After 16 months of slavery in the neighboring country, Jean d’Amour Nizeyimana,33 and four other Rwandan men were deported from Uganda over the weekend.
Ugandan officials accused them of entering the country illegally, accusations that they firmly refuted.
Like hundreds of other Rwandans before them, their poor luck stems from the fragile ties between the two nations, with Kampala now supporting anti-Kigali terrorist groups, including the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda, widely known by its French acronym of FDLR.
RNC is connected to a spate of deadly grenade assaults, led by fugitive Kayumba Nyamaswa, which rocked Kigali especially between 2010 and 2014.
FDLR is the offshoot of forces and militia responsible for the Tutsi Genocide of 1994.
In 2012, Nizeyimana, who comes from Rutsiro District, went into fishing on Lake Victoria’s shores.
There were no difficulties to talk about until 13 March 2018 when, after a brief stay, he crossed the Cyanika border back to Uganda.
However, he realized that life was not the same when he reached the shores of Lake Victoria where he worked for the previous six years.
The area’s mood had altered. He noticed a weird anti-Rwandan feeling and chose not more than two weeks later to return home.
He was arrested and imprisoned when he reached Kisoro District in western Uganda.
Soon after, he was taken to court along with other Rwandans and found guilty of illegally entering Uganda despite being allowed to enter the Cyanika border crossing in southwestern Uganda.
He used a Rwandan national identity card, but it was not taken as a valid travel document, even as national identity documents between Rwanda and Uganda as well as Kenya since 2014 are recognized as travel documents.
Then Nizeyimana and others were thrown into prison.
Court held that they were incarcerated for 24 months, but there was a remission and with hard labour, it was cut to 16 months.
He was moved to another prison at Kabale District.
Life was hell there, Nizeyimana said, retaining his tears significantly.
“We cleared vast areas of thorny bush while being whipped and beaten every day. If you are unlucky and get ill, you get the standard five pills. They told us that whatever the circumstances, we must work. You work or die,” he disclosed. “We were about one hundred people in a vast area with a thick thorny bush. We planted maize in long lines. Whoever would drag behind would be beaten up by other Ugandan prisoners. To survive, one had to do his best to stay ahead.”
Nizeyimana said on July 3, a Rwandan named Samuel who was set to return home on July 27 died. Considering the way he got sick and began vomiting black stuff, Nizeyimana said he was persuaded that the late was charmed.
They’d be in the areas from sunrise to sunset. Months later, the harvesting would be done.
He could get his hands on a phone after nine months, contacting his spouse and letting her know where he was.
He told journalists that the most painful experiences for him were witnessing the passing of his colleague and the heavy day-to-day beatings they had.
“Being forced into thickets of thorny bush every day was unbearable. It was terrible and they told us to pull thorny shrubs with our bare hands, not caring if we were harmed.
“The work we were forced to do there is like what was done during the reign of the Pharaohs [monarchs of ancient Egypt]. You work by force and cannot talk about being ill and weak.”
On August 3, Nizeyimana and his other four peers were freed.
Nizeyimana estimates that he left almost 200 Rwandans used as slave laborers in the same prison.