How Besigye’s wife negotiated a deal between Museveni and Kagame
Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | On Dec. 03 2019, Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of the United Nations Aids (UNAIDS) programme, was at the airport in Kigali, Rwanda, when she received a telephone call. She was told President Paul Kagame wanted to see her.
This was strange because officials of the government of Rwanda had treated her badly during a UNAIDS conference in Kigali the previous two days. And many social media sites in Rwanda had been attacking her viciously for comments regarding the quarrel between Kampala and Kigali.
“Now that should make us angry and demand answers from our leaders,” she had tweeted when Rwanda closed her border with Uganda, “Closing borders and restricting movement of people and goods is hurting incomes and will kill jobs.” She then wondered whether Museveni and Kagame are accountable.
This angered the Rwandans. Rwanda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs in charge of Regional Cooperation, Olivier Nduhungirehe, tweeted back saying: “What should make us angry madam, and I don’t recall seeing you on that front, is the arrest, detention and illegal detention of innocent Rwandan citizens in Uganda. This moral equivalence by which both sides are equally blamed may look nice but is in fact not moral.”
After that, Rwandan traditional and social media went into over drive and attacked Byanyima along the lines of Nduhungirehe. It was therefore surprising, sources close to Byanyima say, when this call came in. Unsure how to interpret this sudden turn of attitude, she postponed her flight and was driven directly to Kagame’s office.
After sharing pleasantries, Kagame looked Byanyima in the eye and said he had called her to apologize for the bad treatment she had suffered at the hands of Rwanda government officials. He said it was not the intention of his government but actions of overzealous officials. This warmed her heart and they settled down to discuss global, regional and then Uganda-Rwanda relations.
According to sources The Independent has talked to, Byanyima told Kagame that the quarrel between Uganda and Rwanda was embarrassing Africa. She then asked what the real problem was. Sources in New York and Kigali say Kagame was frank with her. He said there are many problems between the two nations and governments. One such problem was that President Yoweri Museveni was undermining Kagame’s authority by arresting Rwandans in Uganda, incarcerating them incommunicado and not releasing them.
“This makes me look impotent before my people,” sources quote Kagame as telling Byanyima, “Their families come to me seeking assistance and I am unable to do anything for them. And this is something I cannot share with the presidents of Angola and DR Congo, because they cannot understand it. But Museveni understands it very well.”
According to sources that talked to The Independent on condition of anonymity, Byanyima asked why Kagame had not told Museveni about this. Kagame replied that his efforts to reach out and talk to the Ugandan president, whether through emissaries or through telephone calls had gone unreciprocated. Then, sources say, Byanyima asked Kagame if she should go and discuss this concern with Museveni. Kagame said he was okay with it.
According to sources, Byanyima flew from Kigali to Entebbe where she met with Museveni. After hearing the complaint, Museveni told Byanyima he was going to have all Rwandans detained in Uganda to be released. He told Byanyima he was going to find an envoy that he would send to Kagame to handle this matter.