of Uganda Parliament raised concerns over the "continued arrest and killing" of Ugandans in Rwanda, urging their government to intervene by issuing a travel advisory against their nationals visiting Rwanda.

This followed the shooting of a Ugandan drug smuggler (along with two Rwandans) by Rwandan law enforcement agents close to the border with Uganda late night this past Saturday.

The MPs' demands follow a pattern from Uganda. Rather than discuss the real issues, they want to find moral equivalencies where none exists. It is a clear suggestion that the will to solve the crisis is just not there.

Consider the recent release of nine Rwandans. During the press conference to hand them over, Uganda's foreign minister, Sam Kutesa, urged Rwanda to reciprocate.

One wonders whether he was urging Rwanda to similarly sweep Ugandans off Rwandan streets, disappear them in ungazetted detention centres, torture them for years without access to legal representation or consular support, and then call a press conference during their release in order to show reciprocity.

Similarly, the Ugandan media has been awash with stories purporting that the two countries have been supporting each other's dissidents.

None has been able to mention a single dissident that Rwanda is supporting against Uganda.

Not an individual or rebellion. However, Uganda seems to want Rwanda to "reciprocate" on this matter as well, though it doesn't specify as to how.

Rwanda advised its nationals against traveling to Uganda because it couldn't guarantee their safety there, Ugandan law-makers yesterday urged their government to "reciprocate" by issuing a travel advisory against their nationals traveling to Rwanda.

On what basis? The incidents involving smugglers who have been shot at the border involve violent resistance by smugglers and others infiltrating from Uganda to lawful challenges from Rwanda's border security officers.

Ugandan law-makers should interest themselves in the criminality that leads to such unfortunate loss of life and other casualties.

Rwanda has never asked Uganda to tolerate any criminality by Rwandans. On the contrary, it has urged that country to prosecute people where it has evidence they have committed crimes, whether it is espionage or any other crimes; to free those on whom it has no evidence to take to court.

This is what Rwanda always does with Ugandan nationals caught in criminal activities in Rwanda. It is not that Uganda does not spy in Rwanda or that there are no Ugandans who engage in criminal activities in Rwanda.

But Rwanda does not hold illegally or torture any Ugandans. Ugandans who have been, for one reason or another, found themselves on the wrong side of the law in Rwanda have been accorded due process and, as foreigners, their country's diplomatic mission has been informed in order for it to extend such people consular assistance.

Indeed, had the smugglers not refused lawful arrest by Rwanda's law enforcers, they would also have been subjected to the same process.

This is something Uganda has failed to afford Rwandans, who continue to be illegally detained, sequestered in ungazetted detention centres and tortured in that country.

One would expect law-makers to develop interest in these differences in the application of due process before trying to conjure up false moral equivalences.

The pernicious narrative Ugandan MPs seem to be trying to subtly promote is that at least Uganda doesn't kill Rwandans; it only tortures them.

"Our people have been killed, should they continue to go to Rwanda? Come out and advise on whether they should continue to go there or not. We have left this to the people who go to Rwanda and they are killed," Speaker Rebecca Kadaga observed.

"Just two weeks ago, we lost some Ugandans. We just cannot continue to wait to hear that more Ugandans have been killed in Rwanda.

Something should be done to stop Ugandans from traveling to Rwanda so that whoever goes there does so, at their own risk," MP Betty Ocan said.

Rwanda would certainly welcome a travel advisory from the Ugandan Parliament and the rest of that country's establishment towards Ugandan smugglers and drug traffickers, advising them to avoid Rwanda or to obey lawful orders whenever they encounter Rwandan border security officers.

For once, a discussion on "reciprocation" would have some sense.


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