RNC recruitment: Why Rwanda blocked its borders

The crux of the matter, according to a source in Kigali, is Rwanda's belief that RNC rebels were recruiting Rwandans in Rwanda and bringing them to Uganda for training.

SECURITY | It’s the million-dollar question. Why is Rwanda closing its borders with Uganda? And just what is so much at stake for the central African state to issue a strong travel advisory to its citizens against travelling to Uganda?

Diane Shima Rwigara, a young woman who flirted with long-term incarceration in Rwanda as an opposition figure, hit the hard questions with six-inch nails. “For a country that tortures, abducts and kills its own citizens home and abroad, one can’t help but wonder why Rwanda is suddenly so concerned about the wellbeing of its nationals in Uganda,” she tweeted.

The wild allegations of human right issues aside, this question has been on many a mind giving way to speculations across either side of the tense borderlands. Top of these has been that Maj Gen Emmanuel Ruvusha had planned to defect with a battalion of soldiers to Rwanda National Congress (RNC)-led rebellion.

Sendo Cleaners

One wonders why Rwanda would not simply arrest the general instead of closing the border and screening civilians for it.

The downside to such speculation, partly traded with relish in Uganda, is that it is a direct admission that Uganda is harbouring RNC rebels. This is a far cry.

There were also rumours that President Kagame had ordered the arrest of Ruvusha alongside Gen Joseph Nzabamwita, secretary-general of National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), and Fred Ibingira, one of the highest ranking military officers in Rwanda.

Amb. Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s deputy foreign affairs minister, told Crime24 that the rumours of arrest were exactly what they were: rumours.

However, if at all the rumours held, there wouldn’t be surprises. NISS has a salient place in Kagame’s government. A former spy himself, Kagame takes the role of NISS so serious he expects nothing but 100% delivery on the job.

There are directors who have been investigated for failure to spot danger and report in time. The military general Nzabamwita succeeded in the hot seat was the latest such case. Karake Karenzi, whose arrest in Britain in 2015 sparked national outrage, would face investigation over confidential matters believed to have been related to his failure to monitor certain threats against the country.

In NISS, when you slack on duty, the first line is suspicion for possible collusion with the enemy. You would have to be investigated and cleared, possibly while under house arrest.

So what then is with the border issue?

Rwanda’s foreign minister Richard Sezibera last week issued a strong travel advisory to Rwandans against travelling to Uganda but denied the borders were closed.

“There is ongoing One-Stop Border Post works at Gatuna, but that’s something specific to Gatuna. Rwanda Revenue Authority has asked heavy trucks and transporters to use other border points, it could be Kagitumba, it could be Cyanika… to enable construction to go on,” Dr Sezibera told The New Times newspaper.

Amid the official narrative that the borders are open and that citizens are only advised to stay away if they have no official business, sources in Kigali have intimated to this news website that there is intense screening of Rwandan travellers to Uganda.

“We have advised Rwandans not to go to Uganda because we cannot guarantee their security in Uganda. It’s been longstanding and so we are strongly advising those who do not have necessary business in Uganda not to (go there) until we can sort out this problem,” Sezibera said.

“We’ve seen incidents in the past, even yesterday we were seeing people arrested in Kisoro, in Mbarara (in southwestern and western Uganda) and we don’t understand what’s happening. Any sensible government (in this situation) would, of course, advise its citizens to be prudent about travelling there.”

The official narrative, however, does not appear to be holding up with the court of public opinion, leaving rhetorical questions such as of Rwigara ringing in many people’s minds.

Crime24 understands that Kigali cannot have woken up overnight and decided that enough was enough with the alleged “arrests, torture and harassment of its citizens in Uganda” and started screening their voluntary movement.

“The crux of the border matter is that Kigali got intel, that it holds credible, that RNC rebels were training in Uganda and that they were recruiting Rwandans into their activity,” a source said.

With this intel, Rwanda moved to block the borders and enforced screening of citizens travelling to Uganda. Only those who can justify their travels to Uganda, with authorities certifying the detail, are allowed to carry on.

This angle might outlandish when you consider the fact that the Banyarwanda community in Uganda would ideally provide ‘ready market’ for RNC to recruit from. As of 2014 census record, there were 524,098 Banyarwanda in Uganda.

“Of course, that is common knowledge, but Rwanda does not take chances with national security matters. As long as the president and his inner circle holds that suspicion, then they will do anything to check it,” the source added.

Which is more like saying a father who hears that a polygamous man is making passes at his daughter will not dismiss it simply as “the man has enough women for himself in his home so he cannot come into mine for more.”

Amb. Nduhungirehe couldn’t commit on this line of explanation that his government was trying to check rebel recruitment by enforcing the strict border screening, simply telling this website, “It’s an issue difficult to comment on at this stage.”



Kagame adorned a ceremonial military fatigue for the first time in December to rally his soldiers on bravery.

\How we got here

It is the first time President Kagame has taken such a drastic measure in foreign policy. Even while openly taking issues with “provocations” from Burundi, Kigali did not screen its citizens’ travels to Bujumbira and the southern borders remained open. It has always been the same on the western axis despite FDLR militia’s continued presence in eastern DR Congo.

The latest tension, however, has gone beyond the usual cold war, with reports that Rwanda had deployed military along its borders with Uganda.

The suspicions started last year, with President Kagame making veiled comments about “two neighbours” that were “working to destabilise his country.” He would follow that by breaking tradition with his executive outlook he adorned a military fatigue for the first time since 2000.

“Our enemies can only wish us ill but they will never be able to defeat us. Anyone who dares to threaten our security will fail,” he said while officiating at the final phase of the annual Combined Arms Field Training Exercise at Gabiro Combat Training Centre where he rallied his soldiers on bravery and sacrifice for the nation.

“Every bullet you shoot counts. Every resource you use must accomplish its purposes. We do not have room to waste. We have to deliver results beyond the resources we have,” Kagame said.

Following on the heels of Kagame’s comments were his officials, with Amb. Nduhungirehe in particular letting the cat out of the bag when he accused Uganda of harbouring RNC rebels in January.

“Apparently, walking and working in Uganda while Rwandan have become a crime. The only activities allowed for Rwandans in Uganda seem to be plotting against their country, training forces for the RNC/P5 [a Rwandan rebel group based in eastern DR Congo] and denouncing fellow Rwandans,” Nguhungirehe said in tweet while responding to the kicking out of former MTN Uganda general manager for sales and distribution Annie Tabura.

The accusation has been repeated several times since by different Rwandan government officials.

On Friday, Sezibera reiterated it further, telling The New Times newspaper that Rwanda has variously raised concerns that Uganda is harbouring “armed groups, individuals who head armed groups that are opposed to the Government of Rwanda, that have a violent agenda toward Rwanda.”

In yet another major accusation, he claimed that rebels extradited to Rwanda from DR Congo had confessed to being facilitated by a number of actors within Uganda and Burundi, adding that the UN Group of Experts has also pointed it out.

“I am talking about individuals, some of who are in positions of responsibility in those governments,” Sezibera said.

Uganda has repeatedly denied the accusations, countering back with a veiled message that there were “external forces” seeking to overthrow President Museveni.

“External forces are looking and they don’t want us to develop. We have the oil here, beauty of the country, stability, development and above all a precious leader. They think maybe if they get the precious leader out there will be disorganisation. Please don’t go on that path, it’s a wrong path. Don’t let them use you,” the commander of Special Forces Command, Maj Gen Don Nabasa, said last month.

“They won’t come physically, but if they come here, it will be the best because we are very ready for them. Unfortunately, they will not come. They will send money and people, like the ones of late being deported, to mobilise the youth because they have the manpower here and the youth are very easy to convince.”

But Rwanda’s current stance, as revealed by Dr Sezibera, is that Uganda government itself is not behind what it accuses Uganda of, but rather certain “individuals in position of responsibility.”

This claim was earlier echoed by a Ugandan conversant with security matters, who said President Museveni had made it clear that RNC was not welcome to set base in Uganda, but that some elements within the system had maintained contact with the rebel group.

The source said the officials who had got close to RNC have maintained contact with the rebel group — who then supply intel about Rwanda that Uganda uses. The idea of getting intel from rebels with clear vested interest leaves no guess about the credibility of what is sourced.

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